According to UNICEF estimates, 1.2 million children in Uganda have lost a parent to an AIDS-related illness. One man is dedicating himself to making the lives of those children better.
CNN Hero Jackson Kaguri, 41, who grew up in Uganda's Nyakagyezi village, knows of the devastation of AIDS all too well. He has lost a brother, one of his sisters and a 3-year-old nephew to the disease.
“In Uganda HIV/AIDS came striking like a machete in a cornfield, killing men and women, leaving 1.2 million children orphaned,” he told CNN.
In the absence of parents, it was the country's grandmothers who filled the gap. "You see the grandmothers over and over whose own children have died and left them ... Some of them have up to 14 (grandchildren) to raise in their homes," Kaguri said.
Soon after childhood, Kaguri left Nyakagyezi. He got a college degree, and moved to America, where he attended Columbia University.
But he continued to make trips back to his childhood village to deliver school supplies. One particular trip in 2001 changed his life completely.
He woke up one morning to find grandmothers, some who had walked many miles, lined up around the house and begging for his help.
“These are women who has seen me grow up in the village. They had carried me when I was hurt. They prayed for me when I was away studying. What was I supposed to do?” Kaguri told the news outlet.
He took his life savings -- the $5000 he and his wife were going to put towards buying a home -- and built a school for the orphaned children in the village.
The Nyaka School was built brick-by-brick by local volunteers. In early 2003, the school opened its doors to 56 children and provided them a free education.
Eleven years later Kaguri's vision has grown. He has now opened a second school, the Kutamba School.
Between the two schools there are almost 600 students, attending grades K-12. In addition to a free education and school supplies, each student gets two meals and access to an onsite medical clinic.
Kaguri has also helped over 6,800 grandmothers learn a trade to help them support themselves, as well as creating an organization, the Nyaka AIDS Orphan Project, which is funded through fundraising and private donations.
“I feel humbled looking in the faces of the children smiling focused on what their dreams are going to be,” Kaguri said.
To get involved with Jackson Kaguri’s project, visit the Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project website.
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