The news channels bombard us with tragic events daily. Car wrecks. Fires. Floods. Famine. Mass shootings. Maybe only one out of 20 stories is uplifting and inspirational. After the mass shooting at the naval yard in Washington, D.C. and the attack at the mall in Kenya, even I began to wonder if there was no goodness left in the world. But only for a moment. For I have witnessed the generosity of thousands, and have seen greatness in the human spirit.
Over 10 years ago, when I first attempted to raise funds for Nyaka AIDS Orphans School, only a small few were willing to take a chance on supporting a project half way around the world. Reverend David Bremer of the United Presbyterian Church in Bloomington, IN was one of those people. He was inspired by my story and willing to help the AIDS orphans of my home village, Nyakgyezi. He and Otto Ray, a Rotarian, sponsored our first fundraising banquet and created Indiana Friends of Nyaka to support the school. Did that make the national news? Of course not.
Now, after building two primary schools, a library, a clinic and creating a program to support grannies taking care of their orphaned grandchildren, I find the world is still focused on tragedy and not the accomplishments that are happening around us. I have given speeches at Shenandoah University, Calvin College, Albion College and Alma College. This year, my book, A School for My Village, was selected for the University of Florida's Common Reading Program, which is designed to provide all new first-year students with a common intellectual experience. I addressed the entire freshman class, something I never imagined 10 years ago when I was struggling to keep Nyaka School afloat.
I've seen college students of this country become inspired to action by my simple story. The Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project has welcomed scores of young people into its internship program. I've seen student's lives dramatically changed in the course of a couple weeks.
Morag Neill, M.A. student at Columbia University who brought nine donated computers to the school, said:
The trip was personally fulfilling as it gave meaning to the seemingly arbitrary fundraising research that had me occupied in Kampala in the preceding weeks. It demonstrated the extent to which Jackson's vision for implementing a holistic human rights-based program to end the systematic deprivation, poverty and hunger has been realized. The passion that surrounds NAOP is undeniable and has made my job in sharing the organization with new funders less daunting. Nonetheless, the eight weeks that have been assigned to the fundraising project is hardly enough to make as big of an impact as I would have liked. I'm happy to have gotten the chance to crack the fundraising prospective for NAOP, however, there is so much more in store for the Nyaka AIDS Orphan Project.
In 2012, I was selected as a CNN Hero and gave a speech at the TEDx conference. I found that my message is inspiring more than students to give back. Dr. John Brewster, a retired dentist from Michigan, was part of the first group of doctors to volunteer at the Mummy Drayton School Clinic in 2011. He writes, "Thank you for the opportunity to serve the wonderful people of the Nyakagyezi community and Nyaka and Kutamba Schools. The visitor quarters and food was great. Jennifer did a super job of organizing and just being good company. Thanks."
After hearing about the Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project, some are inspired to work for the school while others open their wallets to give. But inspiration comes in many forms. After my TEDX talk in Traverse City, Bob Southland was uniquely inspired. In his June 5th blog, he said:
A speaker at a TEDx event in Traverse City said that the average child from his African homeland walked to school 10 miles. After I heard this fact, I couldn't help but think of Steph and I walking to school with our two young boys, Colebrook, a kindergartener and Hawthorn, a preschooler. A couple weeks later, I woke my family up at 5:30 am and out the door we headed the 7 and 1/2 miles to Glen Lake Community Schools.
Dr. Vanessa Brooks Herd visited Nyaka in 2011. She said:
As I sat on Delta flight 9318 in Kigali, after 15 hours flying, 2 ½ hours layover, and a 45 minute delay, two passengers asked if I was 'going home.' Surprised, I answered no, but perhaps my response was premature. Maybe I was actually coming home just unaware. Having visited twenty countries on six continents and 36 of the 50 United States, no place initially fit better than Uganda.
The next time you see a newsflash, remember, you are not seeing all the news. You are seeing the sensational and the tragic. Often times the good news is buried and you must search for it.