Posted by: reachoutrwanda | April 1, 2010


This CBS Segment will give you a good idea of what life at Agahozo Shalom Youth Village is like for its inhabitants, and some of the stories we heard during our stay there. Ann Heyman has truly created a utopia, and its a testament to the model’s success that children who probably saw their parents hacked to death in front of their eyes are now able to smile, laugh, love and be loved.

One of the most surprising things I took away from our stay in the Village and Rwanda in general was a renewed appreciation for relationships and love. Many Rwandans have scene humanity at its least human and before I actually visited I was expecting to find a group of people too scarred and skeptical of the human race to make real connections. I found the opposite. Within a week, we had kids at ASYV coming up to us saying “I love you so much! I love you!” At first I thought, “they couldn’t truly have loved us. They didn’t know us.” But I now realize that maybe thats not true. Amazingly, instead of shying away from human relationships and guarding their love, they have embraced human connections and used them to heal to a point where they can love more freely than most of us. And that is truly inspirational.

Posted by: reachoutrwanda | March 22, 2010


Posted by: reachoutrwanda | March 20, 2010

INTERNET!/The 11th Hour(s)

Sorry for the lack of updates over the past few days but we haven’t had internet and quite frankly haven’t done anything too crazy. Granted after the gorillas not much qualifies as crazy anymore. To fill you in anyway, we spent thursday lounging lakeside at a beautiful guesthouse in Gisenyi and yesterday driving from Gisenyi to Kigali and eating dinner at Clemantine’s aunt’s house. Along with beautiful hills and fields full of bananas, we passed an amazing scene: a worksite swarming with men – some in the pink jumpsuits assigned to convicted genocidaires, and some dressed normally. That both normal citizens who presumably lost people in the genocide and genocidaires could work side by side is absolutely incredible and reflective of Rwanda’s determination to moving forward. We also passed men being tried in Gacaca courts – small, local courts evolved from traditional communal courts that put justice partially in the hands of genocide victims.

Today was a little busier. We spent the morning packing (very difficult given our acquisitions from the crafts market), and meeting with Julie Carney , Yale ’08, who runs Gardens for Health, a wonderful NGO dedicated to enabling people living with HIV/AIDS to improve their nutrition, health and treatment adherence through sustainable agriculture. Then in the afternoon we had lunch at Ambassador Symington’s house. It was really awesome to get to see “America’s House” and talk to the Ambassador about what we had learned.

Our hours in the airport are dwindling and I should start trying to motivate people. I realize that this post is incredibly boring and inarticulate so I’m going to check back in with after trip reflections when I get back to Yale. In the meantime I’m going to try to update some photos from the past days.

Posted by: reachoutrwanda | March 18, 2010

Gorillas and Art of Conservation

We could hear them before we could see them. The crackle of bamboo breaking under their formidable weights and loud snorty noises let us know we were close, Very close. I think we were all glad to have a guide with a machete in our company even with the knowledge that they would never EVER use it on a Gorilla. After several tense minutes of waiting we finally saw a flash of black fur rush through the brush and out popped a baby gorilla literally at our feet. It was hard to obey our guide when he told us to move back and keep our distance because all I wanted to do was scoop it up and run away. The babies in general were pretty hillarious. They RELISHED human attention, it seemed – sitting on raised rocks, staring us coyly in the eyes, beating their little chests and somersaulting. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Silverbacks were the most striking to behold. 450 pounds of pure muscle stuffed into a 5’8 frame with surprisingly anthropomorphic behaviors. Watching them strip and consume bamboo truly felt like watching a body builder eat celery.

