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April 13, 2011
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World citizens in Eagle

EAGLE, Colorado - When Robbie Hixon handed Jackson Kaguri an envelope with a thank-you letter and some money in it, Kaguri smiled and held it like he had the futures of some Ugandan AIDS orphans in his hands.

Kaguri founded the Nyaka AIDS Orphans project in Uganda, helping give that country's 2.2 million AIDS orphans a chance at an education.

Kaguri talked to Eagle Valley Elementary School Wednesday morning, holding dozens of kids in rapt attention.

The students raised the money through their Dollars and Scholars program.

"This will help Mr. Kaguri build another school or help some more students," Hixon said as he handed over the envelope.

Kaguri was clearly touched.

"This will save the lives of many children," he said, flashing his million-watt smile across the room.

Eagle Valley Elementary is an International Baccalaureate school. Students are immersed in world affairs and languages, along with their core classes. It's not enough to know your multiplication tables; they come up with some practical application and task.

They're studying poverty and what it does to a child's education.

So, Jackson told them about doing homework by candlelight, about children doing chores like raising goats, cattle and chickens - because their parents asked them to and need them to - that is, when they have parents.

Uganda is home to 2.2 million AIDS orphans, Jackson said.

"No one wakes them up. No one takes them to school. No one says 'I love you,'" Kaguri said.

Education is precious in places like Uganda. It's not required, it's rare.

Students must buy their own uniforms, and they cannot wear anything else.

They have to pass tests to move on - scoring around 80 percent in both math and reading, Jackson said.

Their parents must pay for them to go to school.

If any of these things don't happen, their education is over.

And no one loses a pencil.

A pencil costs 2 cents in Uganda and students have to bring their own to school.

"If you show up without a pencil, they send you home to get one," Jackson said.

But most don't go home because their families don't have 2 cents, and they can't attend school without one.

"For the lack of 2 cents for a pencil, their education is over," Jackson told the students.

Jackson is one of five children, so his father broke a pencil into five pieces.

Jackson was four and a half years old, watching his older brother and sisters leave for school each morning, wishing he could go, too. One day, he did, following them those seven and a half miles.

"Kids in my village walk to school seven and a half miles," Kaguri said. "There are no cars."

He stood outside the window, peeking in when the teacher wasn't looking when, from behind, he heard his father sharply call his name.

"He finally told me I could go to school, but if I failed one test I'd have to quit," Jackson said. The Columbia University graduate never did.

Kaguri launched Nyaka School in 2003 and Kutamba School in 2007. They provide education for almost 400 of those Uganda's 2.2 million AIDS orphans. So far, every student has passed Uganda's national exams.

He's tireless, and gently relentless as he criss-crosses the country raising awareness and support.

"We've helped hundreds, but there are millions more," he said.

The schools include school-based healthcare, anti-AIDS clubs, and some soccer and basketball. In Jackson's village, basketball is for girls. It's been slow to catch on with boys, he said.

There's a Grannies program.

"Grandmothers raise these kids because their moms and dads are dead," Jackson said.

They've built 131 houses for those grannies, each with a kitchen and an indoor toilet.

"It takes children to raise a village," Jackson said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Apr 13, 2011 07:20PM Published Apr 13, 2011 07:14PM Copyright 2011 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.