A trailblazing Rwanda school for genocide orphans was plunged into intense mourning Saturday by the death of its founder Anne Heyman — revered by students as a “second mother.”
Heartbroken students at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, who lost their parents in the 1994 killing spree, wept openly after learning of the tragic death of the Jewish philanthropist in a Florida horse-riding accident.
“It’s the worst thing that could happen to us — again,” Emmanuel Nkundunkundiye, 21, a recent graduate told the Forward from the campus outside the Rwanda capital of Kigali. “It’s like being made an orphan all over again.”
“We called her our mother, our angel,” he added. “It’s a loss for us, but also a great loss for the entire nation.”
Coralie Keza, 20, said Heyman was a special inspiration to the girls at the school.
“She brought a light to us,” said Keza, who has one more year at the school. “I thank God I had the opportunity to talk to her, and her spirit will always be with us.”
A memorial bonfire was lit at the school Saturday night and a church service was planned for Sunday morning in the predominantly Christian country.
Six candles — one for each of four high school classes and two alumni classes — burned next to a framed portrait of Heyman beneath a tree where Heyman negotiated the purchase of the land for the school from 96 small landowners.
“It symbolizes where it all began,” said Jean-Claude Nkulikiyimfura, the school’s director.