Nyaka School for Orphans: One Man's Vision and Inexhaustible Determination
The mission of the school is to provide quality, free education and extracurricular activities, both formal and informal, to children who have been orphaned due to HIV/AIDS as a means to counteract pervasive hunger, poverty, and systemic deprivation.
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First published: July 16, 2006
A few weeks ago, World Refugee Day was celebrated. Angelina Jolie was interviewed on CNN about her work with refugees; several documentaries were screened, visual artists held exhibits in honour of the day and musicians gathered together to celebrate the day. The plight of refugees has been spearheaded by many humanitarian organizations throughout the years. Perhaps one of the worst experiences one can ever have is to live like a refugee in their own country. In Northern Uganda, the people of Gulu live in displacement camps in desperate conditions and in the Southern part of Uganda the numerous abandoned orphans of HIV/AIDS live lives that are no better than refugees in their own country. There are many who do not think that their individual contributions can make a difference, but Twesigye Jackson Kaguri and his wife, Beronda founders of the Nyaka School for Orphans have shown that we can all make a difference.
The Nyaka School for Orphans was established purposely because of the plight of orphans in the village of Nyakagyezi in Uganda, East Africa. It was founded in order to accommodate, feed, educate and inspire the hundreds of children in that area of Uganda whose parents had died of HIV/AIDS, and left them in the hands of many helpless grandparents. Jackson and his wife, Beronda were aware of the fact that HIV/AIDS had claimed so many lives across Africa, but they did not know the extent to which grandparents were suffering in raising these orphans.
So after returning to United States where they currently live, Jackson and his wife, Beronda decided to start raising money for these children. At first they thought they would send school fees but the number of orphans who needed help was growing. With help from their fellow church members, their close friends and family, the school was built in 2001. At the end of 2008, the school will have seven classes, and then Nyaka AIDS Orphans School will be a full-fledged primary school. The school will provide vocational training for the children who will not continue to secondary school and organize scholarships for those will join secondary school.
Twesigye Jackson Kaguri: Just me at one of the fundraisers in Indiana.
Twesigye Jackson Kaguri was born and raised in southwestern Uganda in Nyakagyezi village, Kambuga currently in Kanungu District where he went to school. He says his positive mentors were his father, one of his teachers and her husband. He only went to Kampala for higher education and worked with a human rights organization in Kampala. He then joined Columbia University in New York as a visiting scholar, studying human rights, started a human right organization in Uganda and later a school for HIV/AIDS orphans. He is married and has one son who just turned four in June.
A while back he reached out to UGPulse and we were happy to hear his story and help him with his cause.
Sources used for some of the above: www.nyakaschool.org
Jane: Tell us more about Nyaka AIDS Orphans School.
Jackson: Nyaka, as we call it, was started because of the ever-increasing number of orphans in the rural areas of Uganda. My grandfather took in orphans and poor people in the village, and my dad always came back with an orphan after attending funerals. So my home was always like a foster family. However the idea of building Nyaka was conceived after my brother died of HIV/AIDS in August 1996, followed by my sister in May 1997, both leaving orphans for me to care for (pay school fees, rent, cloth and feed.) Later my sister's son died, but my other nieces and nephew still live to date. Each time we visited the village where their parents were buried, I met many other orphans whose parents had died and they had dropped out of school due to lack of books, uniforms or just a pencil, which is equivalent to a few American cents. So when my wife and I visited my parents in April 2001, we decided not just to keep helping a few kids and help more through a primary school. (More details are on their website)
How did you come up with the concept for Nyaka AIDS Orphans School?
I was looking after several kids who stayed with my parents and many more in the area and we decided to get everyone in one place and serve them well. Though there is UPE in Uganda, many rural students still struggle to buy required books, uniform and afford one meal a day to sustain them throughout the day.
Behind every successful man, there is a strong woman. What is your wife's involvement in this project?
Beronda my wife is my rock, my love and my everything. She is the best thing that ever happened to me. She is a co-founder of Nyaka. The dream was mine but she embraced it, and helped me on every step and still does today. Nyaka is our first born, Nicolas our son is our second born.
Is your son involved too?
Nicolas Twesigye Kaguri is turning four in June and is involved. He travels with me as I raise money, he has been to the School and we will continue involving him to serve and be served as he volunteer his time and resources to Nyaka and many more community schools and centers we will build in developing countries.
Nyaka kids at independence day 2005 (Kanungu District).
What you are doing is amazing. Many of us know that there are many AIDS orphans in Uganda and we can all help individually no matter how small it is. But you have gone ahead and done something plausible, something tangible for these children. You have created hope in their lives... Do they see you as a sort of father figure?
The question in my mind each time I visited my parents while handing out fees and books to many children in the village, was if they saw me as an uncle. My nieces and nephew are still living in the city because they have an uncle who can afford to help them. What about these children who have no uncle like me? I wanted to be their uncle and yes, I am their uncle. Teachers and the local management committee are the parent figures they spend every day with. The 150 students in our care are safe, cared for, love and learning life skills.
What is the age range of the Nyaka AIDS Orphans School children?
Where do you recruit the teachers from and how do you cover their expenses?
