On the 2nd August 2021, I had a conversation with Jackson Twesigye Kaguri the founder of Nyaka to mark 20 years of existence on Twitter Spaces, here transcribed is our conversation.
Kangye: Tell us about Nyaka
Jackson: Thank you Kangye for hosting and introducing us to technology at 20 years of Nyaka. Thank you ladies and gentlemen who’re joining us, thank you for coming. Nyaka Global is global indeed. Our communicative department in USA will be getting a recording of this and share it with other supporters around the world. Nyaka started August/2nd/2001.
Kangye: Oh! So it was started on this very day.
Jackson: That is why we’re having this conversation on this day. Because that started in Nyaka village, our plan was to have this done in Nyaka village where it all started but due to lockdown and following government restrictions on Covid-19, we’re having it in Kampala but at least I’m on the same continent. Nyaka the name is part of the village, part of the name of the village where I was born and raised. So instead of calling the entire organization Nyakagezi, we named it that. One of the reasons why I wanted it named Nyaka is for our community. I could have named it. I could have named it Jackson Kaguri organization, just like many organizations are named as they start.
Kangye: In the founding of this, did you have the grandmothers in mind or it just came down the road?
Jackson: My whole idea was to combine children and grandmothers. But for listeners who might not have read my book or do not know my background, that part was my personal experience growing up. Because by the time, my grandmother played a huge role and so I got to understand that a child is in the hands of the grandmother, they will have love, and comfort, regardless of how they will have to walk. So growing through the hands of a grandmother whether they are related to you or not, in my culture, grandmothers are loved and they really love children and they have proven.
Kangye: You were particular about orphans.
Jackson: My personal experience, on behalf of my mum, mum passed away. My oldest brother died in 1996, he lived in Jinja. My sister who lived in Kampala passed away in 1997. So the challenge of orphans was right at heart. Being the youngest in the family, and a boy who has just finished the university, you have necessary education, you have a good job, I had to step in to help my nieces and nephews. And each time I could go to the village, there were lines of children with their grandmothers. Children who were not in school, so that was the dream. So I put two classrooms up, hired my former teacher, who’s still alive today, then I could have these children in class and walk back to the woman’s house whom we told to look after them.
Kangye: So you left the children with their grandmothers
Jackson: Some were already with family. Others we identified grandmothers to stay with them. When we say grandmothers, they’re not biological grandmothers. Some are biological some are not. So again ladies and gentlemen who’re joining us, this was a dream, personal dream started in Nyakagezi, and it has grown now into a global phenomena and many of you who’ll be listening, or those who’re on now and part of this growing organization, a big congratulations to you all, a big congratulations to board members all over the world, also currently in the United States, Canada and UK. Each of those entities has a board of directors and volunteers, so we thank you we salute you. We have also grown from this village to every state in the United States of America and have at least reached every continent in this world in the 20 years. So thus has been because of people like you. David writes an article and somebody reads it in India and wants to know more. Or somebody runs a program on TV West and someone in Rwanda says “I want to know more.”
Kangye: Jackson you might need to get a better place, you’re breaking.
Jackson: Ladies and gentlemen these are the challenges we face, and the next years of Nyaka we’re going to take on the internet.
Kangye: Please talk about yourself.
Jackson: Yes ladies and gentlemen my name is Jackson Kaguri (I was not clearly picking the 3rd name), I am the last born of five children, born and raised in Nyakagezi village by a mother who passed away last year, she never went to school, and my father who is still alive never went to school. This amazing couple decided to send their five children to school though they never got education. And as a young boy growing up in the village of Nyakagezi, I ended up attending five different primary schools to complete seven years of primary school.
Kangye: Why was the school touring called for?
Jackson: My dad could not afford the schools fees. So anytime they sent me for school fees he sent me to a different school. A friend of mine recently said I owe it to these schools, to return interest. I agree but everyone in the village has benefited. Good news all the schools have clean water, all have access to the libraries Nyaka has built and access to the healthcare. I finished secondary school in that area; I joined Makerere University and later got a scholarship to join Colombia University as a visiting scholar to study Human Rights. It was the time I was at Colombia University that my oldest brother passed on. My two other sisters are still alive, one is in Nyakagezi one is in Bushenyi. I’m a father of four children, two boys and two girls. The two girls are twins, for those who’re in outside countries; I’m a ‘Ssalongo’ a father of twins.
Kangye: I’d like you to take us through what Nyaka has been doing, the achievements, challenges and your highlights of this 20 year journey.
