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Muraho/Hello: Week 1 in Rwanda

Updated: Jun 6, 2023

IHP Artists Ari Warmflash & Brittney Harris are spending three weeks in Rwanda working with students at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village on a creative theater project. This is the first of three blogs they will be sharing about their time abroad - keep reading to learn more about their experience so far!

the welcome sign off the dirt path that leads to the village

What We Thought

When we set out on our month-long Rwandan adventure just over a week ago, we did not know the full breadth and beauty of the culture and community we were joining. Here’s what we did know;

  • Rwanda is 29 years out from a genocide that left more than 750,000 people dead in 100 days of violence, and forever changed the makeup and culture of the country

  • Agahozo Shalom Youth Village opened 15 years ago in response to the displacement of over 100,000 young people, and empowers orphaned and vulnerable Rwandan youth to build lives of dignity and contribute to a better world.

  • We would be spending 3 weeks living and working at the village, meeting with more than 100 students from three classes to take them through a 10-day devised theater workshop to offer them skills and tools to better express themselves, and share their opinions about the place they call home.

True to any In[HEIR]itance Project, we are basing this work on three interconnected ideas; the history of ASYV, the lived experiences of the students and staff who live there, and the words “Agahozo Shalom” which means (in Kinyarwanda & Hebrew) “a peaceful place where tears are dried.”

"If you see far, you can go far"

What We Found

When we first arrived at the village after getting what our driver called an “African Massage” on the bumpy dirt road, the first and most obvious impression was just how beautiful this place is. Rwanda is known as a “land of a thousand hills” and ASYV is settled at the top of a beautiful hill overlooking vast green farmland, with views all the way to the mountains of Burundi in the South. There is a saying that came from the late founder of ASYV, Anne Heyman that “if you see far, you will go far” and the view from the High School at the top of ASYV’s campus is about as far as you can see, letting the students here know there is no end to what they can achieve.

The second impression we got was one of unbelievable warmth and welcoming. The village is used to hosting visitors, so the students seemed comfortable with the idea of two westerners arriving to live with them, and all greeted us with hellos and high-fives, eager to introduce themselves to us in English and ask where we were from. Walking along the red dirt roads all around the village those first few days was like a sea of smiling and generous faces making sure we knew how to get to the dining hall and the water stations and eventually back to our rooms.

There is a deep and enduring sense of community here, with everyone looking out for one another - especially for the students. Everyone here is committed to supporting the entirety of a child’s well-being. They have teachers at school, Mamas at home, staff siblings and cousins, psycho-social workers, doctors and nurses at a clinic, and a full team of 150 people making sure that every student is seen and taken care of as an individual.

Brittney reviewing vocab with a class

What We Did

Our weeks here begin on the weekends, with our first sessions with each grade taking place on Saturday and Sunday. We began our sessions by asking each student “1 Word or Phrase you would use to describe ASYV” and received beautiful and generous answers from each grade.

“A Healing Paradise”

“A Place full of Care & Love”

“Where I Found Hope For the Future”

We introduced the students to new vocabulary and drama tools - like how to center themselves, and how to create TABLEAUX, frozen pictures with their bodies that tell a story. They took to this form of expression very quickly and were soon creating more dynamic and compelling tableaux with each prompt we offered. All three groups have also begun discussing their visions for ASYV, and the roles they can play as part of the community. Already they have dreams to return as alumni to support ASYV the way that this place has supported them. The creativity and generosity of every single one of our students is remarkable, and we have felt so lucky to be able to shepherd them through this process.

a tableau created by the S5 class

What We Hope

Having completed the first three workshop days with all the students, there is so much to look forward to in the two weeks ahead. We will begin to start tailoring each group to its strengths. For example, many of the classes have poets in them, some are musicians and some dancers. We will be incorporating all of the art forms that they prefer in order to show them that art can be constructed of many different pieces that make up a whole. Most importantly, and what we’re already seeing happen, is that we are hearing students speak up who began quietly, we are seeing students move their bodies who began reserved, and we are experiencing students open up about their pasts, their lives now, and their hopes and dreams for the future.

After just 1 week it is clear what an incredibly special place this is, and we feel so lucky to be a small part of these student’s journeys. We will be back next week with a follow up - until then, thank you all for your love and support (especially our families who are holding it down at home.) We are so grateful for this opportunity and will continue to share the highlights with you, our IHP family, as we go!

Murakoze/Thank you!

Ari & Brittney

Brittney & Ari outside the gates of ASYV

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1 Comment

Sheree Hoffman
Sheree Hoffman
May 16, 2023

Thank you for this blog and the work you are doing. I look forward to reading the next and the next! Sheree

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