Anne Heyman dies. A friend of Israel and Rwanda

by Alan Simons

The New York Times has reported that South African born Anne Heyman, 52, died on January 31 from complications after falling from a horse while competing in a masters jumper competition in Florida.  She was a supporter of Jewish causes and a friend of Rwanda.

She will lovingly be remembered in Rwanda for establishing in 2008 a village called Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village. “Agahozo is a Kinyarwanda word meaning a place where tears are dried.” 

Patterned after Israel’s Yemin Orde Youth Village — also located on a scenic hilltop, a haven to orphans from the Holocaust — the Rwandan residential community was built to house 125 teenagers, most of whom lost their parents in the country’s 1994 genocide.

As reported in The New York Times:

When Anne Heyman learned in 2005 that the genocide in Rwanda had orphaned 1.2 million children, she saw a glimpse of salvation for the country in the experience of Israel.

 “It popped out of my head: They should build youth villages,” she told The New York Times last year.

 Ms. Heyman, a South African-born lawyer who had given up her legal career in New York to devote herself to philanthropy, was thinking of how Israel, as a new nation state in the late 1940s, had welcomed and cared for tens of thousands of children who had been orphaned by the Holocaust. The Israelis set up residential communities called youth villages to nurture them.

 “Israel had a solution to the orphan problem,” Ms. Heyman, a supporter of Jewish causes, told The Jerusalem Post last year. “Without a systemic solution, this is a problem that won’t solve itself.”

 Ms. Heyman knew no one in Rwanda and little about the country, but she plowed ahead, 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. 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.”

It’s been written that when a person dies, his or her spirit lives in those who remember.  Rwanda, the land of a thousand hills, will always have a place for Anne Heyman’s spirit.  

Ms. Heyman’s obituary in The New York Times can be read in its entirety by clicking here.

A video describing the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village can be watch by clicking here.

(Alan Simons served as the Honorary Consul of the Republic of Rwanda to Canada from 1999 to 2002) 

Photo credit: New Times, Rwanda

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