To backtrack a little bit, we got another early start tomorrow, arriving at the gorilla base camp at 7am. We were subsequently split into two groups because only 8 people maximum are allowed to see each gorilla family. Christina, Jacob, Zach, Matt and hiked two hours straight up hill, and battled fire ants and mutantly large worms (twice as big as my size 8 rainboots) to see the Hirwa group while the others hiked about thirty minutes to see theirs. Softies. I was quite glad for the hike actually. Even before we got into Gorilla territory the scenery was absolutely stunning. I’m pretty positive we hiked through Narnia at the beginning. Densely packed trees with no branches except for at their tops provided a canopy for small bushes of white and lavender flowers. Goats bahhed, cows mooed, birds chirped, mist engulfing the entire scene making it appear almost as an apparition. I fully expected a satyr to pop out of one of the mud and straw dwellings we passed but to my disasppointment none did. Probably just being shy. After hiking through Narnia for about thirty minutes my group crossed into the bamboo forest that the gorillas call home. In parts of the hike there was a clear path but oftentimes our guide had to hack us a path with his machete before we could pass. I guess because the Gorilla families aren’t static the guides lead groups on different paths each time they go. In any case, it alll felt very intrepid. Especially facing off with the fire ants who particularly loved Jacob and Matt. After about two hours of hiking straight uphill, falling often and grabbing on to bamboo for support, we arrived at a misty clearing, left everything except our cameras with guards armed with machine guns (once again for poachers, NEVER gorillas) and spent about an hour watching the Hirwa, moving around as they did. At one point we apparently did not move fast enough for the silverback chiefs liking and he made a horrific noise and lunged at Francis, our guide. We were understandably terrified – scattering in all directions which is exactly what they advise you NOT to do. Once he had gathered us back together, francis started hysterically laughing at our trembling and explained that we hadn’t been in any real danger at all. We were merely in the gorilla”s way and he way and he wanted us out. Pronto. Whether or not he was telling the truth we are all safe and had an incredible time. In many ways I’m almost glad for the frightening element because it let me appreciate just how raw and unsanitized our interactions with the Gorillas were.

After giddily heading back to the hotel and taking much needed showers, we headed to the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project headquarters where thanks to Dr. Kim Hammond, they let us peer into the enclosure that houses the orphan gorillas. Most of the gorillas were orphaned by poachers – an especially sad fact because poachers rarely target gorillas intentionally, meaning their parents’ deaths were accidental and total wastes. Yesterday evening, once again thanks to KIm Hammond, our group had dinner with a lot of interesting figures working on various projects in Ruhengeri. I was seated across from an american man who started the Rwandan national cycling team while others sat with members of the veterinary project and Art of Conservation.

Jumping way ahead, this morning we visited a site sponsored by Art of Conservation where batwa pygmies made sustainable fire fuel called “brickettes” out of recycled materials and sawdust. It was a really interesting process to watch and an amazing concept in that it is sustainable, both environmentally and as a means of income for the batwa, often a marginalized and generally underpriveledged race.

Now we are en route to Gisenyi, a beautiful town on the banks of lake kivu. Right now it is cloudy but hopefully by the time we arrive it will be sunny enough for us to enjoy the lakefront.

Murabeho for now,

Posted by: reachoutrwanda | March 17, 2010

En Route to Gorillas!

We just jumped into safari cars to ferry us to the gorilla base camp. I’m posting to let you know that if you don’t hear from me after this its because my plan to get adopted by one of the gorilla families a la Tarzan has been successful. In that case, I bequeath blog duties and all of my posessions to the rest of the group.

