MSU Graduate Monika Dietrich of Haslett, Michigan, would like other MSU students to follow in her footsteps. Last summer Dietrich traveled to Uganda to conduct nutritional research at the Nyaka School and found it one of the most concentrated learning experiences in her life. Nyaka School was founded by Twesigne Jackson Kaguri of Okemos, Michigan, who recently authored aÂ book on his experiences. The school is unlike any other in Uganda since it tackles education from a holistic viewpoint. It also focuses exclusively on children orphaned by the death of their parents from HIV/AIDS.
Many students travel as many as seven miles one way to attend the school and all the students have been orphaned due to HIV/AIDS. Kaguri dedicated his life to starting the schools with hopes of starting hundreds more after his brother and sister died of HIV/AIDS. This is the author’s first book but he has others planned and he doesn’t mind that the book is being compared to “Three Cups of Tea”. Kaguri will be at Barnes & Noble in East Lansing Michigan Saturday June 18 at 2 p.m. to sign his book. Dietrich will be in the audience and she said she hopes to return to Uganda one day possibly as a doctor. She begins medical school at MSU this fall.
Twesigye Jackson Kaguriâ€™s book was already brewing about the same time before Craig Mortensonâ€™s â€œThree Cups of Teaâ€ went to the top of the New York Times Best Sellers list, but with a little luck, panache and just old fashioned pluck, the Okemos author may climb to the top of that list.
â€œThree Cups of Teaâ€ is the wildly successfulÂ book about an unlikely hero building schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, while Kaguriâ€™s â€œThe Price of Stones: Building a School for My Villageâ€ is about a transplanted Ugandan who was destined to give back by building schools for HIV/AIDS orphans in his home country. Â
How Kaguriâ€™s book ended up being published is just as unlikely. In 2003, after giving a sermon in an Indiana church about his experiences, he was approached by Susan Urbanek Linville, a journalist, (who ended up being his co-author) who asked, â€œHave you ever thought of writing a book?â€ Then there was an agent who didnâ€™t represent non-fiction, but after reading the manuscript took a shot. Of course, thereâ€™s his publisher who already had the Mortenson book but decided to take a chance on a similar book.
â€œIt was all by Godâ€™s design,â€ Kaguri said, but then again parents who are able to send their children to school in Uganda (often at great personal cost) look at it as an investment.
â€œItâ€™s social security, medicaid and all rolled up. Parents send us so weâ€™ll come back and take care of them.â€
Kaguri who is readying some clothes to send to his father said it is â€œexpectedâ€.
What wasnâ€™t expected is that Kaguri would dedicate his life to building schools for orphans in his home country which is reeling from decades of war, poverty and disease.
Kaguri knows that the only solution is education. And not only is he dedicating his life to the cause he turned his life topsy-turvy when he quit his MSU development job recently to work full-time on fund raising for his dream to build hundreds of schools in his home country.
The quest all began quite innocently on a trip home to visit his family where he was faced with a brother dying from AIDS followed soon by his oldest sister and her son. Estimates place the number of Ugandans with HIV/AIDS at 15 percent of the population of 31 million.
In Uganda more than 2.2 million children have lost one or more parent.
In 2001, he decided he would build an orphanâ€™s school, opening Nyaka School in his home village of Nyakagyezi in 2003. A recent library addition was paid for from his share of the book advance. Earlier he had used money his spouse had saved for a down payment on a house to start construction.
The tuition-free school opened with 60 students some who would run seven miles each way to attend. Kaguri said the school has been a tremendous success academically.
Kaguri said it is important to offer a holistic approach where the school provides not only an education but food, books, uniforms and medical care. He said something as simple as a pencil can keep students from going to school.
The book details not only the transformation of a young Kaguri who became an international scholar, but also the seemingly impossible impediments he overcame to build a school.
Kaguriâ€™s skills as a fundraiser have come in handy. He said his whole career has been in development most recently as the interim head of at MSUâ€™s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
â€œIt is a beautiful job getting people to realize a dream they wanted, but didnâ€™t know how to go about it.
My new career gives me a sense of purpose. I miss Uganda every day.â€
Kaguriâ€™s book was recently profiled in Time magazine which elicited a new wave of donations.
He said his number one goal now is raising money to keep the existing 407 students in school.
â€œWithout schools lives go to waste completely, but what we do now is just a drop in the ocean. We risk losing a generation of children who canâ€™t turn back.â€ One of his goals now is to enlist the Greater Lansing community in fundraising and activities.
â€œThat way we are changing lives on two continents.â€
Already MSU graduate and soon to be med student Monika Dietrich from Haslett spent six weeks in Uganda doing nutritional studies.
â€œIt was one of the most concentrated learning experiences of my life. The daily life is so different. It changes what you do and what you want.â€
She said one obvious difference is the concept of time.
â€œThings happen when they happen. You have to take it slow.â€
Heather Simon who teaches sixth grade in the Holt Schools has worked with the Nyaka school to create a pen pal program with her students. This past summer she spent two weeks at the school taking with her hundreds of toothbrushes donated by her students.
She said for her students, the pen pal program has started them to care more about community.
â€œOne of the more powerful lessons has been that students recognize the privileges they have here.â€
She said the book helps us all understand â€œwhat it is like thereâ€.
â€œThere is so much death juxtaposed against how one person can make a difference.â€ Both Simon and Dietrich plan to return to Uganda.
Kaguri said in the U.S. children are worried if the television is High Definition.
â€œIn Uganda a nine year old is living alone in a house with no electricity-it puts things in perspectiveâ€.
â€œWe are at the tipping point,â€ he said and he has plans to open additional schools across Uganda that will be marked by a combination of free tuition and paid tuition so they will be self supporting.
He believes parents who can afford it will pay to send their children to schools with a record of high academic achievement. He said in 2009, all of Nyakaâ€™s 26 graduating students passed the national test compared to 25-40 percent nationwide.
Kaguri commends his publisher Penguin for their support especially when they had a competing title with â€Three Cups of Teaâ€. He said Penguin even provided a childrenâ€™s version of â€œThree Cupsâ€ to the schools.
Kaguri is looking forward to meeting Mortenson later this summer at an International Rotary meeting in Montreal. Kaguri is the President of the East Lansing Rotary, and you can bet he will ask Mortenson about his funding secrets.