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Burkinabe Oaks

Yacouba Ouedraogo

YacoubaResidence/Home Town: Pâ, Burkina Faso
Objective: Be trained as a solar energy professional and obtain employment in that field.
Last Known Status: Started internship with a local solar energy company in August of 2016 and completed it in January 2017. Obtained full-time job with internship employer.

Yacouba joined TSO in July 2016 at the age of twenty-four. He comes from a family where he is one of fifteen children. As farmers, his parents have difficulty providing financially for such a large family, so in 2014, when Yacouba was unsuccessful in obtaining his high school diploma, he had no choice but to leave school.

Needing to help his large family in their difficult economic situation, and with few employment options, Yacouba began work as an artisanal gold miner. “An artisanal miner or small-scale miner is, in effect, a subsistence miner. They are not officially employed by a mining company, but rather work independently, mining or panning for gold using their own resources.” (Wikipedia, Artisanal mining,” accessed July 13, 2016)

Artisanal gold mining is dangerous, exposing workers to contagious diseases and the risk of landslides. Yacouba’s efforts very often resulted in fruitless searches and, subsequently, a meager income. Since gold mining was risky and provided no substantial gain, Yacouba returned to help his father cultivate his fields.

In August of 2016,  Yacouba became our first “green” intern. He began his internship with Ouagadougou-based La Source Nouvelle to be trained as a professional solar energy technician. When he completed his internship in January 2017, he became responsible for helping Heredougou maintain the solar equipment to ensure the sustainability of the project. La Source Nouvelle was so pleased with his work, they extended his contract beyond the internship  for an additional six months. In June 2017, Yacouba helped install solar electricity at TSO’s next solar installation in the village of Kopoï, located in Pa district.  Yacouba has dreams of starting his own business installing solar panels in commercial and residential locations throughout Burkina Faso.


Congolese Oaks

Scola Sikitu

ScolaHome Town/Current Residence: Bagira, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Objective: Complete high school and then study accounting at university.
Last Known Status: Studying Accounting at Kigali Independent University in Kigali, Rwanda

Scola was born in Bagira, South Kivu in 1989. When she was two, her father died, leaving her mother to struggle to provide for her children. Because there were no relatives in the area to turn to for support, they often relied on assistance from neighbours. Scola’s mother eventually remarried and, as is common in Congolese culture, the stepfather rejected Scola and her sister. When Scola was 10 years old, her mother and stepfather moved away, abandoning Scola and her sister. The girls depended on neighbours and community organizations for support.

Scola’s younger sister married at the age of 16. In a country where marriages of economic convenience and survival sex (prostitution) is the norm for girls in poverty, Scola has taken a different path to a brighter future: education.

When we met Scola, she was living in a storeroom of a church in Bagira, sharing space with a wheelbarrow and tools. Despite her living conditions and interruptions in her education due to a lack of money for school fees, Scola was undeterred to reach her goals of completing high school and then study accounting at university.


Espoir Magendo

EspoirCurrent Residence: Kampala, Uganda
Home Town: Bukavu, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Objective: Graduate from high school and attend an English university in Uganda or Rwanda.
Last Known Status: Graduated in October 2015 with a diploma in Entrepreneurship and ICT from Uganda Christian University. In December 2016, completed internship as System Administrator and ICT technician at Est. Kishibisha, a Bukavu-based company. Currently working as a contractor for Est. Kishibisha.

At 17 years old, Espoir (meaning “hope” in French) became a Strongest Oak. His parents were separated and he was living with his mother in extreme poverty.

When we met Espoir, he was in his second to last year (form 6) at Fadhili High School in Bukavu and was hoping to graduate in May 2011. Despite being a dedicated and clever student, Espoir could not reach his high school graduation goals because he had no money to pay for tuition, books, and exam fees. With TSO’s help, Espoir graduated from high school, studied English for three months in Kampala, Uganda to prepare him for attendance at a Ugandan university.

Espoir hopes to eventually pursue a career with an international NGO in his country. In his free time, Espoir enjoys playing football.


Zingire Namegabe

ZingereHome Town/Current Residence: Bukavu, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Objective: Start her own business to support her family.
Last Known Status: Completed an internship in advertising and sales at a bottled water manufacturer and distributor.

