Rwandan orphans get a little piece of Israel

By Anshel Pfeffer, December 11, 2008
Inspiring: work continues at the Agahozo youth village

Inspiring: work continues at the Agahozo youth village

A group of orphans from the 1994 Rwandan genocide are to begin new lives at a special youth village run by Israeli-trained staff and financed by Jewish-American donations through the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

The Agahozo (“dry their tears”) Shalom village will not open officially until next June, but the first group of 125 children are to move in next week.

The village, which will eventually house 500 young people, was the brainchild of New York lawyer Anne Heyman-Merrin. Inspired by the story of Paul Rusesabagina, the hero of the film Hotel Rwanda, she decided to do something for the 1.2 million orphans of the genocide, who make up 15 per cent of Rwanda’s population. Ms Heyman-Merrin drew on the Israeli experience of absorbing the orphans of the Holocaust in youth villages.

“On December 15 we are welcoming the first 125 orphans to their new home,” said Ms Heyman-Merrin, who is now in Rwanda. “Not all of phase one is built, but we are able to move in to allow the children time to settle into their new home and to get to know those who will be living with and caring for them.”

Initially, the staff, who have been trained at Yemin Orde, the village on which Agahozo Shalom is based, will be from the Israeli-Ethiopian community. They will then train local staff.

Yemin Orde, near Haifa, was established in 1953 for Holocaust orphans and has since evolved into a centre specialising in youths who have suffered trauma.

As well as a residential area, the village, a 143 acres complex near Lake Mugesera in Eastern Rwanda, will include a high school, from which some 120 students will graduate every year. Also planned are an IT centre and programmes for forestry and agriculture.

Last updated: 11:50am, December 11 2008