Help from Eagle County to Uganda | VailDaily.com

Help from Eagle County to Uganda

VAIL – Jackson Kaguri is what heroes look like, and so is Emma Lathrop.

Kaguri is the founder and director of Uganda’s Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project. Emma and her mother, Sue Lathrop, launched the local Friends of Nyaka group to help him raise money and awareness.

They could use both.

Uganda has 2.2 million AIDS orphans in a population of 32 million people. Kaguri has worked tirelessly to educate, feed, house and clothe as many of them as possible.

He was named a CNN Hero for his efforts, but like most heroes, he’s just trying everything he can all the time.

“The children and grandmothers we serve are the true heroes of Nyaka,” Kaguri said.

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The Nyaka school is surrounded by a 17-acre organic farm that provides food for the school and jobs for the village.

They raise a few cattle and goats; the kids eat meat on the last Friday of each month.

Vail Valley and Aspen Rotary clubs came up with part of the money for a clean-water system, one of Rotary International’s major initiatives. The reasoning is simple. In Third World Africa, lots of things will try to kill you. Your drinking water should not be one of them.

Emma and others raised $15,000 for a water system that would cost around $37,000. They decided to flex their faith and started building it, hoping and praying the rest would come. It did. Someone stepped up with the other $22,000.

The whole community gives back to the school, Emma said. They bring bricks, eggs, milk, anything they have to share.

Emma heard Kaguri speak once, and once was all it took. She put together a local Friends of Nyaka group and organized the Barefoot Mile to raise money and awareness. Dozens of participants walked a mile in their bare feet around the Battle Mountain High School track, giving them some idea about what Nyaka School kids go through to get to class.

Emma and Sue traveled to Uganda and Nyaka earlier this summer to get a look at their labors.

“The children are just happy to see you,” Emma said. “They want to hold your hands, touch your hair.”

It doesn’t take long to change lives, Emma said, especially hers and Sue’s.

In Uganda, most nonproifts do one thing: food, education, clean water – whatever they choose.

The Nyaka School does it all: education, nutrition, a medical clinic, employment, clean water for the entire village – not just the school.

“If you have those five, you can survive and thrive,” Kaguri said. “Without one of those, it drags the others down.”

Then there’s the love. More than 6,500 grandmothers, many of whom lost their own children to AIDS, care for more than 35,000 AIDS orphans. No Social Security, child welfare or basic housing. Nyaka trains them in what they really need – parenting, grief management, gardening and business development.

When he was a child in Uganda, Kaguri’s own grandmother walked 3.5 miles every night to read to him

from the Bible, the book of Psalms. Only she couldn’t read, he later learned. Her father would read to her during the day, she’d memorize the Psalms she’d “read” to him that night, and recite them to her young grandson.

Nyaka school charges no tuition or fees. Children are guaranteed an education through high school from the moment they are enrolled.

This year they’re educating 584 children, including 60 preschool-aged children. They’re also paying for 97 graduates to attend secondary school.

The most destitute grandmothers have been provided 150 well-built homes, kitchens and pit latrines, as well as a microfinance program where their hand-crafted goods, such as baskets and jewelry, are sold in the United States.

“Before the new house, whenever it rained we would have to gather our bedding into one corner. I didn’t have any income to help thatch my old house. I am old and weak and don’t have the strength to work in neighbors’ gardens for money,” said grandmother Nzera.

Kaguri was born and raised in the remote village of Nyakagyezi. He graduated Makerere University in Kampala and co-founded a human rights organization. In the 1990s, Kaguri was a visiting scholar at Columbia University, where he studied human rights advocacy.

“Without Nyaka I don’t know what we would do,” Nzera said.

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