When we met Zingire, she was a 20 year old single mother who lived with her sister Neema Namegabe (also a Strongest Oak) and her brother Polain. Zingire was living in extreme poverty and her daughter (Ashuza) and nephew (Jordan) were only recently able to attend school thanks to two generous TSO Canadian donors.

To support her family, Zingire’s goal is to start a small business (a small community store). To achieve this goal, TSO has sponsored Zingire’s tuition sponsorship for a three-month entrepreneur course to train her on basic business principles. After that, TSO will help her create a business plan to present to local lenders to launch a shop and create some marketing materials.

Zingire’s hometown, Bukavu, a city of 250,000 people, is challenged by extreme poverty and its residents have endured a horrific history of war and tragedy for years. In 2006, 16,000 females were raped by General Nkunda’s troops (Der Speigel, 2006).


Neema Namegabe

NeemaHome Town/Current Residence: Bukavu, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Objective: Start a small business selling handcrafts, as well as to improve the quality life for her son, her parents and herself.
Last Known Status: Completed an internship in sales and customer service at a gift shop, the Likembe shop in Bukavu

When we met Neema, she was a 25 year-old single mother and sister to Strongest Oak, Zingire Namegabe. Neema lives in extreme poverty with Zingire and other family members in an impoverished slum in Bukavu, a larger city in South Kivu province in Eastern D.R. Congo. When she was 18 years old, Neema was sexually assaulted by a Congolese rebel soldier and, as a result, later gave birth to a son named Jordan. Thanks to a generous donor from Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Neema was recently enrolled in a local vocational school called CAPA and is currently learning a new trade in handcraft production.

Jordan (age 6) was sponsored to attend a local primary school called Group Scolaire Dani and was fully outfitted with the necessary school clothing and provided with school supplies. After graduation from CAPA later this year, Neema’s goal is to open a handcraft production shop.


Rwandan Oaks

Pascal Dusabumuremy

PascalCurrent Residence: Kigali, Rwanda
Home Town: Nyabihu District, Rwanda
Objective: Secure a job in agribusiness
Last Known Status: Completed Bachelor’s degree in Agriculture and secured a management position with Forestry and Agricultural Investment Management Ltd. in Kigali as Head of Production

Pascal is a Rwandan genocide survivor. When we met him, he was a twenty-seven year old university graduate seeking a career in agribusiness.

Pascal has endured the unimaginable loss of his entire immediate family (two brothers, one sister and both parents), as well as many extended family members. His father was killed in 1991 during the unrest of the Tutsis accused of being spies for the Rwanda Patriotic Force (RPF). At the age of six, Pascal left his home to live with his uncle; however, his uncle was killed in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, forcing Pascal to flee to a refugee camp.

After the genocide, the orphaned Pascal continued in primary school thanks to funding by FARG (a government fund that helps vulnerable genocide survivors). Because of his resilience and determination to change the course of his life – as he was the only survivor of his family – he worked hard in high school and received a government scholarship for his university studies.

In 2012, Pascal finished his studies at the National University of Rwanda (NUR) in the Faculty of Agriculture, Department of Agribusiness (AGEC). Pascal continues to be optimistic about life and is working hard to rebuild his life as a genocide survivor with dignity.


Joseph Kabarisa

JosephCurrent Residence: Kigali, Rwanda
Home Town: Rusizi District, Rwanda
Objective: Secure a job in accounting
Last Known Status: Completed an internship with Square Entrepreneurship Development Consult LTD in Kigali

Joseph’s struggle began early on in the genocide when a group of armed Hutus targeted the tea field in which his father was working. After his father’s death, his mother, brother, and sister fled to the Rwanda jungle where they spent many weeks in hiding. They then moved to the Kamarampaka stadium, a place where many Tutsis people congregated. However, the stadium did not contain any food so his mother and brother left the stadium to find their family food. Joseph believes this was when they were killed by a group of waiting Hutus. Fortunately, shortly after their death, the Red Cross and the French Army came to the stadium to move Joseph and his sister to a refugee camp.

After the genocide, the Joseph and his sister were taken in by a surrogate mother. They continued their studies in school thanks to funding by FARG (a government fund that helps vulnerable genocide survivors). Because of his determination to make his parents proud, he persevered in school and, in 2010, was accepted into the School of Finance and Banking to study accounting.

