Village Fellows Face-Off in an Unforgettable Battle of Letters

On Wednesday, June 25th the Village Fellows (aka. Cousins) of the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village faced off in our most challenging competition to date: a Kinyarwanda Spelling Bee. As Fellows, we are accustomed to our daily role as English teachers. Whether we are with our families or sitting in meetings, our presence announces the necessity for students and staff to continue their discussion in their second and sometimes third language. For ASYV staff, speaking English has become second nature and all of the inner workings of the Village, from reports to record books, are carried out in English.

It is especially important that the first-year students are totally immersed in an English-speaking environment, as all of their classes at The Liquidnet Family High School are conducted in English. For this reason, Village Fellows are integrated into first year families to ensure that English is vigorously promoted and practiced throughout the day. Speaking from the perspective of a current Village Fellow, we sometimes overlook how much effort our young family members exert throughout the day. From 7 am, when school starts, through 10 pm, when family time ends, our kids are experiencing the rigors of high school with the added challenge of completing their studies in English and overcoming their vulnerable histories. 

To honor their commitment and hard work, the Cousins were convinced to take part in a Kinyarwanda spelling bee. A list, about 150 words long, was passed out to the Cousins boasting tongue twisters such as, kubahariza igihe (time management), igitekerezo (idea), and ndagukunda (I love you). After receiving the seemingly endless list, the Cousins retreated to their family homes for some much needed tutoring. In a moment of obligatory role-reversal our kids became our professors teaching us necessary rules of Kinyarwanda such as the “ry” in “ijoro ryiza” (goodnight) is pronounced “giza” and the “iny” in “inyama” (tomatoes) is pronounced  “inhama.” We learned that accents in the North vary drastically from those in the South and that Kinyarwanda does not have the syllable breakdown that we depend on to spell in English. We were reminded of the self-shaming associated with pronouncing a word incorrectly and the joy of improving from previous mistakes.  

The Kinyarwanda Spelling Bee, though a complete embarrassment for the Fellows, provided the opportunity to show the students of ASYV that no one is ever finished learning. When the night finally came for the big event, the entirety of the Village community filed into the amphitheater to show their support. So supportive in fact, that if you listened closely, you could hear the audience spelling the word along with the Cousin in the hot seat. It was a truly terrific experience and one that has improved our Kinyawrwanda by at least 10 fold. Spelling Bee Champion, English Enrichment Village Fellow, Danni Falk said of her accomplishment, “It was really fun to study with my family and the staff at Agahozo-Shalom. It’s easy to forget the nerves associated with being tested, but the Village’s unwavering support made the experience really fun and one that I will never forget.” Gushimira Cousins Yakoze Neza!! Which translates roughly as “Congratulations Cousins for your hard work!” 

(Unfortunately most of the words we were tested on were nouns and verbs, thus stitching sentences together are still a great challenge for us, but one that we face confidently knowing we have the love of our ASYV families. We look forward to competing again next term!)

Submitted by Sasha Friedman, 2014 Village Fellow

To learn more about the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village Fellows Program, and/or to apply to be a Village Fellow, click here.