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2013 TSO Year in Review

Dear friends,

2013 was a productive and rewarding year for The Strongest Oak Foundation and our Oaks. We welcomed nine new Oaks, a new Program Director, a new Board Member, two new Oak Leaders and two new volunteers. We attracted three new valuable institutional donors and over doubled our donations from 2012. (For details about all these developments, please read the two News articles below.)

We hope that placing our extraordinary Oaks in career-relevant internships will translate into full-time employment opportunities.  All our volunteer efforts and donor contributions are paying off:  we have secured nine new internship positions, renewed one internship and secured two full-time jobs.

TSO has done much in 2013, so I suppose that means even more is expected of us in 2014. Well, I’m pleased to say that our team is up to the challenge!  If "doing" is the recipe for success, then our team – the Board, Executive, volunteers and donors – has the right ingredients.  

And to you, our TSO friends, thank you for your support. We look forward to continuing this tremendous journey with all of you in 2014!

Stace Wills
Managing Director and Co-Founder

News about our Foundation


Our Team

Our foundation continues to grow. As reported in our last newsletter, we recruited a new Program Director, Melissa Lorenzo, and a new Board member, Nick Foster.  Melissa has done a tremendous job working with our Oaks and Oak Leaders and Nick has provided valuable governance, outstanding advice and strong connections.

TSO co-founders have been busy. Managing Director, Stace Wills, has worked tirelessly juggling many priorities and has successfully kept all the balls in the air: finding new sources of funding, forging donor and internship partnerships, coordinating team member activities and managing all the challenges that come with working in African nations. Mark McLenahan continues to be the most reliable Financial Director that a small, but growing NGO could possibly hope for.  Dan Rickard launched our online journaling and reporting for Oaks, so we can track everyone’s progress on a bi-weekly basis. Vivian Hindbo is leading an initiative to take our TSO website to a new level of functionality and professionalism. Two new volunteers, Kimberly Ho and Shannon Jaegar, are providing invaluable website design and technical expertise to the website redesign, as well as the design and implementation of a new Oak Portal that will give Oaks a custom platform for reporting and journaling.   

Jules Higiro joined our Rwandan team to assist Serge Kamari as an Oak Leader and take our Rwandan operations to another level.  Our Ugandan partners, Kulika, led by newly appointed Executive Director, Christina Sempebwa, continue to offer mentorship and support to Oaks of three nationalities:  Ugandan, Rwandan, and Congolese. Kulika staff member, Margaret Bunoti, “officially” joined our TSO team as Oak Leader; she had already been assisting Mathias Kiryowa with our Ugandan operations.

Our Donors

Thanks to our generous supporters, donations increased 55% over 2012. We welcomed our newest institutional donors to the TSO family, including Alberta Culture’s Community Initiatives Program (International Development), The Rotary Club of Calgary Centennial and Postmedia Network.  We also owe a debt of gratitude to our longstanding partners at Fig Tree Foundation, The Rotary Club of Calgary Sarcee, Change Lives Foundation, Survivors Fund and the Pengrowth Passion program (Pengrowth Energy Corporation). 

And a big thank you to ATB Financial for providing the donation service ATBcares, for which ATB Financial covers all transaction fees and matches 15% of each dollar donated to The Strongest Oak Foundation.

Our individual donors are too many to name here, but you know who you are and we are grateful for your continued support. Tragically, we lost one of our founding donors and dearest friends to TSO, Glenn Assheton-Smith.  Glenn’s sister, Lori, and her family, are carrying the torch on Glenn’s behalf as they continue as important contributors to Espoir and his life goals.  The Kulika team in Uganda is helping to identify a new Oak who will be supported in Glenn’s memory, based on donations provided by many of his friends and family across Canada.

You might want to know...

  • Our Advisory Board member (and former Oak), Jean de Dieu Tuyisenge, recently won the Simon Fraser University (SFU) Faculty of Health Science Award for Outstanding Community Service. Read more about it.
  • Dan and Stace will be visiting Kigali, Rwanda in March 2014 for their annual site visit. They will be working closely with our Rwandan Oak Leaders on a number of items including a 2014-15 business plan for TSO Rwanda. They also look forward to catching up with the Oaks and the Rwandan Advisory Board members, as well as networking with current and prospective Oak intern employers.

Philomene Nyirarukundo

Our new Rwandan Oak

Francine Uwimbabazi

Our new Rwandan Oak

Charles Mugabe

Our first Oak

News about our Strongest Oaks

Our Original Rwandan Oaks

Our original Rwandan Oaks are all progressing well towards their objectives. Charles Mugabe, our very first Oak, had a successful internship with Child’s i Foundation in Kampala.  He is graduating on March 6 with a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Kampala University. Charles success has not been possible without sponsorship from Survivors Fund (SURF), Change Lives Foundation, and some very special private donors.

