Thursday, October 19, 2017

Romain's unforgettable experience at Nyaka

My brother, Quentin, and I spent three weeks this summer at the Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project in Uganda. The trip was an incredible experience. I went to work on monitoring and impact measurement for the organization. Quentin joined me to speak to young students about Engineering and help them with guidance choices.

The mission:
After a long flight from France, I took a boda boda (local taxi motorcycle) to the Nyaka office in Kampala. When I reached the office, I was warmly welcomed by the team: Sempa (Finance Manager), Jennifer (Country Director) and Shabnam (responsible for our project). I remember Jennifer saying to me, "What I hope you can do is help us answer the  question, What does success look like?” Nice challenge! :) We spent the first week in Kampala with the management team to better understand Nyaka’s operations.

Nyaka's goal is to provide access to education and healthcare to AIDS orphans through a holistic and community-based approach. When parents die due to AIDS, it is often the grandmothers who take over. Nyaka gives them the means to support their grandchildren through training on entrepreneurship, microfinance, and awareness-raising.

Data collection in the field:
To measure the impact of Nyaka within the communities of Kanungu & Rukungiri (southwestern of the country) and answer the question, "what does success look like?", we moved to the second step of the project, which was to go and collect the data on the ground. This week was a series of meetings with Nyaka primary and secondary school headteachers, teachers, religious leaders, clan and village leaders, government officials, and local community members. There were sometimes more than fifty people from several communities who joined to help us carry out our study. The most striking element was the perfect involvement of the different communities within the governance of Nyaka. In the event of a severe blow to Nyaka, thousands of people from all hierarchical, ethnic and religious levels would contribute together to face them. While I was collecting data, Quentin used his engineering skills to fix some water pressure problems in their water circuit. He also organized science courses around four experiments.


Unforgettable moments:
Community of Grandmothers
After a one hour exchange with a community of grandmothers for our data collection, they thanked us with a dance accompanied by local songs. A moment that will remain engraved in our memories. Click HERE to see them dance.

Live pitching smartphone app
We were pitched by a team of six students who were passionate about new technologies. They introduced us to their innovations and in particular a smartphone application that prevents patients from forgetting their medicines while receiving advice from doctors. Value proposition, business model, demo… everything was there! This app has earned them the first place of a national challenge involving all the private schools of the capital!

Volleyball match
Being both volleyball fans, we were invited for a fierce match with the Nyaka students. The ground was rocky, the net distended and the ball worn, but the skill levels were really good. Notably a schoolgirl, of seven years max, playing in dress and bare feet. She positioned all her receptions with surgical precision!

The meeting of the week:
While reading Jackson's book, the Founder of Nyaka, he explains the fundamentals of his initiative following the deaths of his brother and sister because of the "slim" (AIDS) and introduces the woman who breathed the values of Nyaka. After constructing the first two classes, Jackson went to see Freda, a hearty grandmother and a freshly retired teacher, to become Nyaka's first headteacher. We had the opportunity to meet her, a rare and truly inspiring personality!

Return to Kampala to start the 3rd phase of the project:
This week in Kampala was particularly studious in order to complete our respective reports. Regarding the impact assessment mission, I dedicated the first two days to consolidate the 4,100+ data points retrieved on the ground from the three Nyaka schools and the communities of Kanaungu & Rukungiri. Then, I worked on the construction of various dashboards to follow up the identified KPIs (key performance indicators) before writing a summary report that we debriefed with the team.

Here are some interesting performance KPIs:

·  786 different students who benefited or are benefiting from the Nyaka education program since 2003 (program spread over 14 years + university)
·  156k+ hours of classes taught since 2003 (including 21k hours last year) by a full-time faculty team that reached 43 people this year
·  1.7M+ meals distributed within their schools since 2003
·  40 students currently in university
·  54% of girls all levels combined (13 times over the last 15 years, there were more school schoolgirls than schoolboys)
·  436K people reached via radio broadcasts/visits in 2016 animated by the anti AIDS club from Nyaka primary school

Quentin focused on highlighting the main risks associated with the construction of the three schools with recommendations of implementation. His three main orientations were about: the foundations of certain buildings, the protection of water tanks, and the safety in kitchens.

Unforgettable Safari in Queen Elizabeth Park:
Even when we had been busy during the week with our missions, we were still real tourists during the weekends. Following Shabnam's recommendations, we found the right tour operator. Bosco, our guide, grew up in the park and guided us on the weekends in his SUV with an opened roof. In addition to being really nice, he had an incredible network of friends so we got all the best spots. He found us a leopard that had just killed his prey, a band of seven lions, elephants, buffalos, crocodiles, warthogs, antelopes, and monkeys.  As soon as his phone rang, he pressed the accelerator and we went through the opened roof ready to spot the next animal! 

This experience was really unforgettable! Thank you to the Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project and the EPIC Foundation for making this lifetime experience possible!

Romain Sion

If you have any questions about my trip please contact me at Romain Sion contact