Jackson: Nyaka has accomplished so much in the 20 years. We started with education and we’ve graduated students through university and we have children who have graduated, employed, have children of their own, so Nyaka is a giant grandmother. When you go from the education which we have achieved, we have fed all these children three meals a day until lockdown came. Our children have been eating two meals a day, which gives them, sustains. Within the health component, we’re an organization that uses a holistic approach to build a clinic son that our children can have access to healthcare. Girls can have sanitary towels, so the child does not have to go outside because of pads. That also reminds me ladies and gentlemen; some of the children we take care of were born with HIV and AIDs and have achieved better results. We have an engineer graduate who is a major engineer. I must say we have lost some students over the past 20 years, on a sad note. Nyaka built a farm, built a clinic to improve our healthcare; we have built two schools, two primary schools and one secondary vocational school. We have built the first neutral public library in the region. It is equipped with internet; solar power and where all the books we have talked about are located. Within our holistic approach, we introduced grandmothers who’re raising children. We now have 20,000 grandmothers who’re in the districts of Kanungu, Rukungiri and Rubanda. Ladies and gentlemen those grandmothers are economically empowered through our microfinance program. We now have close to $200,000 US dollars revolving around those women. We as an organization have continued to look at child and focus on their dignity regardless of what happened to them. Like in 2015, our school has taught the girl child even when she’s pregnant which is against the government policy in Uganda. By realizing that girls don’t impregnate themselves, so they have a second chance. This is a program about Gender Based Violence which was started in 2015, when that girl was raped while she was going to school. Our GDV program which is partnered with OPFAM(not sure if these are the right initials) which is part of the reason why I had that meeting with the US ambassador this morning is to combat types within our community and let the perpetuators go away just because they paid the court. So that program is running, we’re so proud of that accomplishment. But within our vocational school also, we have a child who wants to be a carpenter, we have provided him an opportunity to be a carpenter. We have one who wants to be a doctor, a 5year doctor course; we got him an opportunity to become a doctor. So we don’t just provide uniforms, we tailor our approach to each child.
Kangye: In Uganda the idea of vocational schools is not so common. I’m curious to know why you chose to go for it in the first place.
Jackson: So when we recruit students at kindergarten level, we get the community numbers like I told you we have a management committee. When we’re selecting learners we don’t give them an interview. Ours the more vulnerable you are, the more chances you have to come
Kangye: How do you measure the level of vulnerability?
Jackson: That’s where the committee members in the community come in. Coz I Jackson who is in the USA cannot come to Nyakagezi and tell which skill is poorer than the other. As the one managing the committee, knows whose family has two goats, whose family has a grass thatched house, know whose family has more land than the other, so as their selecting they go by that. At the end of P.7, we have those who have passed and those who have failed. But we also advise them on what to do. The pioneer class had one student, he’s not on Twitter but he’s in Kampala. After he finished P.7, he had passed to go to secondary. He came to me and told me “Director for me I want to learn how to drive a car and how to fix a car.” I said “why?” He said “I want to earn money first so I can be able to earn money faster and look after my mother. Hannington finished his certificate before his classmates were in S.4. He became a driver at our Kampala office. This man died about 4years ago. Hannington had the best care a grandchild; a son can give to his father. He had started investing in Boda bodas and became a good business man. His classmates some of them are still in school.
Kangye: I learnt that you recently opened up for private students. How’s that working out?
Jackson: Obsession of resource inability is always on our head. Because Nyaka started within a community, the kids who can access kindergarten are exhausted within the community. So what has been happening is that relatives go get kids from so far away. But also our standard of education has been so good, you find that people are asking “Why can’t I send my child at Nyaka?” so for sustainability purposes, we have also opened up opportunities for others.
Kangye: Do children who have their parents have a role to play?
Jackson: We have the association of the guardians. Even the orphans are staying with someone, an uncle, an aunt or someone else. We have what you call the Parents Teachers Association (Guardians association), they give back in many ways, cleaning the compound, give us a hand mainly. If you remember David, my first book was called (didn’t get the book name). The title was because community members carried stones that helped us build Nyaka. So our model has not been that of “go around the world look for money” but it has been a model of giving back to the school from where you are. When Covid hit last year, it was turned to bank employees who raised money for soap, for ‘kawunga’ and to sustain our grandmothers. We encourage mentorship and our people in the village have played a huge role in mentoring.
Kangye: So, how big is your team?
