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Friday, 31 August 2007

Israeli-inspired youth village for Rwandan orphans takes shape

Israeli-inspired youth village for Rwandan orphans takes shape
By Stephanie L. Freid August 26, 2007
In 2005 Anne Heyman sent an e-mail message from her Manhattan office to
Israel's director of the Yemin Orde Youth Village. "You don't know me,"
the message began "but I hope you might be able to help me in my mission."

Said mission was to build a youth village in Rwanda for children
orphaned during the late '90s genocide and model it after the Yemin Orde
Youth orphanage in Haifa, Israel.

Yemin Orde director Haim Peeri was forthcoming. He met with Heyman,
offered advice and presented a model she could emulate. A mere two years
later, Heyman almost had to pinch herself as she stood alongside
international dignitaries, Rwandan orphans and Yemin Orde delegates at
the groundbreaking ceremony for Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village last week
in Rubono, Rwanda.

"Oh my God, this is really going to happen. It is real," Heyman
recounted to ISRAEL21c. "I know we still have lots of planning and lots
of work to do to get where we need to be, but this village is real. We
are building it. And we really started today."

The project idea was sparked during a dinner conversation in New York
between Heyman, a New York businesswomen and philanthropist, and Paul
Rusesabagina, the subject of the film Hotel Rwanda.

"I asked Paul what the biggest problem in Rwanda is and he told me that
in a country where there are 1.2 million orphans out of a population of
8 million, there is no future for that country," said Heyman.

His words motivated her action and soon after the Rwanda Agahozo-Shalom
Village began taking shape. The village will provide a comprehensive
response to youth displacement by establishing a multi-faceted youth
village based on the concept of the village as home. Children are
fostered by a holistic, protective environment to help them overcome
trauma and abandonment issues.

Agahozo-Shalom is being modeled after Yemin Orde because as a
28-year-old institute, the Israeli village has a reputation for the work
it carried out with children who have been orphaned, displaced or
traumatized.

A large percentage of Yemin Orde's children are of Ethiopian origin
largely due to trauma and displacement following Israel's covert 1980s
and 1991 airlifts out of Ethiopia. During the lifts, some children were
orphaned and others faced cultural hardships upon arrival to Israel.

Today, Ethiopian graduates of Yemin Orde are among Israel's leaders and
motivators. The Agahozo-Shalom Village initiative has incorporated Yemin
Orde architectural, educational and philosophical standards and has
involved creating joint Rwandan-Israeli-Ethiopian teams that work side
by side creating standards for the Rwandan village.

Teams have shuttled back and forth between Rwanda and Israel for more
than a year attending meetings and lectures and gleaning information on
everything from channeling extra-curricular interests to fostering
cultural practices to troubleshooting problem areas.

Rwanda's team spent long hours on Yemin Orde's campus to gain
information about the philosophies, functions and daily routines of
Yemin Orde staff roles and to visually note layouts for modeling
learning annexes, living quarters, the dining room and recreation spaces
in the Rwanda village.

At last week's groundbreaking ceremony, the delegations met again as the
Ethiopian-Israeli team hoisted the village flag alongside their Rwandan
peers. Rwanda's Eastern District governor introduced Ethiopian-Israeli
Advisory Team Director Yisasschar Mekonen by noting that Mekonen had
grown up at Yemin Orde and he wanted "the Rwandese children to grow up
to be as tall and handsome and elegant as Yisasschar."

Yemin Orde graduate Ethiopian-Israeli Racheli Ugado has been responsible
for providing the Agahozo-Shalom Village philosophy. "I'm here to help
my brothers in Africa so that they can help themselves," she said during
a recent delegation collaboration in Israel. "It makes me feel good to
help the place I came from. I'm very connected to it. I feel like it's
my country too."

Among notables attending last week's ceremony were Israel's Ambassador
to Rwanda Yaakov Amitai, and senior Rwandan government officials.

Education Minister Mujawamariya's speech on "Restoring the Rhythm of
Life" to Rwanda's children a decade after the genocide included her
incorporation of the Hebrew catchphrase "tikun olam" - i.e. helping to
make the world a better place - interspersed with KinyaRwandan.

The village and school is expected to be operational by 2009, a dream
into action Heyman says couldn't have happened without help from endless
sources including the American Joint Distribution Council and Yemin Orde.

"As a private citizen I think this is a testament to the ability of each
and every one of us to make a significant difference in the world,"
concluded Heyman. "If you have a good idea and believe in it strongly
enough, there are others out there who will be only too glad to help you
make it happen."

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