Although a day does not go by where Joseph does not think about his family, he continues to be hopeful and is working hard to lead a successful life with honesty and integrity.


Jeanne Mutoni

JeanneCurrent Residence: Kigali, Rwanda
Home Town: Nyamata, Rwanda
Objective: Attend university and pursue a career in accounting and banking.
Last Known Status: Graduated with a degree in Accounting in December 2015 and, as of January 2016, has a full-time position as a data manager at the Mareba Health Centre, where she did her internship.

Jeanne Mutoni, sister of Strongest Oak Steven Shyaka, is a Rwandan genocide survivor from the village of Nyamata. In April 1994, Jeanne and Steven lost their entire family in the genocide, save for themselves and their grandmother. Jeanne escaped with her grandmother but they were separated from Steven. She presumed he was dead. In 1998, after four years of separation, the Red Cross reunited Jeanne and her grandmother with Steven.

Since the events of the genocide, Jeanne had been severely traumatized and was often hospitalized to deal with emotional challenges. Despite these obstacles, her resilience continues to shine through. Today, her main goal is to complete university and pursue a career in accounting and banking. She is passionate about economics, business and management and her dream is to one day become a bank manager or to launch her own business. A highly spiritual person, Jeanne hopes to someday launch her own charity to assist the many vulnerable children in the Nyamata area who are currently uncared for.


Charles Mugabe

CharlesCurrent Residence: Kampala, Uganda
Home Town: Nyamata, Rwanda
Objective: Complete a Bachelors degree in Social Work and pursue a career in Peace and Conflict Management.
Last Known Status: Graduated in March 2014 with Bachelor of Social Work and Social Administration degree from Kampala University in Uganda. In November of 2017, completed Master’s of Arts degree in Human Rights and Development at Kampala University, focusing on gender issues and children’s rights.

Charles is a Rwandan genocide survivor who, at the age of nine, lost his entire family in one of the most tragic events in history: the massacre of hundreds of Tutsis and moderate Hutus at or near the Nyamata Memorial Church. A young boy at the time, Charles made a harrowing escape by hiding among dead bodies in the church to avoid the killers, then escaping to a nearby swamp where he hid, immersed up to his neck in water, for 30 days before finally being rescued by Kagame’s RPF forces.

Charles studied Social Work at a Ugandan university, having received a scholarship from an international NGO. Charles represented his country at an international conference on Conflict Resolution in Geneva, Switzerland, in September 2010. Prior to relocating to Uganda, Charles served as a host at the Nyamata Memorial Centre giving tours to visitors. Along with Steven Shyaka, Charles launched Healing Through Arts and Drama (HTAD) in February 2010. His email tag line reads: “I care, and I am looking for people who care.”


Philomene Nyirarukundo

PhilomeneCurrent Residence: Kigali, Rwanda
Home Town: Nyamagabe District, Southern Province, Rwanda
Objective: Secure a job in the Communications field and one day start a Marketing company.
Last Known Status: Completed a Bachelor’s degree in Communication and Journalism and an internship at Rwanda Printing and Publishing. Currently works as a contractor for a company called Laterite Africa, where she collects data, interviews people and conducts research. The mission of Laterite is “to deploy the most innovative research methods to design effective responses to development issues.”

Philomene joined the TSO in December 2013. Philomene grew up with five siblings in a very poor family. Fortunately, due to her financial need and high marks, she was selected for a Government bursary that enabled her to complete her high school education. Philomene earned money to buy school materials and clothes by working as a construction laborer, carrying bricks, cement, and other heavy materials.

In spite of working while in school, Philomene was a strong student. She studied hard with the goal of receiving another Government scholarship so that she could attend University. Philomene’s dream was achieved when she was ranked the top of her class in The National Rwanda Examination Results. Her marks earned her a Government scholarship to attend the National University of Rwanda to study Communication and Journalism. The following year, Philomene won another competitive scholarship called Generation Rwanda. This scholarship covered her full University tuition and provided her comprehensive support services including tutoring, mentorship, and career development.

Philomene enjoys volunteering in her community. One organization she volunteers with is Garden for Health, an internationally recognized not-for-profit organization that provides agricultural support and health education to rural communities with high rates of chronic childhood malnutrition.

