On December 28, Agahozo-Shalom gained 128 new students, wide-eyed and eager to learn. But these weren't just any students. These 128 represent the most vulnerable youth of Rwanda. Before their arrival, the recruitment team performed site visits to the schools as well as their homes to determine who would be able to come to the Village. Selection is not based on grades or test scores, but how vulnerable a teen is. It is by no means an easy process. Having gone through a careful selection process, these students truly represent Rwanda’s struggling population.
December 28 was the day the ASYV staff and I had all been waiting for. That was the day I would meet my new family, 16 new girls who would call me “Cousin” for the next year (and perhaps in the future). I waited in the reception area for their arrival. Busloads of children and guardians poured out of the vans, all carrying the possessions they owned. Some carried trunks; others carried small backpacks.
As all 128 finally filtered into the Village, ASYV held a reception and ceremony to welcome the new students. In the afternoon, we all went to the basketball courts, where the new students would be placed into families with a Mama and a Big Sister or Big Brother. They would live with these other girls or boys and a Mama for the next four years.
As my turn came up, I walked on the court with my Big Sister and Mama. We waited until the speaker called all 16 names and they came on the court. We hugged and took a group photo. After the ceremony, the remaining guardians and students walked with us to their new home. The guardians inspected the rooms to ensure everything was okay, we sat down and Mama talked to all of them. After feeling content, they slowly trickled out.
Finally, we were alone at last. Over the next few days, it was full of awkward pauses, silence and trying to get the students adjusted to Village life. I have never dealt with 16 teenagers before, let alone orphans and vulnerable youth. After dinner, I walked back with a few girls to their home. One had her arm around my waist. As we were about to approach the house, she looked up at me and I could tell she wanted to say something, but struggled to speak. She gave a sigh as if she were about to cry and said, “When I see you, I love you.”
If I had any doubt about my decision to move to Rwanda, it quickly disappeared. It was at this moment that I fully realized why I was here, to give love. I have lived in the Village for almost two months now and when I look at all of the ASYV students, I think to myself, "When I see you, I love you."