KAMPALA, Uganda – Having lost his siblings to HIV/AIDS in 1996 and 1997, Mr. Jackson Twesigye Kaguri opted to take a leap of faith and help those living positively with HIV/AIDS. He decided to give a hand to the thousands of deprived orphans in Kanungu in south western Uganda.
Kaguri founded the Nyaka AIDS Foundation (NAF) in 2001 to bring education to HIV and AIDS orphans. The project has also incorporated 7,000 elderly grandmothers.
The aim of the foundation is to end systemic deprivation, poverty and hunger through community development, education and healthcare.
The construction of Nyaka Primary School started in 2001 and the school was opened in 2003. The school opened its doors to 56 children and provided free education.
Eleven years later Kaguri’s vision has flowered. The Nyaka AIDS Foundation constructed another primary school – Kutama Primary School – in 2006.
The two schools have 600 students. Over 467 in Primary School, 133 in Secondary School and 7 attending vocational training.
A unique approach of the organisation is that the schools are completely free to attend and children are quaranteed an education through high school from the moment they are enrolled.
Sixty pupils every year complete primary school and proceed to secondary school.
Frank Byamugisha of the World Bank and Board Member of the school said the performance of the students is no mean feat for a rural school. Some of Nyaka’s competitors have not had a single student performing at the level of the students under Nyaka’s projects.
Kaguri said: “We spend close to $500 per student every year on school fees. About $150 is spent on transport costs.”
When Kaguri left Nyakagyezi in his childhood and moved to the United States of America, he attended Columbia University. He continued to make trips back to his childhood village to deliver school supplies. One particular trip in 2001 changed his life when he woke up one morning to find grandmothers, some who had walked many miles, lined up around the house and begging for his help. This motivated him to extend an extra arm.
The foundation has since built two community libraries in Nyaka and Kutamba, constructed two gravity water systems that support the primary schools and surrounding community, established a medical clinic and a farm that provides food for the schools.
“I feel humbled looking in the faces of the children smiling focused on their dreams. In Uganda, the spread of AIDS is so prevalent that protecting adults from contracting AIDS is not the only pressing matter, so is the aiding and protecting of the children whose parents have died from the virus. That is the mission of the Nyaka AIDS Foundation,” Kaguri said
Construction of Nyaka secondary and tertiary school is ongoing. According to Nantale the country manager awareness campaign’s on HIV/AIDS are running within the school programmes so that the students can be protected from acquiring HIV/AIDS and also sensitize those infected on how to live positively.
Kaguri is an author of; ‘A School for My Village’ a book in which he shares how he came to build the first school and the struggles he faced during the first few years.
In 2010, he resigned as Interim Senior Director of Development in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University to focus full-time on putting to action his project.
Kaguri has been named a Heifer International Hero, recognized in Time Magazine’s ‘Power of One’ Series, and spoken to the UN about his work.
He said: “Like any other child we have managed to provide children at the foundation with basic requirements such as food, water, shelter, medicine and clothing so that they can focus on academics without setbacks. “
The project supports grandmothers through 91 support groups. The outreach allows NAF to support an additional 34,525 children living in these grandmothers homes.
Kaguri said: “There is need to help the grandparents who step in in the absence of parents. Some of these elderly people take care of over 14 grandchildren. Their devotion encouraged me to start up the grandmother programme at the grass root”
According to Jennifer Nantale the country manager NAF, besides proving housing for the grandmothers, the foundation provides food, microfinances and training in which he grandmothers of these children are trained on how to weave baskets, mats and traditional jewelry so that they can fend for both themselves and the children with ease.
Due to his efforts, Twesigye was named CNN hero in 2012.
Over 2.2 million children have lost one or both parents with extended families and orphanages facing enormous obstacles in attempting to care for these children. Orphans and vulnerable children go without many basic human needs: food, shelter, clothing, health care, and education and they are often forced to be responsible for income generation, food production, and the care of sick parents and/or siblings.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund about 1.2 million children in Uganda have lost a parent to an HIV/AIDS-related illness. Out of a population of approximately 31million, Uganda’s HIV pandemic has resulted into about 2.2million orphaned children who have lost one or both parents.