Posted by: reachoutrwanda | March 16, 2010

Road to Ruhengeri

This is going to have to be very brief because I am writing from my blackberry and want to get maximum shut eye to be in my best possible gorilla spotting form. This morning began luxuriously late at 930 when we shoved off from Kigali and began the three hour drive to Ruhengeri, recently renamed Musanze for political reasons that no one can quite figure out. Everyone still calls it Ruhengeri…In any case the drive was absolutely stunning – the hills were higher than we had seen driving in other parts of the country and the farm land was seemingly more lush. Ruhengeri itself is surrounded by some of the prettiest scenery I have ever seen in my life. From its spot in a valley 30 minutes from Volcanoes national park where the gorillas live you can see 3 of the 8 volcanoes (no longer active, thank god). They are incredibly commanding – craggy in shape but covered in folliage and surrounded by terraced fields, worked by women and men clad in vibrant african fabrics. I wish I could upload pictures and will when we get wifi but I don’t know when that will be at this point. After a late lunch at one of the hotels in town we made a visit to a pygmy village near the gorillas base camp. The pygmies, or batwa, is the third ethnicity of people that lives in rwanda along with the hutus and tutsis (though those last two distinctions no longer exist legally). A hunting and gathering people, they account for less than 1% of the population and often live in remote forest areas. Many people in our group had mixed feelings about the ethical implications of visiting the village where the pygmies put on a song and dance routine for us. Many of the kids looked severely malnourished and nearly all of them wore tattered clothes matted with dirt. Needless to say it was pretty shocking and depressing to see after having spent a week with the kids at the village who were all so well cared for. But our real reason for coming to ruhengheri is our activity tomorrow: gorilla trekking! We will wake up with the sun, grab a quick breakfast and then drive to the basecamp where we’ll receive a briefing and split into two groups of 6 and 7 (only 8 people are allowed permits per gorilla family). Then we will hike until we locate a clan and spend about an hour with them. Supposedly it is not rare for the gorillas to get so close to you that you could reach out and touch them. If you’re lucky, occasionally they will reach out and touch YOU. Needless to say I am too excited for words and need to go to bed so tomorrow comes faster.

Sorry again for the short update! Hopefully we’ll get somewhere with wifi soon but if not ill keep updating from this.


Posted by: reachoutrwanda | March 15, 2010

Safari in Akagera


This post is going to have to be somewhat short because i am very frustrated by the french=style keyboard in the guesthouse lobby. Other than the as and ws being switched I have little to complain about today. We tried to go into our safari venture with no expectations, having heard that some people went to akagera and saw nothing but birds. Therefore we were delighted to see Giraffe, zebra; impalla; hippos, baboons, ververt monkeys who are blue in a very curious place…google them if youre curious, its not blog appropriate…At one point the herds of zebra and i,palla we were among scattered and we were sure that we would see a lion but instead we were surprised and a little bit perturbed to see a barefooted man swaddled in rags. it seemed as though he had been living in the park alone for a while but we were never able to corroborate any of our theories because he refused to speak to our park ranger guide, going so far as to hide in the long grass as we approached him. very odd.

after we arrived back in kigali, ivan, ashley, zach and i walked a few km up the road from our guesthouse and ended up mistakenly at the union trade center = otherwise known as muzungu central. i find the trade center very interesting especially in contrast with the  comparatively dilapidated mom and pop looks as if it could have popped out of any american city with a 24 hr supermarket selling everything from cereal to sleeping bags to bicycles, electronic stores and a smart coffee shop with free wifi called bourbon cafe where i got a delicious iced americano. never have i been in a developing country where development, by western standards at least, was so palpable.

anyway, must go but jenny is going to hopefully post something retroactively about our day visiting the nyamata genocide memorial yesterday. murabeho for now.

Posted by: reachoutrwanda | March 15, 2010

Kigali Evening to Heaven (will write more soon)

Tonight we are going to eat at a restaurant called Heaven. We will write more tonight about the last two days if the internet is still working.

Amahoro (peace),


Posted by: reachoutrwanda | March 13, 2010

Day Seven – Our Last Day in the Village!

By Haley

Today began early for a few of us who decided to wake at 5 am to see the sunrise. Ivan, Bob, Ashley and I alternated between walking and running up to the high school behind the dining hall to get the best view before it rose. We thought for certain that we would be the first ones up in the Village but the girls volleyball team was already practicing as we began our trek (presumably to beat the heat). Nonetheless, the grounds were incredibly serene  with hardly any noises save for the frogs and crickets.

Once we reached our lookout point at the top of the hill we waited anxiously for the orb of the Sun to break through the layer of quickly lightening clouds. When it finally did we were awestruck by its size and brilliant orange color.

