Elana Stern
2010-2011
I spent the month of February volunteering at the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda. I would do things I once thought entirely out of the realm of possibility in my life (chopping down trees with a machete, building a warehouse out of concrete and bricks, teaching English and French to African orphans).
 
Built in response to the overwhelming orphan population in post-genocide Rwanda, the village is probably one of the region’s most advanced places. Housing up to 500 orphans at a time, the village also employs women whose families were murdered during the genocide, to take on the roles of house mothers for families of 16. In addition to American and Israeli volunteers, the village staff includes therapists, social workers, teachers, kitchen workers, and a construction crew.
 
In Rwanda, our major project was constructing a warehouse to store clothing and goods donations. The first day was undoubtedly the hardest but, by the end, we were carrying bricks in piles of five or six, wheelbarrows full of cement, and several-gallon jerry cans overflowing with water. In time, the work got easier and, in the process, we became friends with the construction workers.
 
My time in Rwanda wasn’t just about building a warehouse but it was about making a measurable and memorable change.
 
Each day, I felt our impact on the people around us, especially while building a mud hut for a man named Peter, who has seven children. With a little mud and a lot of smiles, we were able to make a critical difference in his family’s life.
 
When I returned to Israel, I turned on the shower in my Jerusalem apartment; to my surprise, water came out — and I cried. Not (only) because I was so excited to have returned to reliable plumbing, but because I now knew are people in this world who will never know this luxury, may never attend a university or fulfill their potential. This is a tragedy that is now real to me, because I have seen it and lived it firsthand. And now, more than ever, I want to change it.
 
I now know that a small group of determined people can change the world, one brick and one English class at a time.
Masa Israel on Twitter