The Commons: Stepping into My Brother’s Shoes

The Commons: Stepping into My Brother’s Shoes

Field notes on the making of a hero

Photo Courtesy Nyaka

Most people have a hero, someone they respect and admire. In my case, that hero is my brother, Frank. He was the oldest in our family of five children. Frank was the first to attend school, first to move to the big city, and first to get a job. He was also first to return to our small village in western Uganda and share his prosperity.

When I was a boy, I helped as he met with villagers young and old. Some might need a few dollars to fix their roof or for tuition to send their child to school. Others might want him to put in a good word for them. Frank would patiently listen to them all and help as many as he could.

Frank’s example made me the man I am today. So, when he died of HIV/AIDS, I not only took on the responsibility of helping his children, I took on care for our village, Nyakagyezi.

HIV/AIDS had ravaged Uganda by then. An entire generation of middle-aged men and women had died from a disease with no promise of a cure. If that was not tragic enough, they left behind over a million orphans. Some could live with uncles or grandparents, but others had no one to help them. In our district alone, there were over 5,000 orphans.

I knew if nothing was done, a generation of children would be condemned to a life of poverty because they had no families to provide the love, care, and schooling they needed. After discussing the situation with friends, colleagues, and family, I knew what must be done. Nyaka AIDS Orphans Foundation was born. We opened a primary school.

In the beginning, I used my money to build the first two classrooms, and the teachers and staff were volunteers. We didn’t want an orphanage, so children who had no family were accepted by host families. The school building was followed by a clean water system, school lunches, and a school garden to send the students home with food. With the help of many donors from Canada, the U.S., and Uganda, we expanded our building and programs. We added Kutamba, a second primary school, the Blue Lupine Community Library, Desire Farm, and Mummy Drayton School Clinic. We started a Grannie program, funded microloans, and much, much more.

This year we celebrate 15 years of mentoring a generation of orphans. It has been a larger success than I could have imagined. The pioneer class of Nyaka Primary School graduated primary school in 2008 and now are in second year of university. The Nyaka Vocational Secondary School groundbreaking took place in July 2013; the campus now has 160 students. We are serving 464 students in our primary schools annually and offer programs that help 43,000 more in the two Districts of Kanungu and Rukungiri. These orphans are housed by 7,004 grannies.

Many people see me as a hero, but I didn’t build this great foundation alone. I pray every day for its success, and am grateful for all those who have helped along the way. Some have given thousands of dollars, others have saved their pennies in a jar for us. Each and every one of them is precious to me. Like my brother, Frank, before me, I only wish to help those in need. If my good works encourage someone to do the same, then I consider my life fulfilled.

One Emigrant’s Story

Cornerstone is the inspiring documentary film about the journey of Twesigye Jackson Kaguri, a humble immigrant living the American dream who leaves Columbia University to return home to Uganda to care for his only brother, Frank, who is dying of AIDS. Jackson discovers that the disease that killed his brother and sister has overwhelmed his home village. When he realizes no one is going to help them, Jackson makes a decision that will forever change the course of his life and the lives of the people of the Enengo Valley in western Uganda.

What you can do

  • If you have an hour: Host a Basket Party to sell handmade crafts from the grannies who are raising over 43,000 orphans.
  • If you have $10: Provide school supplies for asecondary student for a year.
  • If you have a week: Read Jackson Kaguri’s book, A School for My Village.
  • If you have $32 a month: Sponsor a child’s education.

Twesigye Jackson Kaguri is founder and CEO of The Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project. @twejaka

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