RSS Feed (xml)

Powered By

Skin Design:
Free Blogger Skins

Powered by Blogger

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A heart of compassion


Many people think it takes the Bill Gates and Oprah Winfreys of this world to help the needy in significant ways because of their affluence and influence, but one man from Kanungu District has defied that to prove that with courage and faith, anyone can make a remarkable difference.

Mr. Jackson Kaguri shows off his book
 Twesigye Jackson Kaguri had just left Columbia University as a visiting scholar of Human Rights Advocacy when his big brother died of HIV/Aids, leaving behind three little children. Five months later, his elder sister died too, leaving a son born HIV positive.

“I was a young man ready to tackle life and enjoy, and here I was with four children to take care of.”

The year was 1997, and a still grief-stricken Kaguri had no idea it was the beginning of a transformation of not only his individuality but of his community as well. The real turning point happened during one of his visits to the village when he was mobbed by the locals, mostly the elders whose sons and daughters had also perished under the deadly disease, leaving behind little orphans.

“All these people would bring these children to me asking for help because they knew I had had a good education; had been to Makerere and America,” he says. “I sat there and said ‘I want to be an uncle beyond my nieces and nephews; I want to make sure these children also can get an education.’”

 Kaguri was lucky his parents were selfless. Every beginning of term, they would sell a goat, sheep, chicken, and finally his father sold part of his land to keep his son in school. In turn, Kaguri worked hard and went to Makerere University on government sponsorship to study Social Work and Social Administration. It was an enviable achievement that made him the talk of Nyakagyezi, his village.

At Makerere his concern for the disadvantaged was first felt during a discussion in which officials from the Human Rights Commission gave a presentation on universal human rights particularly the right to education and health care.

“I told them this can’t be universal because in my village it’s not possible; people don’t have all these things you are talking about and yet they are human beings,” he says. “They got interested in my views and attitude and gave me a job, and I started writing papers on children and women rights, and that’s how I got a scholarship from Columbia University.”

There, he met and fell for an African-American beauty, Beronda, who he married in 1998, and with whom they have a son, Nicolas. In fact, it was while he was visiting with his wife in 2001 that he was mobbed by desperate villagers. He deeply comprehended their plight seeing he too had lost a brother and sister to the HIV/Aids pandemic.

 “We decided to use our savings to build three small classrooms that would serve as a place for children who have been orphaned due to HIV/Aids to come and get free quality education and extra curricular activities both formal and informal as a means to break the circle of poverty and deprivation,” he says.

And in January 2003, Nyaka Aids Orphans School was opened in Nyakagyezi village, with 56 children selected from more than 5000 Aids orphans. Not that the Kaguris were financially or even psychologically ready for the task but they had been overwhelmed by the plight of these orphans and knew something had to be done immediately.

“I had just gotten married and trying to build a family but I was faithful,” Kaguri says. “I grew up in a family that prayed and understood that what God promises He will deliver, so I was determined to do whatever I can.”

The leap of faith didn’t take long to pay off. Sceptics and enemies of progress who had hitherto branded Kaguri a con artist bent on using Nyaka as bait to enter elective politics and rip off donors, came on board and more donors after conceding the seriousness of the initiative and the lease of hope it ignited.

“Today there are over 200 children in our school; and everything is taken care of: meals, uniforms, pencils, pens, salaries of their teachers,” says Kaguri. “We knew just like my parents sacrificed to give us an education, we looked at this situation that these children deserved to have a person who would believe in them and invest in them; and that’s what we did.”

The initiative has since expanded with more classrooms, another Aids School in a neighbouring village, a community library, a clean water system that supplies the entire village, gardening programs for widows and Kaguri adds that 131 houses are being built for the elderly. In fact, he has recently quit his job as Interim Senior Director of Development in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University, to focus on his Directorship of Nyaka Projects.

He has also published a book, The Price of Stones, that’s enjoying rave reviews on The title is drawn from Psalms 118:22 about the stone that was rejected by the builders only to become the cornerstone. Released in the US in June 2010 and co-written with Susan Urbanek Linville, the 263-page memoir is all about the inspirational story of the Aids orphans’ school, the man behind it, and the challenges he has had to confront to keep it going and growing.

Kaguri has also worked as a Programs Assistant for People’s Decade for Human Rights Education (PDHRE International-New York), and was instrumental in drafting resolutions that were adopted at the United Nations Youth International Conference held in Portugal, in 1998.

He attributes his success to God: “I’m a Christian man, born in that family of 7th Day Adventists; my grandfather actually built a church in our village. My prayer everyday is for God to help me to touch someone’s life, and He’s really blessed me with being blessed by others while also looking out to bless someone else. So I juggle my stuff based on the philosophy that if you can’t help me do it, Lord, then it’s not possible.”

He spends his free time playing soccer, reading, and sitting by the side of the pool watching his 10-year-old son swimming. He will die a happy man, he says, if all these children that have been helped will mature into respectable and productive citizens that will give back to their communities as well.