Thursday, June 11, 2009
Kibbutz in Rural Rwanda!
Agahozo Shalom Youth Village is a Kibbutz 50 KM from Kigali and is by far the most amazing school I have visited to date. The first class of 125 students range in age from 14-19 and are all orphans of the genocide. These kids do not know much about Judaism but they can explain "tikkum halev" and "tikkum olam"…healing the heart and healing the world. It has adopted the methods of rehabilitation from the Yemin Orde Youth Village founded in Israel for the orphans of the Holocaust.
It is not a traditional Boarding School because the student homes are separate from the school; it is a village at the bottom of the hill. 16 children live in a family home with a Rwandan “mother” who is also a genocide victim. For some kids this is their first family and for others it is a chance to call someone Mom, sister or brother again. The family home gives them a feeling of security because many have been shuffled from homes, institutions or have even been heads of a household themselves.
The school is on the top of a hill overlooking a lake with picture windows out of each classroom. The vision of the sky and clouds allows them to reach for them and all their potential while gaining knowledge and skills that will provide structure for a new life as citizen leaders. They begin grade 9 and will graduate 4 years later and each year a new class of 125 will enter to the maximum of 500 at the time of the first graduating class. The 11 Rwandan teachers were trained in Jerusalem at the Feuerstein Institute for three months last fall. They were instructed on a method of teaching for traumatized children. Jean Pierre Nkuranga, the Principal was very passionate about why these methods work with his student population and said some will be adopted for all Secondary Education by the Minister of Education next year.
The students participate in after school activities that provide emotional support and a means for reconciliation. Sports, drama, art and music therapy are very important aspects of this program as well as tutorial assistance with English and computer skills. One counselor, Sarah said it was difficult for some students to accept using games and art as a way to learn and heal. There is in an incredible outdoor mural and art work created by the students throughout the school with the help of local artists and therapists.
Another portion of their time is spent on house and farm chores. These responsibilities make them feel part of the community and teach valuable lessons that will help them assimilate in society when they graduate. The farm is very impressive and will help them become sustainable and sell produce to the community surrounding the school.
This is a school on a grand scale because they constructed all buildings to house the 500 students they will have in next three years. The Kitchen, Dining, Activities Hall is as big as a football field. There were Aids and Safe Sex posters in the Dining Room because this is a coed school for young adults.
It opened its doors to students in December 2008 and will have a formal dedication in late June. The school is named after the corporate sponsorship, Liquidnet Holdings, a NY based Financial Technology firm.
I was very impressed with the school, staff and students...and will keep in touch with contacts to follow their progress.