Nyaka students running in solidarity with their supporters running the TCS NYC Marathon in Kanungu, Uganda
Nyaka students running in solidarity with their supporters running the TCS NYC Marathon in Kanungu, Uganda

I have been fundraising for equitable access to education for HIV orphans in Kanungu in Southwestern Uganda for the last 20 years. I could never have predicted that my two-room school would become a community of 85,000 students and 20,000 grandmothers and that we would be participating in the NYC Marathon on its 50th anniversary (TCS NYC Marathon 50).

I founded the Nyaka School as a humanitarian effort when I witnessed the huge increase in the number of HIV orphans in my village Nyakagyezi, Kanungu. These kids were left helpless with no parents, no caretakers and certainly no future planned for them. Using my personal funds, I built a small school with not much else in it, and then realized that for me to continue to support myself and my family in Michigan I would have to fundraise. Today, the Nyaka campus sits with two primary schools, a vocational high school, a clinic, homes and a myriad of programs. Some of the programs run are education, health and nutrition, ending gender based violence (EGBV) and a socio-economic empowerment program with the women in our community fondly known as Ba-Mukaaka or our Grandmothers program.

Because we depend on our donors and supporters, fundraising is an all year round activity. Therefore as the CEO of a Not-For-Profit organization registered in the United States as a 501c3 fundraising is a skill that I have had to develop in order to grow the venture. It is the most vital framework in ‘giving back’ as charity is dependent on the continual intake of revenues to be sustainable. 

Twesigye Jackson Kaguri, Founder and CEO of Nyaka Global at the Nyaka Campus, Photo by Matt Stauble

Growing a Not-For-Profit is like growing any other business. We still require the same business infrastructure and planning as any other venture, the only difference is that we must have consistent fundraising input. I have developed strategies for different demographics and while most people think that ‘giving back’ is for the rich, our organization has developed programs where small businesses, schools and individuals have supported us, all while fostering bridges of social impact for both the donor and our community.

One of the most recent developments was our partnership with the TCS New York City Marathon. Hailed as the largest marathon in the world with over 50,000 runners and 2 million spectators, the criteria to qualify in this annual race is designed for the regular marathon runner to preserve the integrity of the competition, however the organizers reserve some running spots for charities like Nyaka to fundraise via a community charity partnership program.

This program is highly valuable for the Not-For-Profit sector that is usually lacking marketing and advertising budgets, yet it is the ultimate win for charity supporters who wish to visit New York City or gain entry to an exclusive event with global media coverage and for the avid runners that wish to compete in the race while making an impact in the lives of others. 

Twesigye Jackson Kaguri, Founder and CEO of Nyaka Global crossing the Finish Line at the TCS NYC Marathon 50, Photo by Matt Stauble
Twesigye Jackson Kaguri, Founder and CEO of Nyaka Global crossing the Finish Line at the TCS NYC Marathon 50, Photo by Matt Stauble

In 2018, as we prepared for our inaugural race and executed our fundraising plan, we had not anticipated the huge spike in worldwide submissions from our global donor community that wished to participate. From London to Kampala to Seoul to Johannesburg the appetite for this fundraising activity was unlike any we had held before. Unfortunately, many could not attend in person due to travel complications and those opportunities were missed.

As thrilled as we were about the excitement from our fundraising network, nothing was as spectacular as race day and the spirit of New Yorkers cheering the runners through the day from borough to borough. Even though I currently reside in the Midwest, the magnetic energy of the spectators chanting “you got this!” transported me back to my time living as a student in the melting pot that makes New York as dynamic as it is. From Staten Island, crossing the bridge into Queens through to the Bronx then Manhattan and finishing at Central Park, the wave of diversity of ethnicities and cultures of New Yorkers was vibrant along the course. From live band performers to brunch goers to reggaeton sidewalk parties to seniors on their stoops and children holding up signs everyone was in unison; cheering on the thousands of runners in their NYC Marathon.

There was a collective sense of welcoming and pride among the local residents that motivated runners through to the finish line. 

This experience mirrors my vision for the culture within our Nyaka community for the last two decades- this ideology that our community can thrive with all stakeholders cheering and supporting the collective growth heading towards the same finish line, which is the sustainable development of the entire community. Like the NYC Marathon, everyone has their own pace and time as they grow socio-economically but hopefully, we will achieve our goal as an ecosystem. 

We expose our community to our donors, many of whom have visited Kanungu from around the world but most of our community have never travelled from the country and so visiting New York, let alone running its marathon might seem like a far off dream.

At this year’s race, its 50th anniversary, especially after it was cancelled the year before due to the Covid19 pandemic and global lockdowns, the urgency for New York City to return to normal was felt further. Last year’s restrictions forced the organizers to cancel the physical event and create the TCS Virtual Marathon. While this was a disappointment for thousands of runners who trained for months and planned their travel, it also scaled the NYC Marathon opportunity for participation anywhere in the world. For Nyaka, this was the solution we needed to engage our donors that previously could not travel to New York.

The best outcome was that some of our students and the grandmothers committed to run the race virtually in solidarity with their supporters. This gesture was real validation to our team that our mission to create a social impact-driven community was evident, at least in this instance. It also further demonstrated that given the opportunity our community would put ‘skin in the game’ in fundraising for themselves. Without a visa or ever leaving their country, they would run the world’s largest marathon.

Nyaka Grandmothers walking the TCS NYC Marathon 50 in Kanungu, Uganda

And so on race day, led by H.E Nathalie Brown, the United States Ambassador to Uganda,  students, staff, supporters, community members and grandmothers run the TCS NYC Marathon deep in the hills of South Western Uganda. Since they were 8 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (EST), the runners at Nyaka were actually finishing at the time when we in NYC were at the starting line. There could not have been more motivation than to know that they run the NYC Marathon in rural Africa with no spectators, no signs and no chants of “you got this”. And they finished.

H.E Nathalie Brown, Ambassador from the United States to Uganda flags off Nyaka runners of the TCS NYC Marathon 50 in Uganda

Twesigye Jackson Kaguri is a non-profit leader, motivational speaker, human rights advocate and fundraiser with over 30 years in management. He runs 3 schools in rural Uganda working with 20,000 grandmothers raising 85,000 children at Nyaka Aids Orphan Project in Kanungu, Uganda

(IG: @nyakaglobal)

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