Vail Valley’s Nyaka network still reaching out to Ugandan AIDS orphans |

Vail Valley’s Nyaka network still reaching out to Ugandan AIDS orphans

Sue and Emma Lathrop returned to the Nyaka School Uganda five years after their first visit anf becoming involved with the project. Sue is helping a Ugandan student learn to sew as part of the school's vocational program.
Special to the Daily |

To help

The Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project

2970 E. Lake Lansing Road

East Lansing, MI 48823" target="_blank">Text">

You help a guy who helps a guy, and pretty soon you’ve put African AIDS orphans in school for a year.

Jackson Kaguri is the guy. Emma Lathrop and Sydney Idzikowski were Battle Mountain High School students and National Honor Society members when they jumped in five years ago. They helped Kaguri and convinced others to help him, too.

That’s networking, and there’s so much more needed, said Sue Lathrop, Emma’s mom and part of their growing network.

Kaguri founded the Nyaka AIDS Orphans project and school in Uganda, helping give that country’s AIDS orphans a chance at an education. Lathrop heard Kaguri speak at the Vail Public Library and decided not to just talk about it, but to do something about it.

Lathrop and Idzikowski brought Kaguri to Battle Mountain and got him in front of the Vail Rotary Club and the Boulder Kiwanis club, and the three events raised $2,500, enough to send five girls to high school for five years.

Five years later

That was five years ago. When Emma and Sue Lathrop first visited Nyaka in 2012, the students were in the first grade. Five years later, all sorts of things have changed. The students are in the sixth grade now, and Emma is a college graduate. Those students remembered them, Sue Lathrop said, and smothered them with affection when they returned earlier this summer.

Uganda is home to 2.5 million AIDS orphans, Kaguri said.

“No one wakes them up. No one takes them to school. No one says, ‘I love you,’” Kaguri said.

More than 7,000 grannies in 93 geographic areas around Uganda have made room in their tiny homes and huge hearts for more children.

Gently relentless

Kaguri launched Nyaka School in 2003. He is tireless and gently relentless as he crisscrosses the United States, raising awareness and support.

“We’ve helped hundreds, but there are millions more,” he said.

Education in places such as Uganda is rare, not required.

Students must pass tests to advance. So far, every Nyaka student has passed the national advancement exams, Kaguri said.

Their parents must pay for them to go to school.

If any of these things don’t happen, then their education is done.

And no one loses a pencil.

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

Students who show up without one are sent home. They can’t attend school without one, and most families don’t have 2 cents. So, for the lack of 2 cents for a pencil, their education is effectively over, Kaguri said.

His family was just as impoverished. Kaguri is one of five children, so his father broke one pencil into five pieces.

He was 4 1/2 years old, watching his older brother and sisters leave for school each morning, wishing he could go, too. One day, he did, following them 7.5 miles.

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

Jackson begged to go to school and his father finally relented but told him if he failed one test he’d have to quit. The Columbia University graduate never did fail.

LEARNING Life skills

Kaguri insists that students’ education include both academic and vocational training.

Along with language, science and math, students are focusing on how to launch a cottage business.

For example, Rose used a micro-loan to buy a sewing machine and opened a tailoring business. Others weave baskets. Masonry and carpentry are big. So is sewing. All the students need uniforms, so there’s a built-in market for those skills.

The area around Nyaka is clay soil, great for making bricks. Along with academics, students learn how to make bricks and how to build with them.

They now have a computer lab with 50 donated computers and can always use more, Lathrop said.

Two dorms are finished, and so is the academic building.

“It’s beautiful,” Lathrop said.

The medical clinic is free for villagers, not just students and staff.

Drought and poverty

It’s getting better, Sue Lathrop said, but the poverty is still stifling.

“Uganda is suffering from a terrible drought, and the power at the house where we were staying is hydroelectric,” Sue Lathrop said.

Of Sue and Emma Lathrop’s 14 days at the Nyaka primary school, they had electricity for three days and running water for two days.

Uganda is on the equator, so the sun comes up at 6 a.m. and sets at 6 p.m. By 6:30 p.m., the mosquitoes are swarming, and by 7 p.m., it’s dark.

“It was an inconvenience for us, but helped remind us that this is how the students and teachers at the school, and much of the rural population of Africa, live every day,” Sue Lathrop said.

Headlamps and jerry cans of water got them through, but the drought will make the immediate future tough, Sue Lathrop said.

“It was so sad to see field after field of withering, drooping crops that people depend on for food and income,” Sue Lathrop said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and

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