When Grandmothers Gather: A Story Of Hope After Loss

The touching story of how one man’s love for his grandmother transformed into a life-changing mission to help children through loss in the AIDS epidemic.


The request came to Twesigye Jackson Kaguri from a pair of grandmothers on a warm day several years ago: “We want to join the group that meets under the mango tree,” they said.

It was music to Jackson’s ears, a symbolic testament to just how much has changed since his days of going door-to-door asking grandmothers to house and raise children who recently lost their parents to the AIDS epidemic sweeping his hometown of Nyakagezi, Uganda.

“Jackson, we have no money for food,” the grandmothers often responded. “Who will feed them?”

“We will take care of that,” Jackson responded, referring to the nonprofit Nyaka he was creating. “They will get two hot meals at the school we are building for them.”

“Who will pay for their health insurance, their medical bills?” the grandmothers asked.

“We will,” Jackson responded.

“Then what exactly do you need us for?”

“We need you to love them.”

“We want them to feel your love, the irreplaceable care and protection of a grandmother’s love,” Jackson said.

“Okay,” the grandmothers eventually agreed. “Let’s try it out.”

Serving 92,000 children the love of a grandmother

Fast forward to today: The Nyaka AIDS Orphan project has helped 92,148 move into the homes of 23,037 grandmothers.

Nyaka provides workshops, training, and microloans for grandmothers to start businesses. Every two weeks, participating grandmothers meet at a community center or a spot in nature to gather and learn new skills.

Words of wisdom from Granny Grace

Grace Tugume is an 83-year-old grandmother who works closely with Nyaka. Grace is a mother of nine, two of whom she adopted while working as a nurse at a hospital long before Nyaka’s program came to her town of Kitorero, Kambuga.

In 1994, Grace lost her husband of 30 years and was suddenly the sole provider and caretaker for her family.

“I did it all by myself,” said Grace. “It was hard, but I love raising children.”

In 2007, Nyaka’s program came to Grace’s town of Kitorero, Kambuga. Finally, Grace had an outlet for the community and economic support she had been needing all along.

“To gather together is a great thing. We would always wish Friday would come so we could meet, greet each other, and really start singing and dancing our native dance,” Grace said.

Grace still recalls that first meeting in 2007.

“We were a small group, and we were happy,” Grace said. “After meeting, sitting, and praying we looked around at each other. I asked one grandma, ‘Why don’t you comb your hair?’ She didn’t have a comb. So I brought combs to the next meeting.”

The small gesture of kindness set a powerful precedent of care that continued to trickle out in the group.

Today, Grace is a Grandmother Advocate and a committee member for Nyaka. She offers advice and counsel to grandmothers from her many years of experience.

“Counseling is the best thing,” Grace said. “Something tells you—you are still useful and do not think of yourself as rubbish. No way! We counsel each other that we should wash ourselves, and our produce, our homes, and eat good foods that can sustain our health because we love ourselves! That counsels someone’s mind. You know that you are still a person among the community.”

“If we can get loans and help our grandchildren—wow, that is great.”

Grace received microfinance support from Nyaka and sold her woven mats made from palm tree leaves to the organization to be sold. This brought financial abundance and security to her family.

The grandmothers, through their brave return to motherhood, carve a new path forward that feeds and nurtures themselves, their children, their partners, and their community.

“To be a mother as a grandmother, you need three things: Passion, dedication, and love,” Grace said.

A visionary born from love

The brain behind Nyaka is often introduced as a visionary. Twesigye Jackson Kaguri has been named CNN Hero, Heifer Hero, Global Citizen, and Power of One by Time Magazine. He is a board member of GlobalGiving, an international award winner, and an author of seven books.

Jackson is also a grandson.

He recalls feeling the power of his grandmother after he fell from a Eucalyptus tree as a boy. He was carried to a hospital, dripping blood onto the earth as a crew of friends and neighbors told him he was going to die.

Thankfully, Jackson’s grandmother’s house was on the way to the hospital.

She came outside, inspected his gaping wound, and said, “He is not going to die,” with such authority that Jackson had no other choice than to believe her.

The hospital had no surgeon. It took three days for one to arrive, with debris from the fall still lingering in his open wound when the surgeon finally arrived. Jackson spent six months in the hospital, a torturous stay with just one silver lining: His grandmother’s visit each evening.

Rain or shine, Jackson’s grandmother Mariza Rukwira came to the hospital and read a different excerpt from the Book of Psalms.

“Grandma, how do you know I will get better?” he recalls asking her one visit.

“My baby, God created you for a purpose. You are not going anywhere until then.”

In 2001, Jackson’s grandmother passed away—the same year Jackson began going door-to-door to find grandmothers to offer other children the same love he received from his grandmother.

“These children just watched their parents, who were once their bigger-than-life superheroes, shrink in front of their eyes,” Jackson said. “To die of AIDS is a long, traumatic death. These children saw that and now walk past their tombs on their way to school.”

Jackson knew these children needed someone to protect them, believe in them, and give them hope for their future because that is exactly what he received from his grandmother in one of his scariest hours.

By connecting thousands of children with safety and care, he has helped thousands of humans step into their very own unique potential, just like he did.

This Mother’s Day, you can celebrate the power of a mother’s love by thanking the motherly figures in your life or connecting with other mothers if you happen to be one. You can also support mothers and grandmothers in Uganda through a donation to Nyaka’s grandmother project.

Gift the love of a grandmother this Mother’s Day to children who lost their parents in Uganda.


Featured Photo: Help 30,000 Ugandan Grandmothers Care for Children by Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project

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