By Nichole Igwe
Entirely East Lansing staff writer
Uganda’s HIV/AIDS pandemic has left over 2.2 million children orphaned.
These children have had to go without food, shelter, clothing, healthcare and education. Although traditionally, the extended families of these children step in, the impact of this pandemic has become too much for these families.
The Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project in East Lansing, emerged from this crisis, using grandmothers to save 43,000 orphaned children in southwestern Uganda.
These grandmothers, who have lost their own children to AIDS, are raising these children with the help of the project. The project provides them with economic opportunities that help them to care for their grandchildren. Coordinators train these grandmothers on life skills such as parenting, nursing, grief management, gardening, leadership and business development. The most impecunious grandmothers are provided with secure homes, kitchens, pit latrines and a microfinance program where the grandmothers make products such as baskets and jewelry that are sold in the United States.
East Lansing Development Coordinator Daniele Reisbig said, “Our Mukaakas (grandmothers) are dealing with the loss of their children. Nyaka was started, not to replace that loss because that would be impossible, but to show love and support like family. We love our children and Mukaakas and we believe in them.”
Working to free orphans from the cycle of poverty, the project’s mission is to end poverty through a holistic approach to healthcare, community development and education.
Office and Volunteer Coordinator Granny Program Manager Desiree Kofoed said, “Nyaka didn’t just build a school and leave. Nyaka identified other barriers that were preventing children from going to school and leading a full life and decided to knock down those barriers one by one.”
The project also manages two primary schools in the rural region of Uganda where trained teachers are employed to educate 471 children this year, including 60 preschool children. 191 students are sponsored to attend secondary school and vocational training. NAOP schools are free and NAOP students perform at the top three percent of the country’s schools in the district.
In 2012, Founder and Executive Director Twesigye Jackson Kaguri was chosen to be a CNN Hero for his work over the past 13 years to educate orphaned children in Uganda.
East Lansing volunteer Ashleigh Lovette said, “The credit really goes to Jackson Kaguri and his commitment to community that has manifested as the Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project. Through his dedication, I am able to serve something larger than myself.”
The project doesn’t only provide education and a good home for these children. It also provides two meals a day, uniforms, books, medical care and supplies. The project’s holistic approach is being copied across rural communities and countries around the world.
“Nyaka gives a sense of justice and hope back to the community. It brings us back to the idea that we are all citizens of the world and that we can all do our part to make the world a better place,” said Lovette.