From Rubona to Kigali and Back: Week 2 in Rwanda
Updated: May 23
Agahozo Shalom Youth Village, nestled in the hills of rural Rwanda near the village of Rubona, is an incredibly special place for many reasons, some of which we enumerated in our last blog, which you can find here. We wanted to give you all a little more insight into just how specific the care and support of each student is.
Each year a team of recruiters made up of ASYV staff and specialists identify 128 of Rwandan’s most vulnerable young people, including 3 recruited from refugee camps on Rwandan borders, to spend four years living and learning in the village. Upon their arrival, the students are divided into 6 family houses; 4 houses of 20 girls and 2 houses of 24 boys. They recruit 60% female and 40% male to account for the historical inequalities between the genders in Rwanda and the larger continent (and truthfully, the larger world).
These are the houses and families they remain in for their whole time at ASYV. Each of these six houses is headed up by a Mama, a Rwandan woman, often a survivor of the genocide, who spends all four years with her “children”, raising them, caring for them and acting as a constant source of support and love. ASYV intentionally recreates family systems including mamas, siblings, cousins (international fellows), big siblings (ASYV alums/early career staff), aunts/uncles (admin & psycho-social workers) and teachers (respectfully referred to as “teacher”) who each support and guide students on their individual journeys through ASYV
With that level of care, we wanted to be sure to offer the students tools and techniques that supported their self expression, and catered to each as an individual with their own skills and talents. Over the weekend, we introduced ‘Sheet Work’ , a technique that originated from Brittney's research with personal narratives and objects that utilizes a simple white sheet. Sheet work is a transformation tool to support creative expression through the use of props, fluid motion, and endowment. Prior to our exploration with this tool, we invited the students to reflect on what they hold close to them; an item, a memory, a story, etc. One by one, each took to the center of the space to explore using the sheet as a guide to “flow” and express their recollection with words, movements, and imagination.
The individual images they created with the sheet, coupled with the group tableaux they created to convey UNITY, SUPPORT, and ROLE MODEL, absolutely blew us away. We spent the rest of the week implementing that tool, and beginning to divide them into the groups they will be a part of for our final sharing. We utilized a “graffiti wall,” a tool that asked students to brainstorm together without speaking, but rather by responding to written prompts on papers on the wall. Each paper was filled with thoughtful and creative responses to the questions and both the students and staff were delighted with this new tool that they could use in other areas of the village. We ended our shorter work-week with the students with promises that the next week we would focus entirely on the final performances and make sure they were as prepared as possible to share their hard work and talent with the full village community.
As soon as we were done with our last class in the village Tuesday night, we were whisked away an hour and a half back to Kigali. We spent 72 incredible hours in the capital city learning more about the history of the country and the cultural initiatives that are taking place all over to support its citizens. We began our first full day at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, paying our respects to the nearly 1 million people who were killed during the 100 days of violence and learning more about the circumstances surrounding the lead up and aftermath in the country. We were so lucky to be invited there by Executive Director of the Aegis Trust and Director of the Kigali Genocide Memorial, Freddy Mutanguha. Aegis Trust works to prevent genocide, crimes against humanity and mass atrocities worldwide. We had the opportunity to talk to the Rwandan-based staff about our work at ASYV, and how we use creativity to tell more comprehensive stories from first-person perspectives. We also got to learn more about the work that is being done by Aegis to support learning throughout the Memorial, and also throughout the country through education and outreach initiatives.
We also had the opportunity to take a Day Tour of Kigali (from a company run by an ASYV alum), and started at the Nyamirambo Women’s Center (NWC), an organization begun by 18 Rwandese women who created the project to address gender-based violence, gender inequality and discrimination. They provide education and vocational training to women so that they can gain better opportunities for employment, and support local initiatives around Kigali’s oldest neighborhood. We also visited Question Coffee, a local initiative investing in women farmers in the coffee industry to increase economic independence for themselves and their families, Inema Arts Center, a modern art gallery that turns trash into treasure, and Kimironko Market, to get all of our souvenirs from the stall belonging to the sister of one of our ASYV staff friends - in Kigali it seems all roads connect back to the village!
So here we are, back at ASYV looking forward to the last week of our process with the students, as we convert their weeks of workshops and skill-building activities into a final performance for Village Time. Village Time is a weekly celebration of arts and culture at ASYV, kind of like a weekly talent show, with far more exuberance and camaraderie than we knew to expect! Our 100 students will perform their final pieces at a Village Time on Friday 5/26, and we are so looking forward to sharing their hard work and creativity with the rest of the village.
Stay tuned for details in our final blog next week and thank you again for your support and encouragement!
Ari & Brittney