“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life.” – Richard Bach

Agahozo-Shalom was created in order to provide vulnerable youth with a safe community where they could realize their full potential. But what does that actually mean for our kids? It means that we believe in delivering more than just basic needs. A safe living environment, health care, quality education, three meals a day, and a bed to sleep in are definitely steps in the right direction. However, much more is needed in order to foster an environment in which genuine healing can occur.  

At ASYV, the family structure is fundamental in establishing this environment. One of the first ceremonies for Enrichment Year (first year) students is the process of introducing the new students to their Village family. The Village assigns each student into a gender-based household consisting of fifteen other peers. The families are chosen through a thoughtful process, ensuring that every family unit includes adolescents from each Rwandan Province. For every house/Family, there is a Mama figure that lives with the students as well as an elder Brother or Sister and Cousin (year-long fellow) who live in nearby staff housing. The Mamas, providing maternal support and guidance, work tirelessly to create a loving home, instill values, and teach valuable life lessons. The Siblings and Cousins, who are closer in age to the students, serve as more relatable role models. 

These family units ensure that each child receives the individual attention and care that they need in order to thrive. In addition to the importance of the household families, the entirety of the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village is an enormous, unique, loving family. The older grades encourage the younger grades daily, capitalizing on their understanding of what their peers are experiencing to pass along valuable advice. While mapping out the ASYV family tree might get a little confusing, it is clear that every single person here is a dedicated member of the ASYV family - from the social workers who know each and every student in-depth in their assigned grade, to our New York staff, to our Program Coordinator, Jean-Claude Parisien, they are all working together to better the Village. Parisien develops enrichment programs (after-school activities) and clubs for the students to realize and pursue their passions. He describes the difference between Agahozo-Shalom and other organizations, stating, “The Village is intrinsically built to support every child. We go deep, not only giving them basic needs, but also improving their social confidence, nurturing their emotional side, and following up on every child’s progress.

Submitted by Shelby Sullivan, 2015 Village Fellow