Steven Shyaka has progressed to his fourth and final year of law school at Kigali Independent University and expects to graduate in September 2014.  He continues to work part-time at his internship with a corporate law firm and, in his spare time, volunteers as an assistant to our Rwandan Oak Leaders and is active in various youth organizations.  In May 2013, Steven attended a six-week international fellowship program called the Summer Peacebuilding Institute, sponsored by Virginia-based Eastern Mennonite University (EMU). Steven thanks his sponsors The Rotary Club of Calgary Centennial, The Rotary Club of Calgary Sarcee, Change Lives Foundation and private donors.

Jeanne Mutoni (Steven’s sister) successfully completed her second year at Kigali Independent University in the Faculty of Business.  We are pleased to announce that this year she earned an average 73% in her courses and was awarded “with distinction” from the Dean. Jeanne could not have done this without the support of The Rotary Club of Calgary Sarcee, Change Lives Foundation  and private donors. Besides excelling in school, Jeanne continues working a full-time paid position with the Mareba Health Center as an accounting assistant.

Our Congolese Oaks

Our young Congolese Oaks, Espoir Mukizi and Scola Sikitu, have come a long way in the last two years. Neither spoke a word of English when we met them and now are both taking university classes in English. Espoir completed the Cisco Networking Academy course this past summer and he is currently enrolled at Uganda Christian University in Kampala, pursuing a diploma in Entrepreneurship and ICT, thanks to the sponsorship of The Rotary Club of Calgary Centennial, The Rotary Club of Calgary Sarcee and private donors.  

Because of sponsorship from The Rotary Club of Calgary Sarcee and a private donor, Scola has reached the second term of her second year of business administration at Kigali Independent University.  She has done very well in university and is particularly enjoying her finance classes. Scola has also been busy outside of school. With her choir she was invited to sing at this year’s Rwandan National Genocide Remembrance Ceremony, which she describes as a tremendous honor. Scola has also been volunteering at Byumba Primary School where she is teaching orphaned children how to read.

Our Newest Oaks

We welcomed nine new Oaks to our organization in 2013: Gertrude, Joseph, Dieudonné, Violette, Marcelline, Pascal, Delicia, Philomene and Francine.   

Our lone Ugandan Oak, Gertrude Nanyonga, was accepted into the Jinja School of Nursing and Midwifery, finding herself one step closer to her dream: to become a nurse and work with poor, under-represented Ugandans in need of medical care. Gertrude is supported by several members of The Rotary Club of Calgary Sarcee and other local Calgary Rotary clubs.

Rwandan Oaks, Joseph Kabarisa, Dieudonné Nkazamurego, Violette Mushimiyimana and Marcelline Uwiringiyimana recently completed internships at Kigali-based Square Entrepreneurship Development Consult LTD (SECD) thanks to the support of Fig Tree Foundation. Joseph was working in his field of business administration and accounting; Dieudonné assisted SEDC with auditing, compliance, and financial reporting duties;  Marcelline worked as a Financial Auditor; and Violette’s  position was Monitoring, Evaluation, and IT Officer. Violette has further good news: she has been awarded one of two Winston Fellowships to attend the 2014 Summer Peacebuilding Institute at EMU, following in the footsteps of her fellow Oak and last year’s Fellowship recipient, Steven Shyaka.

Pascal Dusabumuremyi, also a Rwandan Oak sponsored by Fig Tree Foundation, was so successful at his internship at Forestry and Agricultural Investment Management Ltd. (FAIM) that they offered him a full-time position. Pascal is now the first Fig Tree Oak to enter the repayment phase of his stipend loan agreement. Proceeds collected from Pascal’s loan will go towards sponsoring a future Oak.

Rwandan Oak, Delicia Mudahogora, is completing the second semester of her Bachelor’s Degree of Economic Business Studies, specializing in Accounting, at Kigali Independent University. TSO has recently sponsored Delicia to enrol in English training courses in order to improve her mastery of English. Her university tuition is currently being sponsored by a third-party organization, and TSO hopes to place her in an internship very soon.

Philomene Nyirarukundo and Francine Uwimbabazi are our newest Rwandan Oaks. Both recently completed Bachelor’s degrees, Philomene’s in Communication and Journalism and Francine’s in Environment Management. We are currently searching for internships for both of them, sponsored by Fig Tree Foundation.
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