After Anne Heyman's Death, Heartbroken Family Picks Up Torch in Rwanda

Grieving Children Vow To Follow in Philanthropist's Footsteps

courtesy of heyman family

By Nathan Jeffay

Published February 20, 2014, issue of February 28, 2014.
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After his bereavement, at least one friend suggested Jonathan Merrin shouldn’t go through with the Rwanda trip.

“Others had it on their faces… it’s the absolute worst idea and it’s too soon,” he recalled. “But I’d rather go and find it really hard than not go.”

The teenager, who relaxed as the washing machine whirred in his family’s seaside apartment, was under no illusion that it would be easy. He sees his late mother everywhere, especially in the Israeli apartment that she planned to be the family’s eventual home base.

“She would sit outside and watch the waves, and said she would retire here,” Jonathan Merrin recalled. “I find it really hard being in this house of her design — and [ASYV] is a whole village which is her design.”

Jonathan Merrin recounted his mother’s journey to becomiing involved in Rwanda as he remembers it — through a child’s lens. He was with his parents at the 2005 talk that inspired them to get involved in helping to build Rwanda’s future.

“I remember the day my mum got the idea… the speaker said that there’s no future for a country with 1.3 million orphans,” he recalled. An elementary school pupil at the time, he remembers being decidedly less inspired. “I fell asleep,” he said.

In the months after the lecture, his mother read voraciously about Rwanda. The young boy surveyed her piles of books and noticed that his mother’s reading tastes had become uncharacteristically morose. He remembers suggesting that she “just add one happy happily-ever-after book into the pile.”

His sister’s memories include the rushed moment when the village got its name. In 2006, Jenna Merrin, then in the eighth grade, was with her mother in an Israeli hotel as she frantically prepared to fly to Rwanda for a planning meeting about the new project.

The middle school student did what any child would do: She pulled out a laptop and started Googling words in Rwanda’s Kinyarwanda language.

“I gave her a list of words like ‘peace’ and ‘love,’ and it included agahozo — where tears are dried — and she went to the meeting with that name,” Jenna Merrin said.

Her mother’s achievements — turning an idea and a name found in an online search in a hotel room into a groundbreaking youth village — led her to one of Heyman’s strongest messages: “People really can do anything.”

Seth Merrin also thinks big. He believes that the successes of the village show that there is hope for Rwanda as a whole — perhaps even, with the right education and the right investment, hope of great prosperity in the future.

“This sounds like a pipedream, but if you would have looked at Singapore 60 years ago, it would have seemed like a dream there, too.”

Contact Nathan Jeffay at jeffay@forward.com


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