On Tuesday the 29th of December, the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village delightedly opened its colourful gates to the class of 2019. In previous years, 128 bright-eyed teenagers from across all districts of Rwanda arrived ready to embark on their new journeys in the Village. This year, ASYV are pleased to be welcoming 144.

Upon arrival, the new kids and their guardians were warmly greeted by the cheerful ASYV staff members and students. They then took to their seats as the welcoming ceremony was opened by two current ASYV students - Mandela Wilson (Ishema grade) and Ruth Bahali (Imena Grade). When asked how she felt about the new kids arriving, Ruth said, "I am so happy to be welcoming the new students today. I remember when I first arrived, I was so excited but also extremely nervous. I want to do my best to help them feel at home in the Village."

After Mandela and Ruth made their introductions, both Aloys Kagimbura (Director of Informal Education) and Vincent Kalimba (Village Director) were invited to make short speeches. When sharing his thoughts on the Village, Kalimba said, "ASYV is a place where Rwanda's most vulnerable youth come to maximise their potential in a loving and stable family-oriented environment." He also paid tribute to the founder of ASYV, Anne Heyman by saying, "All the great work we conduct here was made possible because of her. Anne taught us that when we have a strong will and work hard to achieve our goals, anything is possible."

It was then the turn of Oscar Murwanashyaka  (representative of the senior kids) to make a short presentation. He advised all the new kids, "By working together we can achieve great things. The combination of formal and informal education we have access to here is a blessing, but it is up to the students to make the most of all the opportunities that are available to them at ASYV." In a separate interview, Oscar said, "When I first arrived at the Village, I paid particular attention to the words written on the gates (If you see far, you will go far). They inspired me to achieve great things here."

After a fantastic musical performance from some of the current students, the guest of honour (Executive Secretary of Rubona Sector) concluded the ceremony by saying, "ASYV is an incredible organisation that has transformed the lives of so many. All that are invited to reside here are very fortunate, and it has now become their duty to pay it forward in the future."

Following the ceremony, the new kids and their guardians made their way to the basketball court where it has become an ASYV tradition to announce the new families. Upon being called out, each child was individually embraced with a loving hug and big smiles from their new family mama, big brother/sister and cousin. The kids were then escorted to their new residences which they will be calling home for the next four years.

Before leaving her son Etienne in the care of the educators at ASYV, we asked Agathe Mukamporera to summarise her feelings toward the Village. She responded by saying "When I heard that my son had been selected to stay at ASYV I was so happy because he has been given an opportunity that many people could never dream of. As a mother,  I am always concerned about my son's future, but now that he is here, I feel completely at peace."

It was a joyous occasion that will be remembered by all who were involved. To the newest members of the Agahozo-Shalom family who have now taken their first steps toward a brighter future, we would like to wish you a warm welcome (Murakaza Neza)!

Submitted by Leigh Woods, Village Fellow 2016

StudentsJill RadwinStudents, 2015