To most children in Uganda, when parents pass on, that marks the end of their education journeys, and children in Kanungu district haven't been any different.
With increasing number of orphans whose parents have died of HIV/Aids in Kanungu, a one Jackson Twesigye Kaguri started the Nyaka Aids Foundation in the district, to enable hundreds of these children access education.
Kaguri's philanthropic motive was sparked by the death of his eldest brother, Mushabe to HIV/Aids in August of 1996. Mushabe's departure was a great blow to the family of Kaguri living in Nyakagyezi, Nyarutojo parish, Kambuga sub-county, Kanungu district, because he was the sole bread winner.
In the following year, Kaguri's elder sister also died of HIV/Aids in May 1997. Being the remaining family member with a job in Michigan State, USA, Kaguri took over the role of looking after orphans left behind, by paying for everything that they needed to live a descent life, including catering for their education.
But because of the nature of Kaguri's job whereby he was always moving abroad, Freda Byaburakira was brought on board to assist and run the project, but this time even act as a teacher to the orphans that had no fathers or even mothers.
"Jackson is my 'child', I taught him at Nyakagyezi Primary School in the early 1980s. So, when I retired from teaching, he asked me to look for children that were orphans, those without both parents, and we take them to school," Byaburakira recalls.
It's in 2003 that 30 orphans were brought to Nyaka school, located in Nyakagyezi, Kanungu District, where Byaburakira and Innocent Agaba started executing their duties.
"When children came, they found that we only had two classrooms: Primary one and two," says the 76 year old Byaburakira. It's then that Twesigye, together with Byaburakira and Agaba started changing lives of orphans and the needy children in the area by providing education and the necessary HIV/Aids drugs and couselling.
For Nyaka project to realise its objectives, there was need to make education completely free and accessible to the chosen children in Kateete Sub county, Kanungu district, where the project started from.
"We are abit different from UPE schools in that here we fully fund the pupils: they don't pay anything on top of receiving shoes, books, pencils, pens, uniform, shoe polish. We also give them breakfast and lunch because their grandnothers are at times very weak to cook," explains Enoth Kwikiriza, the headteacher of Nyaka Primary School.
Able Amanya is a primary five pupil at Nyaka. She is delighted that she is a beneficiary. "I feel very good to be here because I get everything I want for me to study."
His classmate Rebecca Natukunda says she couldn't have managed to study because her parents passed on long time ago. "I come from Kayanja village to here every morning. Even though it's not very near, I feel good because I'm at school studying. My grandmother, too, is happy."
For Nyaka to put an outstanding performance and keep in position to fully fund the pupils, there was a limited number of pupils to always be admitted every year.
"The project only admits 60 pupils every year, that is 30 here [Nyaka primary] and 30 the other side of Kutamba primary. Each of these primary schools has a nursery level where the 30 start from before joining primary one," Kwikiriza adds.
But because the aim of Nyaka is among others to fight HIV/Aids in Kanungu, all admitted pupils get tested for the virus, and once one is found positive, they take a step to get them ARVs as soon as possible.
However, having only primary schools was not enough to solve the problems of Kanungu. Kaguri and his team thought it was wise to start up a secondary school so as to keep these children in school, but still at no cost.
Currently, Nyaka schools project is supporting 579 children with Kutamba primary having 227, Nyaka primary with 234, Nyaka secondary and vacational having 104, while 14 are at a university level in Makerere, Kyambogo, UCU and others.
GRANDMOTHERS' VITAL ROLE
Even though Byaburakira, Agaba and Kaguri were now on ground giving pupils completely free education, challenges still surfaced.
According to Byaburakira, many children started perpetually dodging classes while some completely dropped out. This, considering the fact that most of them were orphans, forced the group to devise means of ending the vice.
"We realised that many children were staying with their grandmothers. So, we decided to form grandmothers' associations, first within Nyakagyezi and later to the whole district.
According to Godfrey Ngabirano, the Grandmother Project coordinator, there are currently 17 subcounties in Kanungu with 7000 grandmothers from the 92 groups that were formed, starting with the year 2007.
"To enable the children around Nyaka schools read their books while at home with their grandmothers, Nyaka has so far supplied 207 solar lights," Ngabirano says. "on top of that, because many grandmothers who look after the orphans had dilapidated homes, we have contracted for them 251 houses, 527 pit latrines and 417 kitchens."
He adds that because they need children to concentrate on books once they are home, plastic tanks of 120 liters were given to 2550 grandmothers so that they can collect rain water and stop sending children to distant wells.
Lydia Mugisha, the chairperson of Kateete Mukaka group says that that It's now the grandmothers' role to ensure that children wake up early and go to school before 8:30am, and also report any illnesses to the community clinic.
Each of the two primary schools has E-reading facilities, a computer lab for the secondary school library and a community clinic.
John Mwesigwa is a librarian at Nyaka community library. To ensure that even the wider public benefits from the project, a library was constructed by the project.
"We have 3224 schools books amongst which are motivational books. The library is a donation from Steven Lewis Foundation in Canada [a donor to Nyaka project] with 15 computers connected to internet," Mwesigwa adds.
Additionally, there are 50 Samsung model desktop computers with Windows version 8.0 at Nyaka secondary and vocational school. All of them are connected to internet.
For one to benefit from Nyaka project in Kanungu, they have to be needy and orphans - preferably staying around the schools.
"We have a committee that is tasked with moving around villages looking for these children," Sukukuru says. "This selection team makes sure that the children we get are really the ones we are looking for, and once we pick you, we make sure you study until you finish the university."
Like UPE system, Sekukuru also discloses that there is no repeating of classes; one studies until they finish primary and if they don't pass as expected, they are sent to the vocational school where they study toiloring and building.