#ThePowerOfOne: Dr. Jackson Kaguri on Grandmothers Transforming Lives at Nyaka

His was a burning desire to transform a village. From his childhood, there are things he observed that were not going right he promised himself to right the wrong someday. He did not know how long this would take him. All he kept was the little faith. First was the injustice at his own home. From domestic violence between his parents to his sisters dropping out of school to having his friends die of HIV/AIDS, there was a fire in him that needed to be tamed.

Dr. Jackson Kaguri is the founder of the Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project located in Kanungu, in south western Uganda. His childhood experiences never departed from him even when he relocated to USA where he stays to date. The intention to transform the lives of the orphaned children has been so close to his heart.

Twenty years ago, he decided to open Nyaka project. This was to be the end of the misery for him as Jackson, the grandmothers of Nyaka and the little children that had been left orphaned.

The foundation has been working in Kanungu identifying orphaned children and putting them under a grandmother’s care before sending them to school. There was an HIV/AIDS scourge that claimed many lives of parents leaving behind vulnerable children. The biggest challenge was that these children only found themselves in the hands of their grandparents who in most cases were elderly helpless grandmothers.

Kanungu sits on a high altitude and it is very steep. This also means it usually receives heavier winds. These grandmothers found themselves living these children in houses of mad and wattle which were on the verge of collapse. They were in lack of basics and could barely support themselves. Yet to them was added another role, to look after the orphaned children.

With the little resources they were able to collect, Jackson began a lifelong restoration program targeted at transforming the lives of the orphaned children. However, the only way to achieve this was to first improve the livelihood of the grandmothers.

In 2003, they opened up the Nyaka and Kutamba primary schools. The intention was to accord these children an education. They went back to the communities where they were based and examined the conditions under which the children stayed and realised they were dire. This began off another call to action. For the children to be able to attend school without fail, there was need to create a conducive home environment.

This need drove Jackson to have the livelihoods of the grandmothers equally improved. They identified those in most need and helped them to rebuild their houses, basic as they might be. Most of these mothers were too weak to farm their gardens yet that was the only assured way of putting bread on the table. They were equipped with new skills of weaving and making crafts which are put on sale and the revenue goes to improving their lives.

As an organisation, Nyaka has been able to construct two gravitational water pumps supplying water to over 25,000 people in the communities. They have also built health centres where the children and the grandmothers alike can be able to access medical help.

The program has grown over the years. Today, there are over 10000 grandmothers under the Nyaka AIDS Project. Under them are more than 60000 grandchildren. Life is being transformed.

The children that enrolled in the first year of Nyaka, have finished university. A number of other students are at university level. The organisation has now built two primary schools, a secondary school and a technical school all in Kanungu.

In all this, one thing is for certain. Without the intervention of the grandmothers, the Nyaka would not be the success story it is now. These grandmothers go out of their way to make sure that these children are well looked after. They offer them the support they need to survive. The children are not afraid to go back home wondering what they will eat. Even in circumstances where the children are sick, there is someone that is always available to look after them.

For Jackson, these grandmothers are the biggest donors the project will ever have. They give of everything to make the program a success. Because of them, no child goes to bed hungry. This free service they give of themselves is the reason the children are alive. By making sure that one grandmother is safe, healthy and happy, five or more grandchildren are assured of a better education and a better tomorrow.   

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