Rising with the sun, we drove along the dirt roads and bush of Queen Elizabeth National Park turning onto Bwabala Road en route to Kanungu in Nyakagyezi village, where Twesigye Jackson Kaguri’s Nyaka Orphans Project is located.
The landscape morphed from flat savannahs of grasses, acacia trees and euphorbia to tall hills and deep valleys of banana-shaded coffee plants, and soft green millet. Children were often sitting along the rise on the side of the road or walking along as an introduction to an upcoming village. Upon stopping to “stretch our legs” a young child of no more than three sat in the grasses of the road side. As we approached, we saw that her clothes were extremely worn, and flies swarmed her face. We offered her cookies (learning from Esther Loy), boiled eggs and fruit from our boxed breakfast. A hint of a smile appeared. As we continued, we often stopped meeting village children this way – all bright smiles and waves, mutually delighting in the wonder of this connection from two very different paths.
Our driver David stopped at the few crossroads speaking the local language to ask for directions a handful of times until we finally arrived at the gates of Nyaka where a thin framed woman in a white suit named Alice greeted us and introduced us Kwizera Aggrey, Nyaka's Head Teacher. Agrrey was kind, as he sat and spoke with us in his office describing the current make up of the preschool and primary school on the Nyaka campus as well as the medical clinic, and also touched upon the new library. Children dressed in purple uniforms played volleyball on the grassy courtyard while others worked on their studies in the classrooms of the white and purple shuttered L-shaped school house.
For Peter, Joanie and I, we saw the possibilities for Clover. We saw what was clearly a healthy and happy place for children to grow and learn. There was challenging material on the blackboards of the primary school, the children in both the classrooms and on the playground outside were bright and engaging, the staff were participating in professional development meetings, the nurse in the clinic was seeing patients from the community, and children were being fed a morning snack of millet and milk.
Just as Clover identifies three programmatic pillars – that of education, health care and nutrition, -- Nyaka too and has incrementally built, child by child, classroom by classroom, over 10 plus years, an opportunity for orphaned and vulnerable children in the village of Nyakagyezi to grow and develop into productive, responsible adults.
Nyaka started as one classroom and overtime and built successively until the primary school was complete and a preschool was added. They are integral to the community they are serving by educating the orphans; providing a medical clinic for the children, teachers and community, building a library, developing a farm to feed the children and staff at the school, and working now on preparing a secondary school by 2015.
Particular lessons we gathered through an indepth conversation with Nyaka’s Country Director Jennifer Natale, included the importance presenting clear criteria and engaging the community in enrollment decisions, recognizing that it takes a village and thereby providing community resources like a library, requesting participation even in a small way from the families whose children are served, offering opportunities for children as they grow to stay connected,and lastly maintaining a focus on sustainability through a variety of ways to continually building support.