The 1980s and early 1990s were a devastating time for Uganda, Rwanda and Congo, with millions of adults who died during the AIDS epidemic, the 1994 Rwandan genocide, and the sporadic violence that followed for years. Thousands of children were left without family or state support.

In 2005, a group of Canadians came across 52 orphaned and vulnerable children who were being badly looked after, and created The Nikibasika Development Project. From the onset, the project was structured along a family model, intended to be for this specific group of kids and not the creation of a never-ending institution. Over the next few years the charity will be closing it’s doors, something they’ve been working towards since their inception. The project was started in response to the situation at the time. This focus enabled them to create a completely unique model, going beyond providing basic food and education and creating development, that included community leadership, global awareness of human rights, and support for post-secondary school. 

Anyone who is a parent knows, kids are a lot of work and can cost a small fortune, but caring for fifty-two kids in another country takes things to an entirely new level. To meet the financial obligations of this project the TriAdventure was created, a small, non-competitive fundraising event offering cycling, running, canoeing and swimming. Participants pick the sports that interests them the most, and enjoy a weekend of camping and friendships while being supported by a crew of volunteers who also fund raise. Since it’s inception ten years ago, the TriAdventure has raised over a million dollars for Nikibasika.

The number of athletes and crew is roughly one for one, meaning every person on the trip gets a letter from their assigned child and an updated photo. On the Saturday morning participants take time out to speak on the phone with the kids which is possibly the most potent reminder of how much of an impact this brings to these children. In a world that can sometimes feel like we’re powerless over, this event is proof otherwise. 

Cate Creede, one of the co-founder’s of Nikibasika explains, “the highest value we can offer this group is to focus on them as a family, and like all families, as the kids grow up our role as mentors/pseudo-parents/sponsors changes.” Pretty soon all of the kids, now young adults, will be making invaluable impacts on the world around them.

Every secondary school student at Nikibasika belongs to a team that creates and performs a community improvement project with an emphasis on helping the elderly, volunteering in local hospitals, supporting street kids and teaching the children of local villages basic skills. The projects are initiated and led by the students, and as a result they learn goal setting, teamwork and project management. With only a handful of students left to graduate Nikibasika will soon have fulfilled it’s mission and vision statements and the impact is a strong, vibrant community with an abundance of skills, hope and potential. 

All of the youth have created volunteer projects of their own. For example, 21 year old Nicholas recently completed welding school, and is starting his own business making gates, furniture, window frames and other essentials in a non-manufacturing society. While he was in school, he also recognized that a lot of people in his community had food insecurity, and he founded a co-op for people to grow and share food collectively.  

Both the charity and it’s event the TriAdventure will be coming to an end over the new few years, as the intention was to help them until they were able to help themselves their community. This means that in about four years the last child will have left the program bringing Nikibasika and the TriAdventure will come to an end. Nikibasika’s legacy will forever be rooted in the lives of the fifty two children who went from orphans to community leaders. “It creates a huge sense of fulfilment to realize that we will have spent fifteen years doing intense volunteer work to create a community of strong, community-minded, socially accountable adults who will make their own change in the world.” Adds Cate.

Nikibaska’s tagline, translated from the Western Ugandan language of Runyankole, means It is possible. The children at Nikibaska picked this slogan, and it’s a proud feeling to know that soon we may be celebrating by changing the tagline to “We did it!” 

TriAdventure 2017
Friday August 18 – Sunday August 20

The TriAdventure leaves from Toronto by bus to Camp Wahanowin on Lake Couchiching for the swim/run. The group then stays over night in shared cabins, before making their way back to the city by bike, which includes a night of camping. Food and road support are provided by a team of volunteers, including a former resident of Nikibasika as well as the family that adopted him.

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About the Author

Raymond Helkio is an author, director and award-winning filmmaker. As a graduate from the Ontario College of Art & Design he cofounded The Reading Salon and is a Canadian Ambassador for the Moral Courage Project. Find him on Facebook.