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Letter from the Board Chairman

Dear friends,

On Christmas Day, 2010, our great friend and first Oak, Charles Mugabe, boarded a bus from Kigali, Rwanda to Kampala, Uganda to start his new life at Kampala University. With support from a handful of private donors, Charles began a new journey that day and a very bright future awaited him.

One could say that Christmas day also marked the start of another journey: the birth of The Strongest Oak (TSO) Foundation. If we could be of some assistance to an extraordinary young man like Charles, could we help other promising African youth as well? Could we help from a distance? What gap could we fill that other organizations weren’t already fulfilling?

Despite the questions and great unknowns ahead, a small group of TSO co-founders and volunteers took action, believed and persevered – just like the youth (we would call them “Oaks”) that we would later assist. TSO was officially born.

Now going into our seventh year of operations, it’s safe to say our TSO journey has been well worth the effort and expense. I am pleased to report having successfully sponsored, mentored, and assisted twenty-one Oaks across four countries.

Only twenty-one Oaks? We make no apologies for what some might consider a modest number. Our vision has been crystal clear from the start: pick the most promising youth we can find, hire the best local mentors to oversee their progress, and invest heavily in these young leaders of tomorrow.

In 2015, TSO began another journey – an idea that was originally seeded by our colleagues at Calgary-based, Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School. We began providing solar power-generated electricity and solar lanterns to schools in Burkina Faso, bringing light and hope to villages in need. Our mission was to bring the same passion we have for our Oaks to creating a brighter future for villagers who live off the grid. To bridge the two objectives, we started funding “green” internships for the Oaks in the villages to which we brought solar energy. Our most recent Oak is a young villager from Heredougou, Burkina Faso, Yacouba Ouedraogo, who just completed a solar-technician internship that he began last Fall. (To learn more, see the section Solar Energy Program.)

All credit is owed to our dedicated management team (Bridget, Mark, Viv, Darlene, Melissa, Alpha, and Mali), Board (Nick, Dan, and Mark), Advisors, and Oak Leaders (Kinda and many others). Of course, we could not have gotten this far without our generous donors from Calgary and around the world: family members and friends, Rotary, corporations, and foundations. The “thousand-mile journey” that we began with one step, several years ago on Christmas Day, is now well in motion!

Stace Wills
Chairman of the Board

[Editor's note: Of course, none of our work would have been possible without the unwavering determination and leadership of Stace Wills.]

TSO Team Highlights

TSO welcomed three new members to our team: Alpha Sow and Seydou Kinda in July 2016 and Darlene Petrie in October 2016.

Alpha Sow, an Energy Market analyst, joined our Calgary team as the Burkina Faso Solar Program Manager. Alpha’s passions are education, energy and economic empowerment in developing countries. As a university student, he was involved in many African development projects and, in 2014, he launched Action Development Dinguiraye in France, a not-for-profit organization that teaches web literacy and informatics in Guinean Schools. Alpha’s fluency in French is a definite asset in bridging the communication gap with our Burkinabe team members. Learn more about Alpha on our website.

Seydou Kinda joined TSO as Solar Project Coordinator and Oak Leader in Burkina Faso. Seydou’s background is in nursing and public health. He is currently the Chief Administrator of Health Centre 24 of Ouezzinville. Seydou is well qualified as TSO’s solar project coordinator in Burkina Faso: in collaboration with the Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School of Calgary, he previously implemented a solar energy project in a remote village school in Burkina Faso. Learn more about Seydou on our website.

After our long search for a Director of Fundraising, we were pleased when Darlene Petrie joined our team. She has thirty years of experience in the non-profit sector, working with youth and raising funds to support youth programs. In addition to her career experience being a perfect match with The Strongest Oak, Darlene has a passion for Africa, making her the ideal person for the job! Learn more about Darlene on our website.

Donate AirMiles


TSO by the Numbers

  • To date, 21 Oaks supported:
    • 14 from Rwanda
    • 4 from DR Congo
    • 2 from Uganda
    • 1 from Burkina Faso.
  • 20 Internships secured
  • 7 post-secondary graduates (1 in progress)
  • 2 former Oaks enrolled in Masters degrees
  • 2 villages “electrified”
  • ~50% success rate to full-time job

Gertrude at work in her practicum

Espoir during internship

Philomene and her son

Stanley during internship

Scola at university

Oak Highlights


Current Oaks

Our two active Oaks are doing well. Scola Sikitu is in her final year of Finance at the University of Kigali. As a Congolese, attending classes in English in Rwanda, Scola has had the daunting task of learning two languages: she is mastering Kinyarwandan (Rwandan) and improving her English. She is expected to graduate later in 2017. In July 2015, Scola completed an internship at the Golf Hills Residence, a hotel located in Gacuriro/Kigali.

