Monday, May 27, 2013

Why You Might Care About Uganda....

Some may ask, "Why Uganda?"

Welcome To Kampala

I might reply, "Why not?"

This is my second time having the privilege of visiting The Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project (NAOP) in rural southwest Uganda.

As Director of Development for NAOP, I eat, sleep, and breathe the students of Nyaka and Kutamba Primary Schools in the United States daily; however I too need a reminder every now and again as to why with all the need in the world, them?

Country Manager Jennifer Nantale, Director of Development Kelly Voss, and our travel coordinator from BIC Tours Sam Mugisha planning the next few weeks of donor visits

Why do I call donors, write letters and grants, and seek funding for grannies raising an average of 5 orphans living a 19 hour flight away?

Why does my 17-year old son often get left behind while I fly to speak to donors or foundations about our work?

Why do I swallow my ego and nerves to speak up any chance I get to anyone who might listen about our important work?

Why you might ask, should you care? 

With all of the need in the world, in the United States, and in your own community ~ why should these children and students continue to receive a portion of your philanthropic time, talent, and treasure?

It might be because of the statistics.  Out of a population of roughly 32 million in a state the size of Washington there are 2 million orphans predominantly a result of the scourge of HIV/AIDS.  That's a lot of children born into a circumstance for which they didn't ask.

Perhaps it is because this country, a mere 50 years old (post-colonial) offers a unique opportunity to grow and educate a middle class and to embrace democracy ~ a possible deterrent against terrorism ~ a recognized global threat.

Or maybe it is because you recognize the unbelievable ROI afforded by our students.  For a mere $.68 a day you can ensure a student has 2 daily meals, access to medication and sanitary products, clean water, and the life-changing experience of a primary education!

Perhaps you want to leave this world a better place for your children and grandchildren and all of the important young people you love?

My son is volunteering at the schools this trip ~ it will be a great opportunity for both him and our students to learn about one another's culture.

You may be like me and believe all of the above to be true, but there might be something more for you like there is for me.  I care.  Our global community is important to me.  I want to live for something bigger than my single little life here on our earth.

As I trudged through security madness, lost bags, 19 hours of plane time, and unbelievable back pain from the weight and stress of the trip, I reflected on our grannies' lives.

They were born into subsistence farming; raised and then lost (typically to HIV/AIDS) their children and now are raising their children's children.  They have no help other than what you, our precious donors, provide.  And do you know? They are some of the happiest most joyful people I have ever met!

Two of Nearly 7,000 Grannies We Serve Thanks to YOU!

And so, I can put up with the little inconveniences in life, and have even learned to do so with a smile and patience (usually).  I want to give my life meaning and purpose while helping others and The Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project is a perfect training ground for this to happen.

I'll be blogging about our students and grannies whilst here in Uganda over the next few weeks.  I hope that you enjoy their stories and that it inspires you to live bigger and more fully and to give generously of your time, talent, and treasure.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for joining me on this journey.  It is an honor to walk hand-in-hand with you.  Webale!

~ Kelly

Follow #nyakabound on Twitter for all of the updates on my trip!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Grannies are Gold

This blog post is a part of a grandmother movement.  To learn more, go here:

Photo Credit: Thorbjorn Chakravarty

The Nyaka grannies are some pretty remarkable women.

Yes, it's true, we brag on them a lot. And rightfully so.

With all their myriad life experiences, what we've learned from them is absolutely immeasurable.

They have taught us what it means to be giving, to live in community, what it means to sacrifice and what it means to practice love and courage on a daily basis.

They have taught us how to transform life's most difficult situations into golden opportunities for their grandchildren and communities.

In fact, our nearly 7,000 Nyaka grannies are gold.

Take Edvinah, for example. Edvinah lovingly raised 13 of her own children and then eight of them passed away, leaving behind three young grandchildren--orphaned and alone.

Although she lived in abject poverty, Edvinah decided to welcome her grandchildren into her home.

Displeased with her decision, her husband began to physically abuse 68-year-old Edvinah. She was forced to flee for their safety with no source of income or support. Her and her grandchildren wound up living in a windowless leaking shack.

Things are different for Edvinah today, though. Wonderful people like you  helped to build a new home and shelter for Edvinah and so many other wonderful women like her.  Thank you!

One grandmother at a time, we are rebuilding a community together. 
Granny house

  Bafokorora Edvinah

The Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project is giving a hand up to several thousand of the most deprived orphans in southwestern Uganda.  Education is our mission but we take a unique holistic human rights-based approach to ending the cycle of poverty that incorporates 7,000 elderly grandmothers as well.  