After we stood for a while, drinking in the beauty of the sloping Rwandan hills and the sun’s reflection off of nearby Lake Mugasera, we headed to the Village farm where we worked from 7-10. As I may have mentioned before, the Village grows everything that it serves in its dining hall besides rice – a remarkable feat considering there are 250 kids, and about 50 staffers. This week the farm also had to account for 14 hungry Yalies used to american-sized portions and unaccustomed with laboring in the hot sun for 5 hours.

In any case, on the farm we split into groups with some of us planting coffee trees, some of us weeding fully grown coffee trees, some of us weeding mango trees, and some of us removing the kernels from dried ears of corn to make animal feed. I was assigned to kernel removing where I sat next to the Village Director’s fifteen year old daughter. She just started attending a private school in Kigali and I was interested to hear her insights about the differences between attending school in the village and attending school in Kigali. She attested that the kids in the Village were much more self-motivated when it came to their studies – tutoring each other and seeking out their teachers for extra help.  In my eyes, this disparity speaks to the gratitude of the Village children that has become so apparent during our stay. At one point or another, the lives of all of the kids in the village were probably imperiled. They realize how lucky they are simply to be alive, but moreover to be in such a nourishing place where they can truly feel loved and at home. This combination seems to motivate many of the kids to make the most of the lives that were nearly stolen from them.

It being our last day, today we reflected a lot as a group on what we had learned during our time in the village. We collectively decided that the most inspiring think we had observed was the Village childrens’ capacities to love and be loved even after having seen humans do unthinkable things to their families. They could be bitter, should be bitter even, but they are not. They are are strong, but certainly not hardened – a fact reflected by the sincerity of the smiles, and the warmness of the embraces we have received during our time here. Today while walking to dinner one little girl whose family i had been visiting, took my hand and looking up at me said “I love you so much, please don’t forget me.”

After dinner tonight our group had an extensive talk about how we could bring our experiences at Agahozo Shalom Youth Village home with us. I think that we came up with a fantastic list of ideas that hopefully we’ll be able to implement on arrival home in the states. Regardless of anything, we will certainly never forget.

Tomorrow at around 9 am we will depart the Village and commence the traveling part of our journey. I am not sure when we will have internet connection but i may try to make short updates on my blackberry. In case I can’t here is the basic rundown of our next week.

Sunday March 14th – Visit to Nyamata Genocide Memorial, Kigali City Tour

Monday March 15th – All day Safari drive in Akagera National Park. Dinner at Heaven, a restaurant in Kigali owned by Yale grad Josh Ruxin who is the founder and director of the Access Project in Rwanda, an initiative of the Center for Global Health and Economic Development at Columbia University in New York City.  He is a frequent contributor to such national publications as the New York Times and the Huffington Post, and has been featured in the Washington PostForbesTimeSeed magazine, CNN and CNN International’s Inside Africa, among many others.

Tuesday March 16th – Drive to Ruhengheri, Visit to a Pygmy Village

Wednesday March 17th – Gorilla Trekking, Visit to and dinner at the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project

Thursday March 18th – Drive to Gisenyi, Possible visit to the Braliwa brewery, Lounging on the banks of Lake Kivu and fishing with Rwandan fishermen

Friday March 19th – Visit to Gardens for Health – an organization co-founded by a Yale Grad dedicated to enabling people living with HIV/AIDS to improve their nutrition, health and treatment adherence through sustainable agriculture. Gardens for Health was founded on the belief that a comprehensive HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment plan requires access to adequate, nutritious food.

Saturday March 20th – Lunch at Ambassador Symington’s house before a night flight out of Kigali

Sunday March 21st – Back in the USA!

Once again it has gotten late and I need to rest up for what promises to be a big week. Thanks for following and hopefully ill be updating soon!

Murabeho (goodbye) for now!

