The founder of Uganda’s first free school for the orphans of AIDS victims will give a talk Thursday in Portland.

Jackson Kaguri was born and raised in southwest Uganda, but had married an American and planned to settle here when he learned in 2003 that his brother and a sister had died of AIDS during the growing epidemic.

“I ended up going back to Uganda to care for my nieces and nephews,” he said. “It was around that time that there were millions of children whose parents had died of AIDS and were not in school.”

Kaguri said his father had stressed the importance of getting an education.

“My father never went to school,” Kaguri said in an interview Wednesday. “But he sent his five children there. He would buy one pencil, and break it into five pieces so each of us would have a pencil for school.”

After graduating from high school and college, Kaguri went to Columbia University as a Visiting Scholar.


After facing the deaths of his siblings, and feeling sickened by what they saw on their return to Uganda, Kaguri and his then-wife, Borunda, spent their savings on building Nyaka AIDS Orphan Project, the country’s first free school for children who had lost their parents to the HIV virus.

It was a difficult task because of political instability and corruption.

“You never know when anything can happen in the country,” Kaguri said. “The surrounding countries have not been peaceful, so there’s always a big worry something can happen.”

Despite these obstacles, Nyaka School has evolved to have three different branches educating nearly 700 students and operating alongside other community projects, which benefit 43,000 people.

In 2012, nearly a decade after Nyaka’s founding, Kaguri was recognized as a CNN Hero. This brought the school more attention and also improved its reputation and relationship with the Ugandan government.

“It is a great honor,” Kaguri said of the award, “but I know that it’s not about me. I am j ust the bearer of the news – I am a messenger. God could have chosen anyone to carry that message, but he chose me and I am humbled by it.”

Kaguri will speak at noon at First Parish Church, 425 Congress St. Admission is free.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.