British teenagers on a gap year in Israel have spent three weeks volunteering with orphans in Rwanda as part of FZY’s social action programme.
The British participants assisted at the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village, a community in a rural area established by a Jewish couple after the 1994 genocide. It is modelled on the Yemin Orde Youth Village in Israel. The volunteering scheme is run jointly with FZY’s American sister movement Young Judea.
The teenagers’ daily tasks included paving roads and planting trees, working in the kitchens and picking maize and tending chickens. Londoner Katie Metliss, who tutored English and ran sports activities, said she had been pleasantly surprised at the warmth of welcome the volunteers received.
“I expected a much more hostile environment based on Rwanda’s history. My expectations were so wrong. What a beautiful country Rwanda is. Not just the geography but also the people. They are so positive and their work ethic is incredible.
“These students have so many reasons to give up and turn to drugs or a criminal lifestyle but they are so grateful for what the village provides for them. They continue to smile and focus on achieving their goals.”
Katie felt honoured when one of the orphans shared his family’s experience of living through the genocide. “A lot of people do not speak about their family or the genocide.”
Finchley 19-year-old Alex Barnett had expected to see “the depressing mark of the genocide and huge poverty throughout the country. But this really wasn’t the case.
“We went to the genocide memorial museum and to the bustling market of Kigali. A group of us also went ‘gorilla trekking’, where we hiked up a volcanic jungle to find the silverback gorillas in their natural habitat. The most challenging thing was having to leave the village and the country.”