Most recently, Founder and Executive Director Twesigye Jackson Kaguri has been selected a 2012 CNN Hero for his tireless efforts to bring education to children orphaned by HIV/AIDS in Uganda.  CNN Heroes are Everyday People Changing the World. They are people who are making extraordinary contributions to those in need – like our students and grandmothers, the true unsung heroes of The Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project.   In addition, Kaguri is a published author of “A School For My Village” that recounts the challenges and triumphs of building Nyaka Primary School.

Out of a population of approximately 31 million, Uganda’s HIV/AIDS pandemic has resulted in over 2.2 million orphaned children who have lost one or both parents.  In addition to the trauma of losing a parent, orphans go without many of the basic human needs: food, shelter, clothing, healthcare, and education.  While the African extended family has traditionally stepped in to support orphans, the devastating impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic has overburdened this traditional safety net.  The Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project was born out of this crisis.

NAOP operates two primary schools in two rural villages in Uganda.  Our highly trained teachers and support staff are educating 487 children this year, which includes 60 preschool aged children.  We are also paying for 97 students to attend secondary school.  

NAOP is directly responsible for 584 children’s education in 2012 - an 11% increase from last year.

A very unique aspect of our organization is that our schools are completely free to attend and children are guaranteed an education through high school from the moment they are enrolled.  
In addition to providing a quality education in a nurturing environment, we include two meals per day, uniforms, books, medical care, and supplies to the students.

As a part of our holistic human rights-based approach to combating pervasive hunger and poverty, we serve nearly 7,000 grandmothers, through 91 support groups. This outreach allows NAOP to help an additional 34,525 children living in these grandmothers’ homes.  Having tragically lost their own children to AIDS they are now raising their orphaned grandchildren without social security, health care, retirement, child welfare, or basic housing.  Nyaka supports these unsung heroes by providing them economic opportunities that help them to care for their grandchildren.  We employ several Grandmother Coordinators who train them on practical life skills such as parenting, grief management, gardening, nursing, leadership, and business development.  In addition, NAOP provided the most destitute grannies with over 150 new stable homes, kitchens, and pit latrines last year, as well as a microfinance program where they make goods like baskets and jewelry that is sold in the United States.  

The human rights-based holistic work that we are doing has the potential to be replicated in other villages, countries, and continents around the globe.  

Our mukaakas, or grandmothers, are the bloodline of our work ~ we celebrate them daily.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Reflections of a Hypocrite? by Stan Allen

We hope you've been inspired as much as we have by the updates we've been sharing with you from our wonderful Nyaka supporter and volunteer, Stan Allen.  Here is his final update from the series. Enjoy the read and the weekend! 

I was at Nyaka this week on, ostensibly, a humanitarian mission that serves the grindingly poor, and now I am at a safari resort, spending personal funds on what could have otherwise been used for bettering the lives of a  host of individuals living in the depressing nadir of poverty.  A night’s stay at the lodge could change someone’s life for years.

I expressed this to my new friend, Robert Wambiri, our guide from BIC Tours, who brought us from Kampala to Nyaka, and beyond.  Over a few beers tonight at the resort (at least I’m buying the beer), we discussed Uganda, tourism, and social conscience.  Robert was reassuring.  “No, you must come and see the elephants and hippos.  You must go home and tell people about Uganda, about its beauty, and resources.”  These resources include water, water everywhere, fertile valleys, game reserves, and a “you’re welcome” culture.   I told him that, before I left, my principle association with Uganda was Idi Amin and my primary concern – to stay alive, or at least not get arrested.  He said that many of his clients for safaris share this ignorance (my terminology here) and this is not today’s Uganda.  And it isn’t.

I also used to be afraid of bats.  They are creepy.  They are nocturnal.  They are surrounded by mysterious mythology.  Around the windows of the resort tonight, where the light attracts swarms of insects so numerous here in this aquatic location, the bats are ubiquitous.   Four, five, ten, or more of them flit back and forth across the surface of the window scooping up untold numbers of unsuspecting insects.  As I started this blog outside on the porch, watching this harvest of invertebrates by our mammalian cousins, I was forced to accept them, or move off the porch out of the gentle, languid, equatorial breeze.  I actually got up and walked into the throng, nary a one inflicting the Vampire inducing bite I would have otherwise expected.  Likewise, the Amin-tainted country where my daughter’s charity resides has similarly inured me to the unfounded dangers of traveling here.

Tomorrow I go on my first game drive, my first boat ride into hippo infested waters, in a couple of days, my first chimp trek.  All these are indulgences afforded me by my birthright.  But these are not the enduring memories I will bring back.  Those memories will be the craggy faced Grannies that danced and sang when we showed up to give out solar lights, their warm embraces when I was allowed to pass out the “awards,” the vision of Emily tutoring an otherwisedoomed cerebral palsy victim, the swarms of purple uniforms singing at morning assembly, and the knowledge that the simplest and easily affordable contribution can change lives forever. 

