Twesigye Jackson Kaguri, becomes decidedly exuberant and affectionate when I mention my former college classmate Allan Schwarz, founder of the Mezimbite Forest Centre:
“Ah Allan! He and me are like brothers – we are doing African development work on the same holistic principles. He and I hugged each – we cried together, we laughed together. I met Allan at Segal Family Foundation annual meeting. We were on a panel ‘Africans for Africa'”
Twesigye Jackson Kaguri goes by his middle name “Jackson” for convenience. Jackson says he owes everything good and positive and productive in his life to his parents’ willingness to buy and to break pencils:
“We were five brothers and sisters. My childhood memories are about waking up in the morning and finding that my dad had gone and purchased a No. 2 pencil – which for us as a family, was a lot of money. That is why he could not afford 5 pencils – one for each of us children.
However, the school rule was that you had to have a pencil – used or unused – it did not matter – to attend our school. We would be turned away if we did not arrive at school with a pencil.
So dad broke this No. 2 pencil into 5 pieces and handed each of us 5 children one fifth of a pencil stub. With a fifth of pencil, I didn’t have to sneak into school and risk being kicked out.
There are children in Africa right now, today, in 2012, who do not go to school because they do not have one-fifth of a pencil.
This act by my father launched my schooling. It is not the university degrees or the scholarships that I have received that have powerfully propelled me to do the work I do today. It is my father’s simple and profound act of breaking No. 2 pencils.
If people in America and elsewhere want to understand the depth of educational need in Africa, they need to stop and think about this one fact:
Today, Twenty Twelve (2012), there are many children in Africa who cannot attend school because their families cannot afford the price of admission which is one-fifth of a pencil. Let me repeat that: There are children in Africa right now, today, who do not go to school because they do not have one-fifth of a pencil.”
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 and graduate from Makerere University in Kampala.
At this time he co-founded the human rights organization, Human Rights Concerns, to help victims of human rights violations in Uganda and educate the public about their rights. In the 90s he was a visiting scholar at Columbia University where he studied Human Rights Advocacy.
Over the years he has been involved extensively in international community efforts as a human rights advocate, fundraiser, and inspirational speaker.
The lesson from Nyaka is not in that it builds schools for hundreds of children or provides pencils or school lunch, it is in the fact that all the teachers and nurses and grannies care.
— Allan Schwarz
In 2001, Kaguri founded The Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project in response to the devastating effects of AIDS in his hometown. The organization, which recently celebrated its tenth anniversary, provides free education to children who have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS. In addition to two schools, it also operates a library, desire farm and nutrition program, medical clinic, clean water system, and a support program for the grandmothers who care for up to 14 children at a time.
Since founding the project, Kaguri has also become an author.
In “A School for My Village” he shares how he came to build the first school and the struggles he faced during the first few years.
In 2010, he resigned as Interim Senior Director of Development in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University to focus full-time on The Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project.
Kaguri has been named a Heifer International Hero, recognized in Time Magazine’s ‘Power of One’ Series, and spoken to the UN about his work. When not visiting the schools in Uganda or working at his office in Okemos, MI, Kaguri travels the country to speak with students and supporters about the organization.
He is the co-author of The Price of Stones, Building a School for My Village (Viking, June 14, 2010), with Susan Urbanek Linville.
A Holisitic Approach to Education