As you know, the volunteers of the 60 million girls Foundation are working to ensure that more children, especially girls, are able to get a quality education. Every few years, we like to visit some of the projects we have supported, to better understand the local situation and, of course, to see first hand the impact of the projects we have funded.
Along with two other volunteers, I am now in Uganda on a self-financed mission to view the Nyaka AIDS Orphans project, funded in partnership with the Stephen Lewis Foundation.
We supported two primary schools in 2013 – Nyaka and Kutamba, about 90 minutes away – and this year we are raising funds for the new secondary vocational school. Jennifer Nantale, Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project’s country director, in Nyakagwyzi in south western Uganda, was our host for the last three days.
Nyaka takes a comprehensive holistic approach to their development work to address not just the orphans’ education, but also their health and nutritional needs. Nyaka has it all: well-constructed schools powered by solar panels, a community clinic that is staffed by two full-time nurses during the week and a doctor every weekend, the project farm with over 200 chickens providing eggs daily, cows providing milk, fields planted with maize and orchards of banana trees, pineapple, papaya, as well as gardens of cabbage and other vegetables, the huge community library with close to 20 computers (and solar panels), the grandmother support groups and micro-finance clubs.
Nyaka aims to support the students to succeed in school. The students’ heath care is closely followed (almost 10% of students are HIV positive) and the clinic is also open to the whole community. Soon, it will become a birthing centre. Grandmothers with revenue-generating activities ensure more stable homes, better living conditions, food and a safe and supportive environment to study.
The school garden generates revenue to fund operations and is a food source for the daily meals at the primary schools. The community library enables students to continue learning over the holidays and on weekends. It’s also made available to the whole community when not in use by the students. The large meeting room and chairs are rented out for various functions to provide another source of revenue.
At the schools, the teachers are well supported and paid by Nyaka. They each specialize in their subject matter and know the students well, as most come from the community. The students start the day with a 30-minute assembly with songs and music. They share recent news from articles they may have read. The teachers and headmaster provide encouraging and motivating talks. The children then take a few minutes to reflect in silence on what has been said and give thanks for being in school.
Girls outnumber boys at the school at all levels of the primary school. Last year, 100% of the final year’s students graduated and moved on to secondary school – an incredible achievement for children who have had to overcome the trauma of losing their parents and often living in unstable and difficult conditions.
And the new secondary school…
In February, the Nyaka Vocational Secondary School opened with their first cohort of students. There are now 25 girls and 25 boys in the first year, living in residence at the school. We were greeted by songs, dancing and poetry readings – all created by the students. The day of our visit, they were also writing end-of-semester exams. After meeting the head teacher, the staff and students, as well as witnessing the enthusiasm and school spirit, we had to keep reminding ourselves that they had been together for less than three months. These graduates of the Nyaka and Kutamba Primary Schools have a tremendous sense of determination and commitment. They will certainly go far!
Construction of the new secondary school is only partially complete. Our funding will go to finish the workshop, which will allow the school to offer vocational courses. In addition, we are helping to equip the school with desks, as well as providing daily meals, guidance and counselling, and offering tutoring and extracurricular activities.
We know our funds will be wisely invested in a project that looks at all aspects of the children’s well-being, including their family support system, to ensure they will get the maximum out of their years at school.
We were thanked so many times by the students, parents, teachers and the community. We wish everyone who has supported 60 million girls could have been with us to see the enormous impact our support has had.
We would like to thank Jennifer for her time and explanations and for sharing her many years of development experience with us. We would also like to thank the whole team’s generous welcome. In addition, we would like to thank our great partner, the Stephen Lewis Foundation, for coordinating this wonderful visit and for their support of wonderful, effective and meaningful projects like Nyaka’s.
Founder and President, 60 million girls Foundation