After losing her parents during her freshman year at the University of Pennsylvania, Anea Moore took steps toward her own healing through her connection with the children of Rwanda who were also coping with grief.
Through Penn Hillel’s Moral Voices Fellowship, Moore spent 10 days at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, a 144-acre rural residential community designed to help heal youth who lost their families in the 1994 genocide.
Moore, a Southwest Philadelphia native and junior double-majoring in urban studies and sociology in the School of Arts and Sciences, says her role in Rwanda was to listen and learn.
“As a first-generation, low-income student leader and a leader in community work at Penn, people often want to hear my story because I’ve triumphed over these great losses and managed to succeed,” Moore says. “Being in Rwanda was one of those behind-the-scenes moments that I don’t get enough of but are essential to my development as a person.”
In Rwanda, Moore taught students, assisted with meal preparation and played sports with the youngsters. She also attended their art classes and talent show.
While she spent time shopping in local marketplaces and ventured on a five-mile hike to a lake outside of the village, Moore also visited the national genocide memorials. Memories of those sites still produce anxiety for her.
She formed deep connections with residents through their shared sense of loss.
“I showed the students a picture of my parents on my phone. They asked what my parents did, and I told them that they weren’t alive,” Moore says. “They stared at me, and one of the girls finally said ‘So, you’re like us.’ I nodded, and we all smiled at each other.
“The students appreciated knowing that there were other people outside of Rwanda like them, and I definitely appreciated knowing that I wasn’t the only one dealing with loss.”
Moore says she learned many things, including varying definitions of what it means to be resilient.
“One big lesson was that resiliency is critical in the development of both macro-structures like entire countries and in micro-structures like individual children,” Moore says. “People often tell me that I’m one of the most resilient people they know, but, I think my resiliency pales in comparison to the students and staff that I encountered there.”
Moore drew from her own work as the assistant family-engagement coordinator at Lea Elementary School in West Philadelphia and compared its culture to that of the youth village, which emphasizes familial-like support. Each Rwandan child lives with his or her “family group” in a house, where they learn to cook and clean and other life skills.
“In my daily work at Lea, I try to stress the value of familial support,” says Moore. “I was able to see how the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village successfully uses familial support in promoting the emotional, physical and academic development of their students. It was very helpful.”
An active member of Penn First, Moore had already helped to establish the First-Generation, Low-Income Student Center, which connects students with resources. But, after returning from her trip, she knew that she had to strengthen her efforts in making a difference for other FGLI students at Penn and elsewhere.
“During my most hopeless moments,” says Moore, “the Penn First community served as a supportive environment that could help me face my problems.”
Moore is organizing the next 1vyG Conference, which will be hosted at Penn Feb. 16-18. She is one of its co-chairs and says nearly 500 attendees are expected.
“1vyG is the largest first-generation, low-income student conference in the world,” Moore says. “It really represents the beginning of the FGLI student movement at Penn.”
In addition, through opportunities with Penn’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships, Moore will continue to make her mark in West Philadelphia.
In her new role as the president of the Center’s Student Advisory Board, Moore leads students in analyzing its programs and provides suggestions for improvement and growth.
Moore also manages Lea’s music program and serves as the director of its K-5 choir. She also introduced a family cooking class with the help of staff from the Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative.
Her local engagement efforts earned her the 2017 Undergraduate Student Award from Penn Women of Color and the Newman Civic Scholars Fellowship.
Following her graduation in 2019, she plans to attend law school and do civil litigation for low-income people, along with policy work for non-profit organizations.