On Thursday the 14th of January, the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village happily celebrated the graduation of the Ingenzi grade. Following the graduations of the Urumuli, Imbuto and Indatwa grades, we are extremely pleased to have seen over 500 students pass through our gates and transform into socially responsible citizens. This also means we have as many students that have graduated with us as are currently on their path to a brighter future in the Village.

The occasion was marked with a grand-scale ceremony that was hosted by Mandela Wilson and Ornella Uretsinziza (both of Ishema grade). To begin the event, everyone joined together to sing the national and ASYV anthems which were followed by a prayer from Father Martin.

Vincent Karimba then stepped up to make his first graduation speech since being appointed as the new Village Director. He thanked the board members, Village staff and all the guardians for their contributions before remarking, "This is a special event that will go down in ASYV history. We are here today as a result of hard work and commitment from everyone associated with the Village."

His words were followed by a few comments made by our previous Director of Informal Education, Jean-Pierre Nkuranga. After receiving a huge round of applause on his return to the Village, he stated, "ASYV is a unique project in Rwanda. I remember seeing the kids when they first arrived in the Village and the comparison between then and now is incredible."

A theatrical spoken word performance led by Bonfils Habiyambere (Ingenzigraduate) then ensued with a message for his fellow graduates to, "pay it forward". The poetic presentation was shortly followed by a video which paid thanks to the Village founder, Anne Heyman. To complete the presentation, a song was performed by some of the grades' best musicians which had everybody out of their seats clapping along.

The entertainment did not stop after the performances, however, as Maxim Iryumugaba delivered one of the most powerful and inspiring speeches ever uttered within the grounds of the ASYV. He touched on the development of the country since the traumatising events that took place in Rwanda twenty-two years ago. Maxim stated, "After the genocide, nobody could ever have expected this (Rwanda) could be a land of so much promise. The ASYV is playing a critical role in the transformation of the country and the world is beginning to take note." He continued by saying, "The Village taught us to open our minds and understand that we live in a connected world where our actions can influence those around us." He ended his formidable speech by giving advice to his fellow graduates -using a quote from the late Nelson Mandela, "Sometimes it fallsupon a generation to be great, you can be that generation."

Maxim waltzed away from the podium secure in the knowledge that his act was an extremely hard one to follow and this was confirmed when Dr. Stephen Smith (Executive Director of USC Shoah Foundation ) said, "I can't believe I've been asked to make remarks after Maxim."  He continued by advising the graduates, "Do not underestimate the power of hope you will give to everyone you meet. In terms of mending hearts and the world we live in, this is immeasurable and I can see you are taking to changing the world. This is priceless." Stephen's brother, Dr. James Smith (Founder and CEO of Aegis Trust) then followed by telling the graduates, "The path was there for you but you still had to walk the walk. Now you can dream your dreams which have been built on courage, hard work and trust."

Jean-Claude Nkulikiyimfura (Executive Director) then took to the stage and proceeded to welcome Laurie Franz (Chair of the Board) and Seth Merrin (Owner of Liquidnet and widower of Anne Heyman) to present gifts to some of the outstanding performers of the Ingenzi grade. Graduates were selected for their hard work and contributions to academics, art, music, debate, clubs, and community support projects. Seth then addressed the graduates with an emotional speech, which he humbly began by saying, "I'm sure you would all have preferred that it was Anne standing here today. If she were, she would tell you how proud she is of all your accomplishments. You have transformed into incredible adults that embody the spirit of Anne. Now you have the opportunity to make this country shine and lead the way for all others."

Laurie then took over, speaking of how the Village has now seen four classes' graduate.Together with the current students, ASYV has now helped over 1000 young men and women who had little to no hope in their lives before entering the Village. Laurie also addressed the fact that 84% of ASYV graduates are now in universities across the world with 92% of them receiving scholarships. She concluded her speech by advising the graduates, "Believe in yourself. You have already come so far."

To end the speeches, the guest of honour, Madame Governer of the Eastern Province was invited to share her thoughts. She started by congratulating the graduates and then acknowledged the ASYV alumni's accomplishments by saying, "This is a remarkable achievement considering  the Village only began eight years ago." She continued, "As a government we are extremely proud and pleased to see you have all become responsible citizens of Rwanda."

As the ceremony drew to a close, students made their way to the basketball stands where it has become an ASYV tradition to have a group photo with all the graduates dressed in their green caps and gowns. Photos were followed by drinks and snacks as guests made their way through the graduates, passing on congratulatory wishes.

It was a special day that will remain long in the memories of all who were involved. On behalf of all the ASYV family, we wish the Ingenzi graduates the best of luck as they move forward into new chapters of their lives.

Submitted by Leigh Woods, Village Fellow 2016