Philomene is now looking forward to pursuing her career, wishing to work with an NGO or reputable company in Rwanda that can help her learn the skills she needs to be successful in Communications and Marketing. In the future, when Philomene starts her own company, she would like to employ underprivileged youth so that they too have an opportunity to escape poverty.


Steven Shyaka

StevenCurrent Residence: Kigali, Rwanda
Home Town: Nyamata, Rwanda
Objective: Attend a local university and pursue a career in law.
Last Known Status: Graduated in December 2014 from Kigali Independent University with a degree in Law. Completed internship with R&R Associates in August of 2014. As of January 2017, working on a Master’s degree in Human Rights and Global Justice at Cardiff University in Wales.

Steven is a Rwandan genocide survivor who, at the age of eight, lost his parents, brothers and other family members in April 1994. Steven narrowly escaped death and was taken to a local hospital to recover from severe physical and emotional wounds. Believing that he was the only surviving member of his family, Steven sought work as a young houseboy, and was eventually adopted by the family who employed him. In an ironic twist of fate, his adopted mother turned out to be the sister of Steven’s parents’ killers. Suffering torture and abuse from his adopted mother, Steven eventually left the family and was miraculously connected by international aid workers to his grandmother and sister, whom he had presumed were dead. Steven’s grandmother enrolled him in school and he graduated with a high school diploma.

A young leader in his community, Steven has launched Healing Through Arts and Drama, a support group for young Rwandan genocide survivors, their families, and even the criminals themselves, to help heal emotional wounds and regain a new life through dance, music, theatre and poetry.

On a part-time basis, Steven serves as an assistant Oak Leader on behalf of TSO Rwanda.


Ugandan Oaks

Gertrude Nanyonga

GertrudeCurrent Residence: Mubende, Uganda
Objective: Complete a Bachelors degree in Nursing and pursue a career as a medical worker
Last Known Status: Completed class work and internship at Jinja School of Nursing and Midwifery, near Kampala, Uganda. As of March 2017, is working as a Study Nurse for a Makerere University research project and is posted in the children’s ward of Mubende Hospital, in her home town.

Gertrude became our first Ugandan-born Strongest Oak in 2012 at the age of nineteen when she was completing high school in her village.

Gertrude’s father died when she was only four, leaving her mother to care for two young daughters. Subsistence farming (gardening and poultry) has been the primary means of survival and income for the family. She and her mother manage a small retail stall out of their home, offering farm products for sale.

Despite her economic hardships, Gertrude managed to successfully complete high school, thanks to financial support provided by her uncle and former TSO Uganda Oak Leader, Elijah Kyamuwendo. Elijah tragically died in 2012, leaving behind many young people who relied on his support. We wanted to honor Elijah’s contribution to The Strongest Oak Foundation and further his legacy by finding a suitable Oak candidate among his dependents. We found such a person in Gertrude.

Gertrude is focused and determined and has tremendous leadership qualities. She excelled on her high school debating team, was a singer in her school choir, and helped counsel other students in her school who needed advice.

Gertrude graduated from St. Charles Lwanga High School in 2012 and started nursing school in 2013. After completing her nursing degree, Gertrude wants to care for the poor in her community.


Stanley Ssozi

StanleyCurrent Residence: Kakiri, Uganda
Home Town: Wakiso District of Uganda
Objective: Secure full-time employment as a business and computer specialist
Last Known Status: Graduated with a diploma in Information Technology and completed his internship at the Kampala Computer Centre in May 2015. As of January 2017, is working in IT support at IT World Support Specialists.

Stanley Ssozi joined TSO in the summer of 2014 at the age of twenty-six.

Stanley was born in the Wakiso District of Uganda. He has struggled to support himself since he lost his last parent at the age of ten. Because Stanley sometimes failed to earn the money necessary to pay for school fees, he missed some years at school. Nonetheless, he persevered and advanced to high school, where he got some assistance from his head teachers. During this time, he opened his barbershop in Kakiri trading centre. This business allowed him to support himself as he completed his diploma in Information Technology from Buganda Royal Institute of Business and Technical Education (Mengo).

Stanley continues to run his barber shop and currently attends his internship at Kampala Computer Centre, where he is supported by generous TSO donors. As an intern, he is in charge of training and computer networking.

With his career, Stanley aspires to earn a better living and be able to inspire the less advantaged youth and children to never lose hope and to always strive with determination and patience in order to reach their goals in life.