Minneapolis native spends a month in an African village, providing services to orphans from the 1994 genocide
By ELANA ORBUCH
Shabbat Shalom from Rwanda.
To bring in Shabbat recently, I sat under the mango tree with the 20 other Jewish people here at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village (ASYV). Yes, even in Rwanda we find time and a way to bring in Shabbat.
I spent the month of February in Rwanda at ASYV with 13 other members from Young Judaea Year Course. Anne Heyman, a Jewish philanthropist, created Agahozo-Shalom as a response to the many orphans in Rwanda that resulted from the 1994 genocide. ASYV was based on the youth village idea that began in Israel after the Holocaust to provide a home for Jewish children who had been orphaned.
ASYV is home to 500 students — 16 students per house (by gender) with one “mama” and a counselor who serves as an older “sister” or “brother.” The village provides these young adults, ages 15-20, with a support system, activities (art, sports and clubs), three meals a day and a good education — offering them the means to be successful, whether that means going to university or getting a good job after they graduate from high school.
The other day, while working in the kitchen, I learned how to say “I am happy” in Kinyarwanda — “mdishimyea.” This is the truth, mdishimyea, I am happy. I am happy to be volunteering in this village, whether it is helping the students and mamas with their English, learning how to sew clothes, practicing karate or soccer, cutting potatoes with the kitchen staff or working in the fields.
Agahozo-Shalom is truly a beautiful place, where everyone says “muraho,” or “hello,” as you walk past, and everyone is very curious about life in America and what it means to be Jewish.
These young adults recognize how lucky they are to be in the village and for the opportunity they are receiving. To pay it forward, every Tuesday they participate in tikkun olam by helping to build mud houses for the villagers in the nearby town of Rubona. As the sage Ben Azzi says, “a mitzva induces another mitzva.” This rings true throughout the village.
Our act of helping provide for the village, along with the ASYV long-term volunteers (four of whom are part of the Jewish Service Corps program of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee), allows for these students to help provide for others in need.
When it comes down to it, what made the recent Shabbat special were the students. While walking through the village, one of the students told me to “have a good Shabbat,” knowing that the Jewish holy day begins at sundown on Friday.
Throughout this Shabbat, I ask you to do the same as me, and to take a second to think about the words of Elie Wiesel: “If the civilized world allowed the crimes in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur to happen, it is because the lessons of Auschwitz and Treblinka have not been learned. And these lessons have not been learned quite simply because, for many reasons, the civilized world would rather not know.”
This can be changed and we can start it now, on this Shabbat. In the spirit of Shabbat I ask you to donate (any little bit helps) to the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village. And with that, I want to forward the message from students at Agahozo Shalom onto you all, to “have a good Shabbat.”
Minneapolis native Elana Orbuch attended the Amos and Celia Heilicher Minneapolis Jewish Day School and the Talmud Torah of Minneapolis. She is the daughter of Jill and David Orbuch.
For information on the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village and to make a donation, visit: tikkunolamrwanda.causevox.com.
(American Jewish World, 3.2.12)
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