Professional teachers are recruited in the area and they are paid a salary of between 60-150 dollars depending on their grades. We have grade three through grade five teachers. In 2003 we started with two classes- primary one and two, and two teachers. In fact one of them came out of retirement because she loved the whole idea of serving children without asking them any money. Today we have eight teachers and a headmaster.
Apart from the obvious education, what other skills are you teaching these children?
Nyaka school provides free education, free books, free basis healthcare, breakfast and lunch through nutrition and gardening which is mandatory to all children, physical education in sports and social activities. We do have vocational training in weaving, tailoring is coming this fall and brick making, home economics and carpentry will follow. These children are not just being educated, they are loved and cared for, they are involved in gardening and community outreach through Nyaka anti AIDS choir which spreads the message about prevention and control of HIV/AIDS through songs, drama, skits and plays.
Allan, one of the orphans who is disabled.
What happens to the children once they are done with their primary levels? What is next for them?
Right now we have up to primary five, we increase the number by 30 each year. In 2008 we will have the first graduates. The ones who will pass to go to secondary schools will be sponsored to go, others who fail to make it will continue to be trained in other skills. For example the tailoring courses will need so many people to keep up with making uniforms for new students joining Nyaka, repair the ones getting old and we will seek contracts from other schools and make uniforms and dresses for sale to sustain that project. Gardens supplement families that host our kids and also lunch and breakfast, many students will be employed in our own programs. The greatest achievement though is the fact that they will know how to read and write, they will have friends for life and mentors in teachers and everyone who has crossed their lives while at Nyaka. These children will be responsible citizens because their lives have been changed for the best at Nyaka school.
What kind of books and other donations can people donate to the school? How do they contact you for that?
All children books are welcome, notebooks, pens and pencils. Textbooks require for their classes can only be bought in Uganda. Next time you are traveling to Uganda take one case full of books and send them to Nyaka or any other school they will be highly appreciated. We must create a culture of reading by reading to the children and encouraging the older ones to read. One way of doing that is to get boys and girls own books.
What has been your greatest Nyaka AIDS Orphans School success story?
There are so many but here are a few. The one that stands out the most was when we rescued a girl who was being married off at age 12 and got her to join the school. Sitting across from a poor grandmother who handed me a will with her thumb as a stamp telling me "I know my grandchildren have hope because of Nyaka, I will die a happy woman knowing they are in good hands" I knew that we were doing the right thing.
Nyaka kids at independence day 2005 (Kanungu District).
A lot of UGPulse readers are Ugandans living abroad and can help in endeavors like this. What message do you have for them?
We all have lives and limited time, but anybody can do something. If we don't, no one will champion causes in our own communities. There are so many areas to be involved in even if it means giving them time, encouragement or a letter. Most of the projects are cost effecting in a sense that even if you gave $10 dollars you would change a child's life or a family's life.
I am happy that several Africans like yourself are working to improve our continent's image internationally. What are your plans for the next five years?
I have just tabled a five year strategic plan which includes continuing to recruit 30 orphans each year, provide healthcare, HIV/AIDS tests and counseling services to students and the community, increase services in vocational training, retain all students in our school (though one died very recently), train our teachers and staff in dealing with trauma, physical, social, emotional and spiritual needs. Establish a scholarship for kids continuing to secondary, high school and university or other institutions. But we would also like to duplicate our services in another poor rural community by 2009.
Thank you Jackson for all that you are doing. A little about you personally... if you could have dinner with five people who would they be?
Nelson Mandela, Stephen Lewis, Bono, Oprah, Richard Stearns (President of World Vision)
What are your five favorite books?
Recently I have been reading are Race Against Time by Stephen Lewis, Mountains beyond Mountains by Tracy Kinder, Roots of Empathy by Mary Gordon, Moving Mountains: The Race to Treat Global AIDS and The Awake Project: United Against the African AIDS Crisis.
What is your philosophy in life?
There is more blessing s in giving than receiving.
What is an entrepreneur to you?
A person who does something with passion, driven by the mission and aims higher. He or she would be committed with a vision and inexhaustible determination to persist until they have transformed an entire system.
Do you have any words of advice to any young people who may want to follow your path?
If you ever want to make a difference in someone's life, do it... and do it without expecting anything in return.
What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind?
My son saying and meaning it forever, "I am proud of my dad" and a multiplier effect with all Nyaka students, staff and volunteers.
For more information on Nyaka School of Orphans and to support it www.nyakaschool.org
In Europe, contact Aime Wata in Switzeland email@example.com
Please make a small donation:
|Nyaka School for Children Orphaned Due to HIV/AIDS
Total project need: $176,000
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First published: July 16, 2006
Jane won the Miss Africanada beauty pageant 2000 in Toronto where she was also named one of the new voices of Africa after reciting one of her poems. In 2004, she was published in T-Dot Griots-An Anthology of Toronto's Black storytellers and in February 2005, her art piece Namyenya was featured as the poster piece for the Human Rights through Art-Black History Month Exhibit.
She is the recipient of numerous awards for her poetry, art and playwriting and is becoming a household name in Toronto circles. Please visit her website at www.nteyafas.com.