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2012 – Uganda

Supporting Girls Orphaned by AIDS in Uganda

Partner: Stephen Lewis Foundation

Twesigye Jackson Kaguri was born and raised in Uganda in the small village of Nyakagyezi. At a very young age he demonstrated an unquenchable desire to learn, which led him to study at Makerere University in Kampala and then win a scholarship to Columbia University in New York City. In 1996, while at Columbia, Jackson’s brother died of HIV/AIDS and he became guardian to his three nephews. With the death of Jackson’s brother – and millions of working people like him – so many children have been left to grandparents, who can no longer afford to educate and support them. That is how Nyaka began: to look after those children who didn’t have an uncle left behind to care for them. Jackson is the Founder and Executive Director of the Nyaka AIDS Foundation.

Nyaka is a community-driven project that has built and runs two primary schools in remote, rural southwestern Uganda: Nyaka AIDS Orphans School in Kanungu District and Kutamba AIDS Orphans School in Rukungiri District. The schools offer free education to the poorest children in their communities – most of whom are orphaned girls who are cared for by their grandmothers. Nyaka has introduced a series of community services and programmes – including community gardens, library services, health visits, water and sanitation, housing, nutritional counselling and support – in the knowledge that children cannot thrive in a community that is struggling. In January 2011, both schools opened a new nursery class, for 30 students.


Uganda’s AIDS pandemic has resulted in over 2.2 million orphaned children who have lost one or both parents. In the extremely remote districts of Kanungu and Rukungiri in southwestern Uganda where Nyaka and Kutamba AIDS Orphans Schools, respectively, are located, thousands of children have been orphaned. According to district statistics, this number continues to rise.

In addition to the trauma of losing a parent, children orphaned by AIDS go without many basic needs: food, shelter, clothing, health care, and education. With a parent’s death come overwhelming responsibilities that often rip children from their education. They may be separated from their siblings and the only community they’ve ever known if they are sent to live with distant relatives. For children who are HIV+, access to HIV treatment is often an insurmountable obstacle and the journey to school can be too physically draining without access to transportation. Further still, orphaned children are often isolated and vulnerable to abuse- leaving them at high risk for HIV infection.

Nyaka has responded to this crisis with dynamic, holistic programming. It learned early on that children who are sick and hungry cannot learn. In addition to a free quality education, it provides mentorship, love, safety, medicine, nutritious meals, and counselling. Nyaka families also benefit from individual and family counselling, nurses’ visits to their homes, education sessions on HIV/AIDS prevention, and clean water taps, which provide basic sanitation to the community at large. Nyaka has three full-time nurses and two nursing clinics that serve over 800 community members weekly in the villages near Nyaka and Kutamba schools. The schools’ Anti-AIDS clubs and community AIDS outreach programme and radio shows reach more than 30,000 people.

Nyaka recognizes that women and girls in Uganda are disproportionately affected by HIV, and ensures that girls represent at least 55% of the schools’ enrolment. Nyaka also provides girls with sanitary products, and supports caregivers so that girls are not kept home from school to help maintain the household. Nyaka is guided by the belief that, through education, a girl’s life can be transformed: she is less likely to be infected with HIV, and more likely to live a healthy, secure, and empowered life.

Project objectives

Support from the 60 million girls Foundation in the form of a $100,000 grant will be guided by the following objectives and activities:

  1. Provide Primary Education for 462 students (55% girls). This project will assist Nyaka to provide free quality education at Nyaka AIDS Orphans School (254 students) and Kutamba AIDS Orphans School (208 students). It will also provide essential materials (e.g. uniforms, textbooks, stationery, sanitary napkins, etc.) and two nutritious meals daily to 349 students (balance to be supported by other funds).
  2. Provide Health Care & Physical Education. With support from 60 million girls, Nyaka will continue to provide free basic healthcare to all students and their families (two school-based nurses at Nyaka and one at Kutamba) including emergency transport to medical facilities, home visits, school clinics and school-based distribution of medications. In addition, Nyaka will provide individual and family counselling for students in need through life skills sessions taught to all students by their teachers, and after school in one-on-one counselling sessions.
  3. Support the Nutrition and Community Garden Program. This project will be instrumental in ensuring the school garden can continue to thrive and produce dark leafy greens, supplemental vegetables and fruits for school meal programs and for students to take home. Nyaka will also be able to continue raising four goats for milk, with the goal of supplementing the students’ nutritional needs as well as generating a sustainable income. In order to enhance sustainable food security in the community, Nyaka will distribute vegetable seeds.
  4. Support the Community AIDS Education & Outreach Program. Support from the 60 million girls Foundation will ensure that the young girls and boys at Nyaka can help deal with their feelings of loss and grief and raise awareness of HIV/AIDS and its prevention. Specific initiatives include therapeutic art therapy such as plays, songs, and skits through the Anti-AIDS Club. This project will also support bi-monthly radio programs in the local indigenous language (Rukiga) to reach wide audiences with messages of HIV prevention and improved care for grandmothers and orphans. Importantly, this project will also ensure that Nyaka can continue voluntary HIV testing and counselling for grandmothers and students at both schools in collaboration with Kambuga Hospital, Kisiizi Hospital and the local government of Uganda.

Why a partnership with the Stephen Lewis Foundation?

This project will be the third time that the 60 million girls Foundation has supported a project through the Stephen Lewis Foundation. We value the time and rigour spent by the SLF to evaluate and follow the projects funded. These are grassroots projects, developed by the local community to specifically serve local needs. We are proud of our association with the SLF particularly because of the transparency of their work and the lean administration costs. We share a similar aid development philosophy and have enjoyed a collaborative working relationship over the years.

When the Stephen Lewis Foundation began supporting Nyaka in 2005, the main focus of its funding began with modest support to put dozens of children into school. Today, Nyaka is in the highest tier of grants the SLF provides and it supports the full spectrum of Nyaka’s holistic work. SLF is tremendously impressed by the transformative impact Nyaka is having in its community.

The relationship has grown with Nyaka as it has grown in scale, effectiveness, reach, and capacity. It has become a truly exemplary model that is being replicated internationally. Nyaka brings out the best in its dynamic and multi-talented team of educators, health workers, administrative and financial professionals, students, and community representatives to continually keep the organisation on the cutting edge of the grassroots response to HIV in Uganda. Nyaka is ambitious, strategic and driven by the needs of the children and families in its community. Nyaka’s work has also had the unintended outcome of creating a meaningful source of employment that has allowed people to gain a livelihood without have to leave their homes to relocate to the urban centres. Families stay together, strengthening the local economy, and are counteracting one significant driver of the pandemic which is the need for mobile workers to leave their villages for employment in the cities and who, having become infected with HIV, return home to infect members of the community during their sporadic visits.