By Stephanie Dolan
It’s easy to believe, as a U.S. citizen, that the issue of HIV/AIDS is still going. Incidents of new cases in this country are down from what they were years ago and medications for the disease have improved exponentially.
Yet, in some parts of the world, HIV/AIDS still has a stronghold. In fact, in some parts of the world, it’s a pandemic that is running rampant through poverty-stricken villages.
Such is the case in the African country of Uganda, where more than 1.1 million children have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS. Many of these children go without the basic human needs that many of us blindly take for granted: food, shelter, clothing, health care and education.
In Uganda, education is not free, and even many children with parents aren’t afforded the opportunity to go to school.
That is where the Nyaka School comes in. Founded by the Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project, the mission of the school is to educate, empower and transform vulnerable and impoverished communities in Uganda, ensuring that everyone has the chance to learn, grow and thrive.
For many years, a Greenwood Christian School student has been raising funds and sending them to the Nyaka School in the hopes of improving the quality of life of Ugandan orphans.
“When I was 7, the director of the Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project, Jackson Kaguri, came and spoke at our church,” 18-year-old Cameron Northern said. “He started the Nyaka School. They provide free food, education and medical care to orphans in Nyaka who’ve lost their parents to AIDS.”
Children helping children
Northern said that what got her started with fundraising for this cause was the fact that the children she was hearing about were her age at that time.
“He was talking about kids who were my age and walking miles to school every day,” she said. “As a 7-year-old I was thinking that if my change could make a difference then surely my friends’ and families’ change could make a difference.”
Not only did Northern empty her piggy bank, but she asked friends and family to do the same with their own change jars. That first year, she ended up raising nearly $850 to send to Nyaka.
“Every year my passion has grown, and I know I will continue to raise money for these kids for the rest of my life,” she said.
Northern’s passion has grown to such an extent that she has visited the Nyaka School twice.
“I think my eyes were just really opened to a lot of the needs there,” she said. “It was different the second time because I got to develop those relationships that I first got started during our first trip. It was good to get to know people on a deeper level and connect with them.”
Northern said there were many differences between her first trip and the second.
“The first trip was a culture shock,” she said. “I’d never been out of the country before. It was shocking to see a Third World country. Even though there’s a lot of poverty, it’s beautiful.”
Northern said that each time she’s travelled to Uganda, she’s seen the country in a different light.
“Every trip is going to be different,” she said. “Being a couple of years older we got to spend more time with the high school kids, which was cool. We stay at a primary school while we’re there, and it’s great getting to know the kids better and play with them. We also interacted with the teachers better because they are the ones who make these children world-changers in their community.”
Northern said this is why she plans annual fundraisers – to help the kids.
“My love for the country and the people has grown,” she said. “I really want to help send them to school.”
“My husband, Seth, and I are very proud of her,” Ali Northern, Cameron’s mother, said. “We’ve seen her passion for loving and serving others since she was young.”
Cameron’s family has travelled with her each time she’s visited Uganda.
“The first time we went we didn’t have any idea what to expect except that we were really excited to visit this school and experience what it was like,” Ali said. “The first trip was amazing. The second time we went back the trip was even more amazing. Just being around these orphaned children, who have nothing but are so happy and grateful for the education that’s provided for them … they love on us the whole time.”
Appreciation and gratitude
Ali said the students readily express their appreciation to anyone who visits.
“It’s such an amazing experience to go over and see this poverty-stricken area with children who have one outfit and they have such a sense of gratitude,” she said. “We’ve come back with our eyes opened and gratitude for the things we have and a continued commitment to the organization.”
Even Cameron’s younger brother Brett has found a passion for Nyaka.
“He is Cameron’s biggest fan,” Ali said. “He’s watched her in her fundraising. He said he wanted to do fundraisers and support Nyaka. He’s a big saver. He always saves his money and all of his allowance and gives it to Cameron. Every year he ends up having no money. It’s been neat to watch his eyes be opened through his sister’s experience. I just think that the kids learning that giving back to others is the most important thing.”
Brett is not the only one, though, that Cameron has influenced.
“I go to a school called Greenwood Christian Academy,” she said. “I started the philanthropy club last year (Cougars Care). We’ve had two years now to develop it. It’s for elementary school students to raise money for things they’re passionate about and for them to give back to the community. We normally have about 30-50 kids in the club. I have the opportunity to minister to the younger kids. I love being the leader and founder of the club. This year I have a junior helper. We teach members what the word philanthropy means and how to raise money.”
“The reason she started Cougars Care is that she realized at a young age that little kids can make a difference, and if they have support from family and friends, they can build off of that,” Ali said. “They can make a difference for organizations in areas that they are passionate about.”
Ali said she encourages people to support their children and help them realize exactly what touches their hearts.
“There’s something in our innate being that has an empathy toward helping others,” she said. “If you can figure out what your child’s area is you can fan that flame and make a huge difference even at a young age. Once they do it once they have confidence, and they can do it again. I’ve seen it firsthand. Your kid can do this exact same thing. This is not an amazing story that is a once in a thousand teenager story. This could be so many kids if parents’ eyes were opened and if kids were encouraged to make a difference.”
For more information about the Nyaka AIDS Orphan Project, visit their website at nyakaschool.org.
5 Questions with Cameron Northern
Who or what inspires you?
I guess I would say my faith is a big inspiration to me and my friends are also a big inspiration. I have a really good group around me. Having a good group of friends who love and support you has been a real inspiration.
What do you do in your spare time?
I really like to write and journal. In my free time I do devotions and read my Bible. I’m also probably working out. I love to run and read.
What’s your favorite book?
Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers.
What’s your favorite TV show?
What’s your most vivid childhood memory?
Probably my first day of kindergarten.