Kaguri Sheds More Light on Nyaka Project in Albion College Visit
An evening lecture by the author of this year's Richard M. Smith Common Reading Experience illuminated Goodrich Chapel with more details on his life and the school he founded in his native Uganda for children who have lost parents to HIV/AIDS.
Twesigye Jackson Kaguri chronicles the creation of The Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project in A School for My Village: A Promise to the Orphans of Nyaka. At Albion, he described how his thirst for education at a young age coupled with AIDS-wrought tragedy—in his family, his community, his country—spurred him to launch the project in 2001.
Kaguri recounted the time when, as the youngest of five, he would often sneak away from home and secretly follow his sisters on their 7.5-mile trek to school.
"One day, when my dad caught me going to school, he sat me down and said, 'Jackson, you keep running off to school. You are four and a half years old. You are supposed to start school when you are six years old, but since you continue insisting going to school, I'm going to send you there. Tomorrow. On one condition: If you ever fail an exam, you will never go back. Do you understand?'
"'Do you still want to go?'
"Since that day in 1974, I have never failed an exam in my life."
Kaguri overcame poverty (education was paid for by cows, goats, chickens, even the family's land) and eventually studied at Columbia University in New York. But losing a brother and sister to AIDS changed his course; he had to support his nieces and nephews back home, and upon realizing the scope of the AIDS orphan problem—more than 2 million Ugandan children are being raised by grandparents—the Nyaka Project's seeds were sown.
It turned out that more than 5,000 children in the surrounding area needed to go to school. Over a decade of growth, the project now features two schools, a library, a farm and nutrition program, a medical clinic, a clean-water system, and a support program for the grandmothers who care for up to 14 children at a time.
Interestingly, "Children who are orphaned—no mom, no dad—they are the happiest individuals you will ever see," Kaguri said.
He closed his talk by focusing on a simple object: a pencil. The otherwise mundane item means something more back home.
"My dad would wake us up in the morning and line us up, one by one. He would use a machete and break the pencil five times. 'Jackson, that is yours.' ... With this little pencil, I was able to get my education.
"If you ever doubt you can make a difference, go on a golf course, pick up that pencil in a golf cart, and send it to Cameroon. Send it to Uganda. [You can] change someone's life, just because you have a pencil."
In the end, he said, it's a lot bigger than one project, one village.
"What I hope my book says to you is, I'm not asking you, all of you, come to Uganda and get involved with the Nyaka school. I'm asking you to take a stand, tonight, and make a difference in somebody's life. You can do something. ... Go out, change the world. You can do it ten times better."