Anne Heyman and Rwandan President Paul Kagame. Photo courtesy of the Heyman family / The Forward
Anne Heyman and Rwandan President Paul Kagame. Photo courtesy of the Heyman family / The Forward
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The shiva period of mourning for Anne Heyman has only just ended, but the American philanthropist’s heartbroken family is already taking concrete steps to make sure her legacy of caring for orphans of Rwanda’s genocide never dies.

Heyman’s 19-year-old son, Jonathan Merrin, journeyed to Africa for a month-long stint at the unique youth village Heyman founded. Another son, Jason Merrin, plans to join the board of the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village. A nephew is also joining the trip, calling his aunt “100% a moral compass.”

“I have a lot of friends in the village, and I’m their brother,” Jonathan Merrin said as he prepared to leave from Israel, where he is doing a post high school year course with Young Judea. “They are hurting, as I am, and it’ll be good for us to be around each other.”

“Every day I keep her in mind, and do the types of things she would do,” said her 21-year-old daughter Jenna Merrin, a student at Brown University.

Heyman established the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in 2008, inspired by Jewish values and based on the strategies kibbutzim used to deal with Holocaust orphans.

When Heyman died in a horse riding accident January 31, at the age of only 52, it wasn’t just her husband and her three children who mourned her loss. Rwandan students, who lost their parents in a 1994 killing spree, remembered Heyman as a “second mother” who would spend countless hours counseling them one-on-one during her frequent trips to the school outside the Rwanda capital of Kigali.

The African orphans described Heyman’s sudden death as a crushing personal blow — and quietly wondered if the death of ASYV’s main patron might deal an even more severe blow to its future.

For his part, Heyman’s widower, Seth Merrin, insists the family will not permit her death to derail her dream. He helped Heyman establish the village, and he will soon visit to personally reassure the children that its future is secure.

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