John Plaisted and Lisa Doi
Two of the main principles of Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village are tikkun halev (repair the heart) and tikkun olam (repair the world). In their first year, students focus on tikkun halev by forming families and healing themselves. After their first year they move on to tikkun olam. Senior 4 (second year) students leave the village every Tuesday afternoon to go to the local clinic, school, or do social work in the community. As we were being divided into groups three students were given the opportunity to do a very different kind of social work.
At the beginning of May, one group of students started helping a sick woman in the community by cultivating her garden and making improvements to her house. They soon found out that the land on which she and her family live was no longer hers. Many years ago, she and her first husband left this home to go to the Congo. There, they had a daughter, but unfortunately her husband passed away. She remarried and had three more children and brought her new family back to Rwanda. Upon her return, she fell ill and had to spend time in the hospital in Kigali. While she was away, her second husband raped her first daughter who was only nine years old. She returned home, and he was sent to prison for less than a year. Her condition declined, and she has been bedridden for the past 14 months. Her husband returned home and began selling off her possessions and land without her knowledge. Upon hearing this story, the ASYV students knew they must act. In the past two weeks, they have been trying to restore the land to the mother and to get her medical treatment at the local hospital.
We arrived this afternoon with a group of 20 ASYV students to try and find a solution to this problem. The students were able to engage the husband in an open discussion about his actions and their consequences for the family. They were worried not only about the mother, but also about the future of the children (although the eldest daughter currently lives with other relatives). As the discussion progressed, representatives from the village came, including the head of the village, the head of the village women, a district representative, and many other neighbors and friends. Everyone was able to voice their opinion about both the issue and the solution. At the end of the discussion, a current action plan of repossessing the land and finding the husband a job, which will mandate that half of the money go towards the woman's hospitalization and treatment and that the other half go towards taking care of the children.
As Penn's founder Benjamin Franklin said, "The great Aim and End of all Learning... is service [to society]." What we witnessed today embodies this mentality. Through ASYV, a group of students have been empowered to become agents of change in their community. Even a group of students who have experienced so much hardship in their lives have been turned into leaders. This type of civic education is an example of how anyone can make a difference--whether in Rwanda or West Philadelphia. Teaching future leaders how to engage in society and exercise their voice is a universal lesson. We all have the capacity to heal our hearts and repair the world.