The Waislitz Award is given to an individual that demonstrates merit in Global Citizenship, Impact, Innovation, and Potential. Check out last year’s winner Anoop Jain here. This year, Twesigye Kaguri is one of four finalists nominated to receive the award. We asked him a few questions to learn a little more about his work.
What should we know about you and your work?
I am the founder and executive Director of the Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project in my village of Nyakagyezi in southwest Uganda. After I lost a brother and a sister to HIV/AIDS, I realized what the HIV/AIDS epidemic had done to my community. There were 1.1 million HIV/AIDS orphans being raised by their impoverished and aging grandmothers in Uganda. These orphans were not in school, they were malnourished, and many were vulnerable to human trafficking, unplanned pregnancy and early marriage.
For the past fourteen years, I have been working to empower these children and their grandmothers to escape poverty. Together with my community and friends from around the world, we have built two primary schools, a vocational secondary school, a health clinic, two gravity fed water systems, a farm and nutrition program, and two community libraries.
Because there are so many HIV/AIDS orphans, we started the Grandmother Program that supports 7,004 grandmothers, raising a collective 43,000 HIV/AIDS orphans. We use education and empowerment to give them skills and resources to escape poverty including micro-finance loans, vocational training, counseling, farming tools, seeds, new homes, smokeless kitchens, and pit latrines. This year 14 students are attending university.
I became involved with development work because of the tragic effects of injustice and the HIV/AIDS epidemic that I saw in my home community in southwest Uganda. I wanted to do something for the thousands of orphaned children who had no way to go to school and no hope of escaping poverty unless someone helped them. I began this work because I love my community and especially because every child deserves love and care. I cannot stand to see children suffer.
What are you currently doing to end poverty?
I am currently completing the construction of Nyaka’s third school, The Nyaka Vocational Secondary School. This school will allow us to educate 240 HIV/AIDS orphans in either vocational study (e.g. carpentry, metal work or brick laying) or secondary school studies for students pursuing a college track.
This school will provide the same great support that the students received in primary school while allowing them to continue their studies closer to home.
Recently, a 9-year-old student at one of Nyaka's schools was raped by a 35-year-old man. Her guardians could not afford to pay the holding fee at the jail to keep her attacker in jail. This incident has made us realize that Nyaka must address sexual assault and child protection on a greater scale. We are mobilizing right now to create programs to prevent the sexual assault of children and to change the mindset of the community. We are launching a campaign to increase understanding about sexual assault among students and community members, influence attitudes about sexual assault, and work with local authorities to get justice for sexual assault survivors.
What do you think a world without extreme poverty would look like?
It would be peaceful. People will respect one another. No rape of school children because they will be empowered. Children will not die because they have no food. Families will be together and peace will prevail in their homes.
There will be no first and third world countries. I cannot wait for that day because I know one day there will be a world with no extreme poverty. That is a reason I work so hard every day.
What do you think is the most important issue facing the world today?
I believe that global poverty is the most important issue because many other important problems would be solved (or greatly reduced) if we addressed this one.
All of the children of the world would have a chance to be educated. Hunger would be eliminated. Many diseases would disappear.
What advice do you have for other global citizens?
Don’t give up no matter how hard it gets. If I can do it, anyone else can do it.
I went to school in the village where Nyaka is located. I shared one pencil with five siblings. I walked seven miles a day for 12 years of schooling.
Here I am and I know that in 2015 a fifth of a pencil can still make a difference in the world.
No matter who you are, the world needs you and you can do it.
Lastly, why should we vote for you?
The work that I have been able to do through the Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project is the most important thing I have ever done. Over the last 14 years, it has grown into a holistic, human rights based model for community development. We believe that communities should be involved in identifying and solving their own problems. We also believe that organizations should strengthen the communities they work with, not weakening them through dependence.
I believe that this model could transform many other communities in Uganda, and developing countries around the world but we need to raise awareness. This award will help us spread the word about the tremendous success of our organization.
We would use the funds from this award to educate and empower more orphans and grandmothers in southwest Uganda through vocational training in skills usable in the villages they live in.
A win here will be huge for the youth and women in the villages we serve. We have built a vocational school so youth and women can acquire innovative skills that will allow them to get employed or create jobs. We are planning to start a banana paper plant of which we have no funding for. This money would help us get this social impact investment in place and help with the sustainability of other programs in the long run.
Personally, I am honored to continue to be a voice for the voiceless, a vessel in which hope and dignity is restored in the rural villages of Uganda.