Welcome to our second issue of The Strongest Oak Foundation News!
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Dear friends,

What a busy and rewarding year and a half it has been for The Strongest Oak Foundation and for our Oaks. We have much news we would like to share with you.

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News about our Strongest Oaks

One of the most dramatic personal transformations has been that of Congolese Oak, Espoir Magendo. It began with his attendance in English language classes (in Kampala, Uganda) to prepare him for university, where he was a quick study and exceeded all expectations. In August 2012, Espoir began the Bachelor of Science in Information Technology program at the Uganda Christian University in Kampala. After successfully passing his first semester in January, Espoir went on to complete his second semester exams and recently started a summer training course at the Cisco Networking Academy. “I would like to thank you all for everything you are doing for me,” says Espoir in nearly every correspondence to TSO and his supporters.

Our first Oak, the Rwandan Charles Mugabe, continues to study Peace and Conflict Management at Kampala University (KU) in Uganda. Charles is a leader among the student population at KU and the Rwandan youth community in Kampala. He has also been a key supporter of Espoir, helping him adjust to life in Kampala. In August, Charles will commence an exciting internship with UK-based Child’s i Foundation in Kampala.   

Charles’ friend, and fellow Rwandan Oak, Steven Shyaka continues to be successful in school and at work. His internship with the Kigali-based law firm Rwigamba & Rugango Associates & Advocates has been renewed for another year. Also, Steven was awarded the Winston Fellowship award to attend the 2013 Summer Peacebuilding Institute at the Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia, USA, which he commenced this past month.

Steven’s sister, Jeanne Mutoni, is the first Oak to reach the milestone of a full-time, paid job. She secured employment from her internship employer, Mareba Health Center, and continues her university studies in the evening in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in accounting.

Early in 2013, Congolese Oak Scola Sikitu arrived in Kigali, Rwanda to begin her university career and pursue a degree in accounting. She has come a very long way for someone who, until recently, was living in the storeroom of a church in Bukavu.  Earlier last year, she completed her high school degree while overcoming tremendous odds, including extreme poverty and the absence of her father (who died years ago) and her mother (who moved to Burundi).

Congolese Oak Zingire Namegabe successfully completed her internship in advertising and sales at a bottled water manufacturer and distributor in Bukavu. Zingire’s sister Neema completed her internship at a gift shop in Bukavu. Both gained valuable, practical business experience and entrepreneurial skills, key to helping them eventually finding employment or launching their own businesses.

In October of 2012, Rwandan Oak, Jean de Dieu (JD) Tuyisenge, became our first “graduate”! We have invited him to leave his Strongest Oak status behind in exchange for a position on The Strongest Oak Advisory Board. With his experience as a Rwandan genocide survivor and founder of EduAfrica, JD will provide insights only someone with first-hand experience can possibly offer. JD is nearing his final year of studies at Simon Fraser University (Vancouver) where he will graduate with a degree in Community Rehabilitation and Disabilities Studies, before pursuing a career in that field.

In January 2013, we welcomed three new Oaks: Gertrude Nanyonga (Uganda), Gilbert Rwunganira (Rwanda) and Pascal Dusabumuremyi (Rwanda). Gilbert and Pascal are being funded by the Fig Tree Foundation.  This month, Pascal started a full-time job in the field of agricultural technology and Gilbert received an internship offer from a Kigali-based employer and will hopefully be commencing the job soon. As one of Elijah's Kids (see below), Gertrude's funding for 3.5 years has been secured and will help her achieve a university degree in nursing and, hopefully, a full-time career in health care.



Thanks to our Oaks, Oak Leaders, donors, advisers and partners for their outstanding contributions to date.  I’d also like to give a special thanks to our Executive Team members who have worked so hard to get us this far.  And thanks to all of you who have given their encouragement and support!

Be sure to follow our progress in 2013 on our website, Facebook page, and Twitter accounts.

Please keep reading! News about the Foundation is below.