Jackson: …………………(I didn’t get the first submission) In Uganda, we have close to 114 employees. (I literally heard none of the names he mentioned here) In the UK we have one employ. We have an expert concept writer in Canada. And another accomplishment, we sent a student to a university in Canada on full scholarship and she just completed her bachelors. So that’s the team.
Kangye: So you work as the front person.
Jackson: So I’m the founder and CEO not because I studied to become a CEO but because I founded an organization the title followed me. But I’m working on that succession plan. We have a managing director in the USA, he manages operations, we have a supervising team, we have a communications team, and we also have a lot of volunteers all over the world.
Kangye: How have you been able to bring on board all these partners over the years?
Jackson: I run my mouth. David I’m a talker I have played soccer with you, just know I have won you. We sit on a plane together, by the time we reach our destination; you’ll have heard me talk about Nyaka. I will brand, I actually wear a shirt talking about Nyaka. I studied a skill, business communication. But mostly talking about it, not only for people to donate but to also become ambassadors. Cameroon (2nd name I didn’t hear) who heard me preach while she was 7years old, still raises money for Nyaka at 20 years. She’s now studying to be a pastor and her passion is in helping children because of Nyaka. So I inspire people to give but I also encourage them to come, visit, feel, touch and interact with the children and encourage them to go back and spread the word. We also foundations. Steven (2nd name I couldn’t get) was the first foundation to give money to Nyaka and Rotarians who do good things around the world. We have longevity of partnerships, like women empowerment in San Diego. Individual partners don’t normally go, they come and stay, Like Cameroon, and she’s committed to Nyaka for all days of her life. Nyaka has more individual partners than organizations. In fact when some of the individuals when they die, they leave Nyaka in their will. We have 18 users who already have Nyaka in their plan. We have a sustainability plan where we have 100 acres of trees. We have a plan in New York where we only chase interests. Our students when they graduate, they do give back 5% to Nyaka.
Kangye: What other plans do you have for Nyaka in the near future?
Jackson: Increasing the number of children, we as an organization are not going to build moiré schools for now. We shall maintain the grandmothers programme as we stem the Gender Based Program. We’ll continue to improve their living economically, socially; the children who stay within the community will still study regardless. The schools we have built will continue giving service. For the farther districts, we shall partner with the government, partner with other agencies, for water projects, and then go deeper. Then we will create businesses in the communities.
Kangye to Michael: Michael, how long have you worked with Nyaka?
(I can’t tell you how many times I played this part but I failed to pick anything.)
Kangye to Jackson: 20 years from now, what’s in stock for Nyaka?
Jackson: Retirement for me
Kangye: How soon is that?
(Jackson started breaking)
Kwesiga: I’m the founder of JOMAS, began in 2019, motivated organization working in different communities to sensitize about reproductive health in different schools.
James Okwera: How did Jackson sustain the 2 meals a day and where can I get the book?
Jackson: The 2meals a day, we run a 14acre farm till today which facilitates the schools. The children who afford the 2meals a day are those from the three school die the two primary schools and the vocational school. These are the ones who stay with the grand mothers. Those whom we can’t guarantee 2meals a day are catered for through their grandmothers using the microfinance scheme. Our long-term plan is to increase internet accessibility. But to do that we have to increase power, so we plan to increase more solar power in the communities we serve. We want to go tech-hub. Nyaka has a 3G printer, computers are there, we have a competitor from Malawi, and we have robotics, so technology is developing.
International (@McShamy): I work with Hills fm and I hope to host you here sometime.
Jackson: Our Kampala offices are in Makindye-Luwafu and all my books are there. For those outside Uganda, you can get the books on Amazon. You just type in Jackson Kaguri and all the 6 books will show up.
Kangye: What’s the ratio of girls to boys?
Jackson: We initially wanted it to be 55%( 55:45). Growing up, I had three sisters. As girls reach puberty, their chances of continuing with school reduce. In a society that’s more patriarchal, where attention is given to mainly boys, we wanted to maintain the ratio at that so girls go to school. The percentage shift as you go higher because we have more girls dropping out due to pregnancies, rape among others.
Kangye: Do you involve society in the GBV campaigns?
Jackson: Yes. Actually we just finished training with Boda bodas. Because we know girls don’t rape themselves, we have to involve society in fighting GBV.
Closing remarks: Thank you to whoever has been part of this journey. It wouldn’t have been possible without your support. Thank you to all those who’ve attended this space too.