Yacouba Ouedraogo, our newest Oak, is our very first "green" (solar energy program) Oak. From August 2016 to January 2017, he completed an internship with La Source Nouvelle (a local solar energy company) to be trained as a professional solar energy technician. He is now responsible for maintaining the solar project at the Heredougou School (see Solar Energy Program section). He is currently working on a project with La Source Nouvelle.

Featured Graduates

Jeanne Mutoni was very busy in December 2015. Not only did she graduate with a degree in Accounting (with distinction!) but got married as well. In January 2016, she secured a full-time position as a data manager at the Mareba Health Centre, where she did her internship.

Philomene Nyirarukundo, completed a Bachelor’s degree in Communication and Journalism and finished her internship at Rwanda Printing and Publishing in January 2015. She 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 was married in December 2014 and gave birth to a son in October 2015.

Steven Shyaka graduated in December 2014 from the Kigali Independent University with a degree in Law and completed his internship with R&R Associates in August of 2014. Steven is currently working on a Master’s degree in Human Rights and Global Justice at Cardiff University in Wales.

Charles Mugabe graduated in March 2014 with Bachelor’s degree in Social Work and Social Administration from Kampala University in Uganda. He is currently working on a Master’s degree in Human Rights and Development at Kampala University, focusing on gender issues and children's rights.

Gertrude Nanyonga completed her nursing studies and internship at Jinja School of Nursing and Midwifery (near Kampala, Uganda) in December 2016. Once she “officially” graduates (later in February 2017), we are confident that she will soon have a successful career in whichever field of nursing she pursues. Until then, Gertrude is working in her first full-time, paid position at a local pharmacy, learning about medications and skin care products. Read more about Gertrude in our feature article.

Stanley Ssozi graduated with a diploma in Information Technology and completed his internship at the Kampala Computer Centre in May 2015. He is currently working in IT support at IT World Support Specialists. Read more about Stanley in our feature article.

Espoir Magendo graduated in October 2015 with a diploma in Entrepreneurship and ICT from Uganda Christian University. In December 2016, he completed an internship as System Administrator and ICT technician at Est. Kishibisha, a Bukavu-based company. He is currently seeking a new position. Read more about Espoir in our feature article.

Solar Energy Program

In 2016 we launched our new Solar Energy Program. The goal of the program is to equip schools in remote African communities (currently in Burkina Faso) with solar panels, thereby providing them safe, clean and reliable lighting and electricity. This extends the learning hours of teachers and students and gives them the opportunity to use computers and projectors.

As part of this program, we are offering “green” internships to local youth. The youth is trained as a solar energy technician and is responsible for maintaining the solar installation in the school. The ultimate goal is to set the youth on the path to a meaningful and stable career.

Heredougou School Project

In April 2016, we completed our first* solar energy project at the Heredougou School in a remote part of Burkina Faso, West Africa. Heredougou is a village of around 4,000 people who live completely off the grid. Our solar panels are providing green power (electricity) to the classroom as well as the two teachers’ residences. Students and teachers can now power laptops and use the classroom after sunset and community members are able to go to the school to power their mobile phones. At the end of the school day, students are permitted to sign out and take home one of sixty portable solar lanterns to enable them to study at night. The lanterns are a safe and reliable source of home lighting that permit home study without the need for dangerous kerosene lamps or candles.

Maintenance of the solar panel installation and peripheral equipment is the responsibility of our solar energy intern, Yacouba Ouedraogo (see Oak Highlights section).

Yacouba learning his new trade

On October 8, 2016, the village of Heredougou officially launched the solar energy installation at their school with a ceremony and celebration. In attendance were the Mayor and Vice Mayor of the Pa district, the Heredougou village Chief, students, the students’ parents, village residents and Kinda Seydou (our TSO Project Leader).

Mayor of Heredougou presenting
solar lanterns to students

* We had previously acted in an advisory capacity on a solar energy project with Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School in Calgary. Heredougou is the first project done independently by TSO.


Kopoï School Project

Planning (including fundraising) for the second solar project, at Kopoï School, is underway. The project will be modeled on the Heredougou project and is expected to begin in March of 2017. The town of Kopoï is in the Pa Department of Bale Province, Burkina Faso. Like Heredougou, Kopoï is completely off-grid, with no conventional source of electricity.

If you would like to help us light up the village of Kopoï, please donate via ATB Cares.

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