The Price of Stones by Twesigye Jackson Kaguri of Nyaka Schools
Beatrice Lamwaka talks to Twesigye Jackson Kaguri about his new book - The Price of Stones.
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First published: June 3, 2011
Twesigye Jackson Kaguri is an Associate Director of Development in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University. He is the Founder and Executive Director of Nyaka and Kutamba AIDS Orphans Schools. With Susan Urbanek Linville, Kaguri authored The Price Of Stones: Building a School for My Village, the story about how Kaguri built Nyaka School for Orphans and how he raised his community out of poverty. Kaguri co-founded human rights organization Human Rights Concerns, to help victims of human rights violations in Uganda and to educate the public about their rights. Kaguri went to the United States as a visiting scholar studying Human Rights Advocacy at Columbia University. Since then he has been involved extensively in international community efforts as a Programs Assistant for People’s Decade for Human Rights Education (PDHRE International-New York) and as a volunteer for various nonprofit organizations. He was instrumental in drafting resolutions that were adopted at the United Nations Youth International Conference held in Braga, Portugal, in 1998.
He was at Speke Hotel on a visit to Kampala when we exchanged a few words and talked about his new book.
Twesigye Jackson Kaguri.
Beatrice: When did you decide you would have to write a book?
Jackson: As a child beginning school at the age of four and half years, I followed my sisters to school - seven and half miles away from home. I was fascinated by the uniform they wore. Writing captivated me. I wanted to learn how to read and write. My desire to write started then. I started keeping a journal in primary school - whenever my dad said something I didn’t like I wrote it down, I wrote about interesting occurrences in school. I remember one time I got spanked because I broke a pot. I wrote that in my journal. I wrote in very vivid descriptions which later helped me to write my memoir. I used to keep my journal under in my bed.
In USA while I was at Colombia University in 1996, my brother died of AIDS. Before his death, I would record daily occurrences, what the doctor said, and my brother's state. At this point in time, I had not thought of writing a book yet. After my brother's death, my sister also died of the same disease. When I had access to computers, I typed all the information I had gathered in my journals, then I stored them in a floppy disk. One Christmas when I visited my home area, I managed to retrieve all the old journals I had stored in my ssembula suitcase.
Some of the information that kept appearing in my journal was my brother's message of take care of my children. I also had to take care of HIV positive nephew, left by my sister. I would return home one in a while, and then I would hear of news of death about many people I had known. Grandmothers brought their grandchildren so that I could teach them what I had learnt in school. I would give the children pencils and whatever I could. Then I decided that it was much better for me to build a school and take care of the education needs of the children and that’s how Nyaka School came into being in 2001. In the US, people would ask me about Idi Amin so I started intense writing to create awareness. In the book, The Price of Stones: Building a School for My Village, I combine the children’s stories with my own to create awareness of the situation.
Twesigye Jackson Kaguri's book - The Price of Stones.
Beatrice: What motivates you to write?
Jackson: I am writing to create awareness because I feel that this mission is beyond me. I am writing about something that is going to change someone’s life. Some of these children may never go to the US and they may never tell their stories there, but the book will speak for them. Most of their stories will never be heard; I hope and pray that these stories may change someone’s life.
Beatrice: What influences your writing?
Jackson: I didn’t have books while I was growing up but when I started reading I never stopped. The first book that I first owned was Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. I was so excited. I wrote my name, Twesigye Jackson Kaguri and also wrote Home Library, something I had learnt from my elder brother and then signed below it and put a date that I received it. My first influence was Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which I questioned because I felt that these rights were not protected in my community. One time when I asked an expert about human rights violations, he asked me if I had written anything about it. I had not written anything so I went ahead and wrote basing on my personal experiences; about lack of medical facilities and medical personnel – in 1979, I broke my arm and I was taken to hospital but there was no anesthesia so I had to bite a stick while I was being sewed - women are beaten every day; my father used to beat my mother and she would sleep in the bush. Human rights violations were going on in every aspect and nobody cared to change that. My sisters were denied education because my father believed that educating them meant investing in another family. I started paying fees for my sisters at an early age because I felt guilty. The essay I wrote helped me get a scholarship to Colombia University and it has been widely read.
Beatrice: How do you relate with the stories in Nyaka School?
Jackson: The stories of the children are like looking at the young me. My parents didn’t have money, and my father had to struggle in order to pay school fees. Some people are raising more children than they can afford to. At about 12 years I built my own hut where I could stay. My dad threatened that he would burn the hut because its entrance faced outside of the trees fence. He never burnt it. Many 12 year olds are doing the same thing. In my family we had chicken and goats that we bred but some children don’t don’t have any of that. For example, Irene, her uncle wanted to marry her off so he can get money and cows to get care of her other siblings. Currently, she is senior two and they are feed in school. Bruno was staying his family house by himself after parents died. He didn’t want to leave the house because he was scared his uncle would take the house. He wants to be a medical doctor, had no chance of school but now he is Nyaka Scool in senior two. One time he was brought for a tour of Mulago Hospital, he didn’t want to leave the hospital and he kept asking that if Mulago was that big why did his parents die of AIDS? About 2.5 million orphans are in Nyaka School and the number keeps growing. Each of us can make a difference. Any contribution can change someone’s life forever.
Beatrice: Many thanks for your time
Jackson: My pleasure.
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First published: June 3, 2011
Beatrice Lamwaka is finalist for the PEN/Studzinski Literary Award 2009. She is the author of Anena's Victory, one of Fountain Junior HIV/AIDS Series, a supplementary reader in primary schools in Uganda. Her published short stories have appeared in Gowanus Books, Women's World website, WordWrite-FEMRITE Literary Journal, as well as anthologies such as Words From a Granary, Today You will Understand, Aloud: Illuminating Creative Voices, Michael's Eyes; The War against the Ugandan Child FEMRITE publications. She was one of the pioneers of a British Council writing scheme that links Ugandan writers with established writers in the UK, and she is a member of Uganda Women Writers' Association (FEMRITE). She is currently working on her first novel and a number of short stories.