Well, I’m still at it. I’m still loving these kids in Rwanda. One would think it gets old, you move on, try new things, set new goals. Yet no, here I am. Still traveling across the world to visit kids I barely know, and then get to know, because that’s how it works. Going to Agahozo-Shalom requires a certain commitment, one not even identified before leaving go go there… it is implied and never planned for… it is an emotional understanding which only comes after a visit. And I wish I could explain it to you. But I cannot. You just have to go to understand, be transformed, and then SEE. I can at least promise that to SEE is forever. You will never forget, and that is priceless. Sadly, after 13 visits to Rwanda I still am unable to articulate the experience of hugging a Rwandan child. And I have accepted, to some degree, I never will. Unless you go and feel it for yourself- then we can make a connection. Until then, I will tell their story as best I can.
January 2016 was my longest visit thus far. It is hard to explain the feeling of joy and of sacrifice at the same time. There is a constant internal conflict: Whose kids need me more? I had the wonderful good fortune of bringing my family to Rwanda a few weeks back, and I must say I think my family understands and accepts my absences more than ever, now that they have seen where I go, met who I serve and understand what I do. At least I hope so, because I miss them all so much when I am gone. I would like to think they understand why I feel compelled to leave, after visiting the Village themselves, and spending the day learning about the history and the people, it would actually take effort not to care. Maybe someday I can convince one of them to comment. Unlikely, but one can dream.
I am happy to report I was able to share this visit with many, and I am hopeful ASYV has some new friends. Building the ASYV family is critical. I have learned over the past few years, sadly, that no one is indispensable. No One. Life always goes on. So my goal is to spread the word about these amazing kids who will, someday, change the world. I hope if you are reading this you will be an ambassador for them as well.
This trip I had the pleasure learning all I could from the Smith Brothers. Stephen Smith, the CEO of the Shoah Foundation and James Smith of Aegis Trust. Their work on peace and reconciliation education is critical to the future of the world. Which I realize after typing it is an enormous mission. How fortunate our group was to have these fine gentlemen as our scholars. The message they impart is huge- we are all needed to make a difference going forward. Our voices regarding peace in this world count more than we could know. Facilitating peace negotiations is way more important than making more guns. We had the surprise of meeting the delegation from CAR (Central African Republic) doing just that- we met human beings negotiating peace in real time, leaders trying to prevent a genocide. And it was humbling. I am hopeful the leaders of CAR will get it right this time. Acknowledging the crisis beforehand is half the battle. Stephen and James taught me the importance of doing this kind of work. We must support these efforts as a collective voice; the Smith’s may be amazing but they cannot do it all alone.
I am happy to report the Village is continuing to thrive. And while I’m not surprised, I am continually blown away by the Rwandan staff who consistently find solutions to challenges, and whose commitment to our kids is beyond inspiring. Even those staff who have moved on to other opportunities still continue to love and support the Village. Such big hearts they have for these children. We could learn a lot from the commitment the adults- role models- make for these kids. I love that we all embrace our core values, and put the best interest of the kids first.
I could go on and on, talking about meetings and visits and fun moments, but most of it I have mentioned before in one form or another. I will, however, mention experiences worth noting, as they are really unique, at least to me.
One of our guests turned out to be a Rabbi. She asked if we could have a small Shabbat service. I checked with JC, and we then turned it into a bigger one- at Village Time. From what I understand, when the Village first began, we had a lot of Israeli staff, and Shabbat service was common. But that was before my time, and before most of the current staffs’ time. So for this wonderful woman to go up on stage and explain Shabbat, and brig up Mama’s to help light the candles and bless the kids, well that was incredible to me. At dinner I asked this kids what they thought. They said they liked it, thought the singing was pretty, and appreciated being blessed. I guess a blessing from anywhere can’t hurt.
Upon my departure I am required to go to the dining hall at lunch and make a farewell speech. I hate to leave, and I always leave the kids with a message of hope, and pride in their hard work, along with promises to be back soon. Afterwards, I sat down with some of the new girls to eat lunch. And they were crying. Because I was leaving! So I asked JC later what that really was about, after all, I do know them a bit but not all that well. JC said that it’s what my leaving represents, and that they are not able to articulate their appreciation. They cry because they cannot explain or express (because of cultural reasons, week English, lack of understanding of their feelings or all of the above) what they feel and they know I represent someone or something good, and I care. I think I have never somehow put together that we often cry because there are no words to suffice. Anyway, it was a first for me. And I am grateful to all the kids who came up to me and said goodbye.
I would be remiss if I did not mention Anne. She is all over the Village, in everything we do and much of what the kids say. We all believe in her messages. Two years later she lives on, through the kids, the staff, and all who visit and take her messages forward. And I am grateful to have her here.
So much has happened in two years. But everyone at ASYV aims high. How far we can see is only limited to the mountains on the next horizon. We have had to walk far and climb a few- but the view on the other side will never end, as long as we keep walking, and climbing.
Good thing I picked up some new boots.