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June 16: Saving Orphans in Rwanda

June 15, 2015

Heyman-with-Rwanda-President-Paul-KagameAnne Elaine Heyman, an attorney, philanthropist, and mother who in 2008 built Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda, a home for more than 500 teenagers orphaned by the 1994 Rwandan genocide, was born in Pretoria, South Africa on this date in 1961. “Agahozo” is Rwandan word meaning “a place where tears are dried,” while “shalom” is Hebrew for “peace.” Heyman had been a member of the Young Judea Zionist youth movement during her own teen years and knew about Israel’s development, in its early days, of youth villages for Jewish kids orphaned by the Holocaust. In 2005, she became aware that 1.2 million Rwandan children had been orphaned in the genocide against Tutsis, and she plunged into “raising more than $12 million; recruiting expert help from Rwanda, Israel and the United States; winning the support of the Rwandan government; and acquiring 144 acres in a setting of lakes and hills in eastern Rwanda,” according to the New York Times. “She then built a village of 32 houses for orphaned teenagers, setting it high on a hill, she said, ‘because children need to see far to go far.’” Ethiopian Jews who had grown up in youth houses in Ethiopia were among the first counselors in the village, which was soon also accepted children orphaned by AIDS and other tragedies. Agahozo-Shalom also has the largest solar power generator in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Death is nothing so long as one can survive through one’s children.” —Rwandan proverb, used in announcing Heyman’s death in a horseback riding accident in 2014