By Haley

There were so many highlights of today it is hard to know where to start. For simplicity’s sake Ill go in chronological order. About an hour in to our workday (which goes by VERRYYY slowly when you are ferrying heavy rocks and bricks on your back in the hot African sun) we heard shouts from where Matt and Josh were connecting a cistern with Olivier. Josh flailed wildly, pointing at the gutter and motioned for all of us to come over. At first I thought he was just excited to have finished another cistern, but in fact Oliver had found a Cobra in the gutter! He tried to coax it out but apparently his snake charming skills were not up to snuff and the slithery guy stayed put.

After lunch of beans, rice, and a delicious green bean cabbage salad, we teamed up with Lily and Barry (the art coordinator) and made the thirty minute trek into the nearby town of Rubona. We didn’t feel comfortable taking pictures of the walk or the market as we didn’t want to seem disrespectful or voyeuristic so I’ll try to recreate a picture with words. Imagine a hilly red clay winding through lush green hills, cows baying, goats frolicking, and houses constructed entirely out of wooden sticks and packed red mud.  Children ran out of their houses to meet our group at the road shouting “Muzungus!” or, “White People!”, grabbing our hands and clothes, or pointing and erupting into hysterics. An old woman carrying bananas swaddled in beautiful patterned fabric on her head stopped to hug me and tell me through crooked and rotting teeth that “Jesus is Forever.”

We garnered even more attention at the market itself. People constantly trailed us, riveted by our every move – eager to see what we would buy and in some cases laughing at us unabashedly. The market consisted of about 3 rows of stalls filled with neon faux-croc sandals, scarves, t-shirts and track jackets. Behind the central market was the fruit and vegetable market where our group bought pineapples, avocados, tomatoes and onions. In stores around the perimeter, salesmen hawked skeins of fabric, bottled water, soda and bread. In an ironic twist, one of the televisions in the storefronts was playing a subtitled version of Hairspray. Oh globalization.

After the journey home Josh made delicious guacamole with the avocados that we bought and the group quickly devoured it with the bread we had bought. After feasting, Matt, Eric and I decided to try our hand at laundry au natural. We lugged a buckets of water over to one of the outdoor sinks and started scrubbing with blue laundry soap. Almost immediately, Immaculine and Bolsa – two girls from one of the nearby houses – came down the hill and told us we were doing it ALLLL wrong. Undaunted by the fact that all of our white clothing was a tasty color of brown, they grabbed our clothes and insisted on helping us. This is just one small example of the wonderful  hospitality that we’ve received while staying in the village. The kids have really opened their houses and hearts to us during our week here. Unprompted, they have been quick to translate for us whenever anyone spoke in Kinryarwanda. They have been even quicker to smile at us, hug us, and call us “brothers and sisters” – a huge honor. Our group is becoming increasingly sad that tomorrow is our last day here, but we are sure to carry our memories of the kids in our minds and in our hearts forever.

After the laundry endeavors came Village Time where the entire village assembles in the dining hall for an hour before dinner and each club quickly debriefs on what they did that week. It kicked off with a bang when the technical club showed a 5 minute video that prominently featured footage from our epic dance party with the Staff. It was hilarious and heartwarming to hear the kids hoot and holler and giggle at the sight of their house mamas swing dancing with us.

Following a dinner of bean stew, rice and bananas we attempted to repeat said epic dance party with the kids. Many had expressed excitement about dancing with us so we were very surprised when we found that our group was the only party dancing and that all 250 kids in the village were pressed shyly against the walls. Eventually, by playing Rwanda’s top dance hits and making fools of ourselves on the dance floor (picture: the floppy fish move, the grocery cart, the lawn mower and a combination of ballet leaps down the entire porch finished off with multiple leprechaun heel clicks) we finally coaxed them out of their shells and on to the dance floor.

As i write this my eyes are starting to glaze over. We REALLY got after it on the dance floor tonight and I think i should go to bed to save up for tomorrow when we will start working on the farm at 7 am. A few of us may also get up at 515am to watch the sun rise from the high school where the views are sublime. We’ll see how that goes.

In any case, after a day of fun with the kids and lots of walking we’ll certainly sleep well tonight.

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