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Alumnus Kaguri '96 Inspires Sunday Supper Audience

Twesigye Jackson Kaguri, who lived at International House while participating in Columbia University’s Human Rights Advocate Program in 1995-96, returned to inspire current I-House residents with his remarkable story of helping orphans of AIDS victims at the Sunday Supper on January 29th.

After thanking President Don Cuneo and warmly recalling his own experience at the House, Kaguri recounted with the aid of a power point presentation his successful efforts to dramatically improve the lives of thousands in his native East Africa.

Twesigye Jackson Kaguri  '96 speaks at Sunday Supper.
Kaguri left his remote village of Nyaka, Uganda, to pursue an education and life in the United States, but said that when his siblings contracted AIDS, he knew he had to return home to give other children a chance at education and good health.

After finishing the program at Columbia, Kaguri came back to Nyaka to be with his dying brother and pledged to take care of the brother’s three children. When his sister died of AIDS six months later, Kaguri took on another nephew, this one HIV-positive. His life forever changed.

"I had hopes of marrying, having a job, having a good time, doing whatever I wanted,” he recalled. “All the sudden I am the father of four children, one dying of HIV/AIDS. They need rent, they need pencils, they need medicine."

His entire village was ravaged by AIDS, and grandparents who were suddenly caring for their orphaned grandchildren turned to Kaguri to help pay tuition and purchase school supplies. His wife later came up with the idea of establishing a school of their own.

Today, the Nyaka and Kutamba AIDS Orphans Schools provide education, housing, and support to orphans who would otherwise not have access to formal and informal education. Kaguri has also led fundraising efforts to heighten the awareness of the cultural issues surrounding the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

As the school was being built, Kaguri traveled back and forth between Nyaka and East Lansing, Mich., where he worked at Michigan State University. The school opened in 2003, and by 2009 was large enough to accommodate more than 200 AIDS orphan students.

Kagurie’s work soon expanded to address malnutrition, housing and healthcare. Today the Nyaka School provides improved houses, latrines, livestock and microfinance loans to grandmothers.

"We chose to work with these women because they are the ones left behind to care for the orphaned generation," Kaguri said. "They care for and love these children, and we stepped in and reassured these grannies that their children would be okay."

Kaguri now splits his time between the U.S. and Uganda and said he counts his blessings.

"I look at our students with assurance that there will be more like me who will fly all over the world and never turn their backs on the villages that made them who they are," he said.

At the conclusion of the evening, I-House residents lined up for Kaguri to sign copies of his book, A School for My Village.

We are a residence and program center of 700 graduate students and trainees representing more than 100 countries, perhaps the most culturally diverse student community in all of New York City.