Children of Grace: Aiding in the fight against AIDS

Sraavya Sambara, Editor-in-Chief

Grace Talitwala, a vivacious, outgoing young lady from a small village in Uganda, was afraid to die. She, like many other women in Sub Saharan Africa, was bearing the brunt of the ruthless AIDS epidemic, a killer that terrorizes everyone in its path. But Grace wasn’t concerned for herself. Rather, she was distraught about what would happen to her two young sons, who would inherit next to nothing after Grace’s passing. How would they live? How would they continue their education?

The answer came from an unexpected place, a philanthropic organization bridging the gap between the Tri Valley and Uganda. Children of Grace, a nonprofit based in Danville, helps fund the education of countless Ugandan children whose families have been destroyed by the AIDS epidemic.

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome is a debilitating virus that attacks the immune system, rendering it  vulnerable to other viruses and diseases. The number of people living with HIV/AIDS in Uganda has soared to 1.5 million from around 1 million in 2003, and last year alone there were 30,000 HIV/AIDS related deaths, according to the United Nations. Awareness there about AIDS, although improving, is minimal. And there is yet no standard practice regarding what happens to the children of AIDS victims.

When Mary Anne McCoy, a Danville resident and a graduate nurse, visited Uganda in 2001 on a humanitarian mission, she met Grace, who was an advocate for AIDS awareness in Ugandan villages. One fateful day, Grace told McCoy that she was diagnosed with AIDS, and McCoy, shocked and determined to do something, promised to educate Grace’s kids and the many other kids in similar situations. With that promise, Children of Grace was born.

Now, from the Tri Valley, Children of Grace funds the private education of more than 900 Ugandan children. Services for the children also include medical care, mentorship, and career guidance workshops. By placing children in the best schools in Uganda, Children of Grace seeks to give the kids a quality education necessary for thriving careers. The organization believes that education is the key to escaping poverty in Uganda and that without Children of Grace, these kids would either end up being married off or forced into labor.

McCoy explains, “We educate children so they can grow up to be the change in Uganda … Extreme poverty is what drives AIDS. Education is a way out of that.”

She remembers first reading about the African AIDS crisis in Fortune Magazine one night in the winter of 2000. The article deeply moved her, and before long, McCoy had paid $300 to sponsor a young girl in Uganda. She wrote letters, paid for school, and provided food.

The girl’s name was Zahara Nakibuule. From her perspective, McCoy was a saviour.

Nakibuule said in an interview with the Wildcat Tribune, “When I lost my mom, I was wondering what was going to happen to me … After I was sponsored, I studied so hard because my life depended on it.”

Nakibuule’s village of Mbikko was known as the AIDS corridor. She remembers the constant deaths in her village, and how nobody would even ask about the causes —  everyone innately knew. Nakibuule knew that by educating herself, she wouldn’t be married off like many girls of her age. Education was a beacon of hope in 12 year old Nakibuule’s uncertain life.

In 2002, Nakibuule walked 10 kilometers to finally meet McCoy. Their stories merged when McCoy decided to adopt Nakibuule and take her back to the Bay Area. 15 years later, Nakibuule now works in managing Children of Grace, so she can mentor and help kids who are in similar situations as she once was. Nakibuule understands the lifelong pain that comes with losing a parent, and she hopes that this organization will move kids forward.

“For kids who have gone through AIDS,” she says, “Children of Grace empowers them to really want an education … This is the way out of poverty.”