Thursday, November 30, 2017

Returning to Nyakagyezi

I still remember my first trip to Nyakagyezi in 2005. We’d spent eight hours traveling from Kampala, and it was dark when we reached the village. At that time the only electric light was the solar bulb shining from Nyaka School. When I returned this July, twelve years had passed, and there were lights shimmering in windows along the roadside. The village had electricity, and that wasn’t the only change.

Nyaka School wasn’t finished when I visited the first time. Now it is a complete school with 7 primary grades. Like before, the students were happy to see visitors and greeted us with smiles and hugs. I was able to guest teach the P. 6-7 grades about infectious diseases, and found them well versed in the subject.

The Nyaka pioneer class graduated in 2008. Many of the students whom I’d met before, had gone on to secondary school and even college. The student I’d sponsored was in Kampala getting a degree in Social Sciences. Another was working on a degree in Finance. A third was in Medical School. I could say it is impossible to believe, but I won’t say that. The Nyaka Project has proven itself over and over again. These students had no chance to receive education, but Nyaka helped them and they appreciate what they have been given. They have worked hard to succeed. I couldn’t be prouder of their accomplishments.

Kutamba Primary School wasn’t even a consideration when I visited in 2005; Jackson Kaguri was struggling to find funding to finish Nyaka School. Inspired by an orphaned boy who walked over 50 miles looking for “the free school,” the program was blessed by generous donors from Colorado who raised enough to build Kutamba. It is an architectural wonder, constructed into the side of the hill. I was fortunate enough to visit the school first hand, be welcomed by the teachers and students with dances and songs, and guest teach the students. Like its sister school, Kutamba is a beacon of light to hundreds of children who had no chance for an education.

As innovative as the primary schools are, the Nyaka Vocational Secondary School dwarfs everything in the surrounding area. It offers high-quality secondary education to not only the Nyaka Project students, it is open as a boarding for others as well. All the facilities are new and are being stocked with equipment. There is a computer lab and vocational training in bricklaying and tailoring, as well as traditional subjects. What impressed me the most was the Nyaka Young Tech Innovators Club, a group of girls creating robots, motion-sensor security systems and smart-phone APPS. Who would have guessed this was possible 12 years ago?

Being a comprehensive project that helps the entire community, the schools were not the only new buildings. A guest house for interns and volunteers, the Blue Lupine Community Library, the Mummy Drayton School Clinic have also been added since my last visit.

I was very impressed with the Granny Program. There are over 7,000 members now. Each group is run by local members that make their own decisions. They provide job training, grief counseling, microfinance loans and parenting classes. We met three grannies who were having new houses, kitchens and/or pit latrines built through the program. One granny was cooking inside the house which meant the entire family was exposed to wood smoke every evening. Another granny needed both a house and pit latrine.

We attended a gathering of the Bwindi grannies. They greeted us with songs and dancing. After the meeting, they laid out their craft baskets and jewelry. There was too much to pick from. I found some gorgeous baskets to take home.

Some of my best memories are visiting with the people. I made sure to know more Rukiga this trip, even though I should have learned more. Fortunately for me, Uganda’s state language is English, so I was able to speak to the older students without problems. They stopped by to visit on several occasions. I also visited with the grandparents and families of some of the students, which involved treks down the mountainside to their farms and back up again. Twice I visited with Teacher Freda. She came out of retirement to help get Nyaka School up and running and fostered several orphans. She is such a generous, special woman, I cannot speak more highly of her.

Two weeks in Uganda went too fast, and before I knew it, I was on the plane flying back home. I tell myself I’ll go back again, and next time it won’t be 12 years.

Susan Urbanek Linville