It is true that there are many such opportunities, frankly.   I just did a quick check of charities available in Kampala alone, and there have to be over a 100.  Never mind other cities in the same country and other countries in Africa.  I remember thinking about this when Emily first mentioned her intentions of getting involved with Nyaka.  As a scientist, I questioned whether this was the most effective charity she could be involved in, or whether, if she wanted such experience, there was a more apt choice.  It was then that I realized I knew virtually nothing about global poverty and charitable organizations.  Since, I have come to realize that there is no optimal charity, they are all . . . well, charity.  Sure, there are shades of reputable and disreputable.  Take for example, Greg Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute and how incredibly popular it was after the publication of “Three Cups of Tea” and the subsequent allegations of misuse and misapplication of funds.  This is partly why “going there,” to Nyaka, was so satisfying.  It was to discover, for myself, the context that Jackson described in his self-styled description of an incipient charity; it was to discover the full meaning of economic conditions that are being addressed; it was to discover the layers of assistance that Nyaka is trying to provide – the layers that culminate in enabling others to determine, and not be victim of, their fate.  The final criterion – enablement – to me is the most important contribution of Nyaka, and therefore, the question of, is it the most opportune one to get involved in, is, in the context of global giving, moot.

That I must return to my luxuriant first-world existence, and forgive myself for the alternative uses of the funds I am using for game drives and the like, is also a paradigm for the Nyaka experience.  We all live in the birthright of our circumstances.  Many, more fortunate, donors have contributed to this grand Nyaka vision, and continue to do so.  In a couple of weeks, a technology expert will be arriving at the guest house to evaluate IT needs at rural Nyaka (and hopefully to keep Emily company).  A Canadian donor built the library.  Another donor built the guest house.  Another promised University education for Nyaka students.  In fact, in the case of the latter, there are yet no Nyaka students that are ready for University, so the donor has agreed to fund other deserving cases until Nyaka students are of age.  The list goes on.  A US physician that donates time, an NGO with solar lights, a high school graduate who funds primary school education for 8 years . . .  We can only strive to do what is possible for us to do and social conscience impels.  But to realize what it is that we should do, we must come to see.  We must understand our privilege.

Pick a cause.  Get involved.  Go there, or at least exercise due diligence in your giving, and know how your kindness obtains.  I know, now, many things I did not before my trip, but most importantly, I know Nyaka.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

"Grandmother's Day"

Reflecting on Mother's Day is interesting at The Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project.  In Uganda, so many mothers have passed away from HIV/AIDS leaving behind the precious lives that we care for along with elderly grandmothers each and every day.  It is a bittersweet celebration to be sure.  

Collectively, our grannies or mukaakas, are raising 34,525 grandchildren with very little means.  Your unwavering support is a tremendous help.

One beautiful way to honor these unsung heroes of Nyaka this "Grandmother's Day" is by purchasing a gift from Uganda for a very special woman in your life: a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, aunt, sister, wife, daughter, or friend.

Please act now! Nyaka Etsy Shop

Celebrate your special lady with a gift that will help a mukaaka in need.

We have beautiful baskets in an extensive variety of colors and sizes that have been handcrafted from papyrus and sisal by our grannies. We also have gorgeous paper bead necklaces, in every color imaginable, to complement any outfit or occasion. Please check out our newly updated Etsy Shop for some creative gift ideas!

As if that weren’t enough, we are also offering Nyaka pendants. Natasha Wozniak has created two pieces of jewelry that were directly inspired by the culture of Uganda. The first is a Nyaka Basket Pendant, which embodies the woven baskets, the grandmothers, the orphans, and the purple color of the Nyaka Primary School uniform. Natasha is generous enough to donate 15% of the purchase price of each piece to Nyaka!  

Click here to check out both pendants.

If you would prefer to make a donation in their honor instead, we are happy to send your special lady a card.  Donate in their honor by clicking here.

Thank you for being part of our Nyaka family.  Please know that by partnering with Ugandan women a world away, you are truly helping them lift their families out of poverty to achieve a better future. On behalf of the Ugandan Grandmothers, the HIV/AIDS orphans, and the billion people living in extreme poverty on our planet, thank you for taking action.

We would like to wish a Happy Mother’s Day to every mother on this planet ~ whether you take on this role as a mama, father, mukaaka, sister, friend, or guardian.  

We acknowledge your sacrifice, your hardships, and your unwavering love ~

Molly Mulvaney
Grandmother Coordinator & Office Manager