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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.

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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 (As of April 2020):Scola opened a restaurant with her fiancé in early 2020. She plans to return to university in the weekend program in 2020.

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.

Scola began studying Accounting at Kigali Independent University in Kigali, Rwanda in 2013 and, in 2015, she completed an internship at the Golf Hills Residence, a hotel located in Kigali. She then went on to work in an administrative and accounting role at a café/restaurant in Kigali. In her last year of study in 2017, Scola decided to put her studies on hold as it was difficult to manage the demands of both school and work. In 2019, Scola decided to leave her job because of the long hours and irregularity of pay. In spite of this, she was able to save enough money for the capital required to open a restaurant with her fiancé in early 2020. Scola plans to return to university and complete her degree in 2020 in the weekend program.

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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 (As of April 2020): Espoir formed an IT consulting company called Electrotechnical Business Technology (EB Tech), based in Bakavu.

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 graduated in October 2015 with a diploma in Entrepreneurship and ICT from Uganda Christian University. In December 2016, he completed his internship as System Administrator and ICT technician at Est. Kishibisha, after which he worked on a few short-term contracts. In 2019, Espoir took a leap into entrepreneurship: he and a friend formed a company called Electrotechnical Business Technology (EB Tech). Based in Bukavu, their company provides consultancy in ICT (IT), networking, and electricity.

In his free time, Espoir enjoys playing football. He became engaged to be married in 2019, with the wedding planned for some time in 2020.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Jeanne Mutoni

JeanneCurrent Residence: Kigali, Rwanda
Home Town: Nyamata, Rwanda
Objective: Attend university and pursue a career in accounting and banking.
Last Known Status (As of April 2020): Jeanne works full-time as a Senior Data Manager at the Mareba Health Centre.

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.

Jeanne graduated from Kigali Independent University with a degree in Accounting in December 2015. In January 2016, she started a full-time position as a Data Manager at the Mareba Health Centre, where she did her internship. She has since been promoted to Senior Data Manager, gotten married and had a daughter.

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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 (As of April 2020): Charles is working as the Rwanda coordinator of a small German NGO that helps vulnerable Rwandans. He is also a volunteer lecturer at the University of Kigali in the Public Administration program.

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 served as a host at the Nyamata Memorial Centre, giving tours to visitors and, along with Steven Shyaka, launched Healing Through Arts and Drama (HTAD) in February 2010 to support Rwandan genocide survivors. In September 2010, Charles represented his country at an international conference on Conflict Resolution in Geneva, Switzerland.
Charles studied Social Work at Kampala University in Uganda, having received a scholarship from an international NGO, and graduated in March 2014 with a Bachelor of Social Work and Social Administration degree. In November of 2017, he completed a Master’s of Arts degree in Human Rights and Development at Kampala University, focusing on gender issues and children’s rights. He returned to Rwanda and is working as the Rwanda coordinator of a small German NGO, Kwizera e.V, that helps vulnerable Rwandans, especially woman and children. Charles is also a volunteer lecturer at the University of Kigali in the Public Administration program.

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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 (As of April 2020): Philomene works for the Rwandan Ministry of Health in the Department of Emergency Medical Services (SAMU) as a Communication and Dispatch Officer.

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 completed a Bachelor’s degree in Communication and Journalism and an internship at Rwanda Printing and Publishing in January 2015. She then worked as a contractor for a company called Laterite Africa, where she collected data, interviewed people and conducted research. In April 2017, she secured a full-time job at the Rwandan Ministry of Health in the Department of Emergency Medical Services (SAMU) as a Communication and Dispatch Officer. Her main duties are to professionally receive and make calls on 912 (the ambulance hotline) and dispatch ambulances. She, her husband and two children live in Kigali City, Gasabo District.

In the future, Philomene would like to start her own company and employ underprivileged youth so that they too have an opportunity to escape poverty.

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Steven Shyaka

StevenCurrent Residence: Kigali, Rwanda
Home Town: Nyamata, Rwanda
Objective: Attend a local university and pursue a career in law.
Last Known Status (As of April 2020):Steven is taking a Legal Practice Course (LPS) at the School of Law at the University of Leeds in the UK; this is the first step to qualify him to practice law in the UK.

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, with his fellow Oak Charles Mugabe, 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. For a time, Steven served as an assistant Oak Leader on behalf of TSO Rwanda.

Steven graduated in December 2014 from Kigali Independent University with a degree in Law and then completed an internship with R&R Associates in August of 2014. In September 2017, he completed a Master’s degree in Human Rights and Global Justice law at Cardiff University in Wales. He then returned to Rwanda and worked as a private legal consultant with different institutions, including the Ministry of Labour and public service. In 2019, he began taking a Legal Practice Course (LPS) at the School of Law at the University of Leeds in the UK; this is the first step to qualify him to practice law in the UK. He hopes to eventually practice Human Rights law.

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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 (As of April 2020): In November 2018, Gertrude started a new job in Mulago Hospital with the medical and molecular laboratories, working on an End TB study.

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. She completed her nursing studies and internship at Jinja School of Nursing and Midwifery (near Kampala, Uganda) in December 2016. (The official graduation ceremony didn’t take place until February 1st 2020.) In 2017, she worked as a Study Nurse for a Makerere University research project and, in November 2018, she started a new job in Mulago Hospital with the medical and molecular laboratories, working on an End TB study (part of the WHO End TB Strategy). She has also been busy being a mother since giving birth to her son in June of 2018. Gertrude ultimately wants to care for the poor in her community.

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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.

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