Stace Wills
Managing Director and Co-Founder

Did you know...

  • every dollar you donate through TSO’s ATBcares account is matched 10% by ATB Financial? 
  • you can donate your spare Aeroplan miles to TSO? We will put them towards the airfare costs for our first annual Oak Summit and Personal Development Forum, expected to take place in 2014. 
  • you can make a meaningful difference in the life of a young Oak?  Contact TSO to find out how you can sponsor an Oak scholarship or internship.

Stace Wills

Co-Founder & Managing Director

Gertrude Nanyonga

One of Elijah's Kids

Espoir Magendo

At the gates of Ugandan Christian University

Steven Shyaka

At the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC.

News about the Foundation

New TSO Team Members

In April 2012, we also welcomed two new Oak Leaders to The Strongest Oak Foundation (Uganda): Elijah Kyamuwendo and Mathias Kiryowa, both of the Kulika Foundation (Uganda). Sadly, Elijah died on August 7th from cancer at the age of 46. A scholarship fund, Elijah’s Kids, was established in his honour by TSO and a group of Calgary Rotary Clubs. On January 25, 2013, TSO and the Rotary Clubs hosted a banquet and silent auction to raise money for Elijah’s Kids, raising almost $13,000 at the event, plus another $12,000 was received from generous donors outside the event.

In April 2013, we welcomed our new Program Manager for East and Central Africa: Melissa Lorenzo. She previously volunteered in Nicaragua and Uganda, where she participated in several educational initiatives and health and sanitation projects in rural communities. Regrettably (for us), Maya Moseley decided to move on from her volunteer role as Program Manager to begin a career. We are thankful to have had the benefit of Maya's "on-the-ground" experience and wish her the best of luck in her new career.

We also welcome a new member to our Board of Directors: Nick Foster. Nick became involved in corporate philanthropy following the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004 and, since then, has led more than a dozen international volunteer groups building houses, community projects and computer labs in Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and other countries in the world.

Calgary YMCA 2012 Peace Medal Award

In November 2012, TSO was honoured to have been awarded the Calgary YMCA 2012 Peace Medal award (International Category). We’ve come a long way in just a few short years and are extremely proud of our accomplishments. Please view this short video about The Strongest Oak, presented at the awards ceremony.

New Donors

In October 2012, The Strongest Oak Foundation was awarded a grant of $10,000 by the Fig Tree Foundation to fund our internship programme in Rwanda. Recognizing that there is a visible gap between education and meaningful employment in Africa, TSO developed an internship program in which we recruit local employers to provide part-time, relevant work to our Oaks while the Oaks attend school at a local university or vocational college. The programme is a win-win situation: the employer receives talented labour at a subsidized cost while the Oak gains the practical work experience required to secure a job or launch a micro-venture after graduation. We would like to thank the Fig Tree Foundation not only for their generous grant but also for the valuable guidance and input.

In April 2013, TSO was overjoyed to announce new donations from three institutional partners:  The Rotary Club of Calgary Sarcee, The Rotary Club of Calgary Centennial, and the Government of Alberta’s Community Initiatives Program, International Development.

Annual Trip to Africa

In February 2013, Stace Wills and Dan Rickard made their annual trek to Africa to provide training to our Rwandan and Ugandan Oaks and Oak Leaders. The Oaks were taught valuable life skills, including life planning, journaling, public speaking, donor communication and web-based reporting. They also practiced their English and became more familiar with TSO’s code of conduct. Such skills will hopefully help maximize the Oaks’ chances of achieving their primary goals and becoming financially self-sustaining as quickly as possible.

A highlight of the trip was visiting the grave site of our former Oak Leader, Elijah, at his family farm near Mubende, Uganda, as well as meeting some of “Elijah’s Kids” – Gertrude, Victor, and Agnes – the beneficiaries of the Rotary/TSO scholarship fund.
Copyright © 2013 The Strongest Oak Foundation, All rights reserved.
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