Raise Her Name: Campaign to Honor Grandmothers Launches

September 22nd, 2014 · No Comments

Chances are, each and every one of us remember our grandmothers with a whole lot of love.  The impact of how deeply a grandmother’s influence goes came home to us last summer. When TNP was in Rwanda, one of our grandmothers was thanking us for how the training we gave her brought more food and health care and education to all of her seven grandchildren.

Here’s what she said:

“Because of The Nyanya Project, today when I walk my grandchildren to school, I know that in the future my name will be raised.”

That comment burned into our minds and hearts, and so, today, we’ve decided to start a campaign where we hear from you and as many people as possible about what your grandmother means to you. We don’t want any grandmother to be forgotten.

We want to spread the word as far as possible that elderly women are still the very backbone of their families and their communities – in Africa and everywhere else.

photo credit: Virginia Weiler

photo credit: Virginia Weiler


The late, incomparable Maya Angelou, so long a cornerstone of the Wake Forest University community, wrote this about our grandmothers:

“When you learn, teach.  When you get, give.  As for me,

I shall not be moved.”

Dr. Angelou knew of the indomitable force of love in these elder women and sang its praises.  We ask that you praise your grandmothers, too.

We’ll post your responses on our social media pages and we’ll ask our followers to vote on the comments that mean the most to them. We hope to put the winners into a book that all can see.

A kickoff campaign with students on the Wake Forest campus will happen in the next few weeks.

Our campaign is called #RaiseHerName, and you’ll find us on Twitter and our Facebook page and with friends all over Wake Forest University.

Please help us to let the world know that the elderly and the women who made sure their families were safe and loved won’t be forgotten.

Share the love.  #RaiseHerName.


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Wake Forest Students Return to “Mother, So Dear”

August 22nd, 2014 · No Comments

This week the students of “The Nyanya Project: Students for the World” returned for the start of another semester at Wake Forest.

With the completion of their first week of classes, the students are already planning for another wonderful year with The Nyanya Project. This past February marked the official chartering of “The Nyanya Project: Students of the World,” a major milestone for the club as the University acknowledged its legitimacy and strong presence on campus.

In the past year, “The Nyanya Project: Students of the World,” has played an active role on the Wake Forest Campus. In November, the student club raised almost $400 at their annual Campus Grounds talent show. The talent show, held in the campus’ coffee shop, consisted of dance troupes, spoken word poetry, solo music acts, student bands and acapella groups.

The spring semester included fundraisers in which The Nyanya Project partnered with other organizations on campus including Z. Smith Reynolds Library’s Folk Night and a similar talent show in Campus Grounds, hosted by Beta, a Wake Forest Greek organization.

This school year, our executive board consists of Blythe Riggan, serving as President, Sally Rowland, serving as Treasurer, Nanami Miyazaki, serving as Secretary, and Tracey Pu, serving as Social Media & PR Chair.

Kelsey Browne (WFU '14) and Current President, Blythe Riggan ('16) share the Nyanya Project spirit with the Demon Deacon at "Accepted Students Day" in Spring 2014.

Kelsey Browne (WFU ’14) and Current President, Blythe Riggan (’16) share the Nyanya Project spirit with the Demon Deacon at “Accepted Students Day” in Spring 2014.

The club looks forward to another year filled with fundraisers and campaigns as we honor our Nyanya grandmothers.

“When I joined The Nyanya Project, I liked two things. First, I felt part of a group and more confident. Second, this group that I joined, we have a common vision,” explained Rwandan grandmother Experance Murebwayire to one Wake Forest student visiting the grandmothers.

The members of “The Nyanya Proejct: Students for the World,” find Murebwayire’s words to be true, even within the club on our Winston-Salem, NC campus. The “Nyanya magic” brought Wake Forest students, from all corners of the country and globe, together around this common vision and created our own Wake Forest “Nyanya Family.”

For those interested in joining this community of students, we hope to see you on Manchester Plaza for the Student Involvement Fair on Wednesday, September 3rd at 3:30 pm.


Please contact President Blythe Riggan (riggab12@wfu.edu) regarding any questions about the student organization and its involvement with The Nyanya Project.

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Wake Forest Students Visit Rwandan Grandmothers

July 1st, 2014 · No Comments

This past May, I had the opportunity to travel back to Rwanda, along with a group of students from Wake Forest University and Winston-Salem State University. During our trip, we were able to frequent The Nyanya Project site based in the Jabana Hills of Rwanda near the capital of Kigali, and we met with both the Nyanya grandmothers and their grandchildren.

Having previously visited with the grandmothers in the summer of 2013, I was overjoyed when I saw so many familiar faces of children in the crowd who ran out to greet us. The students were thrilled to play with the grandchildren and share in their laughter and excitement over the simplest games and toys.

Photo Credit: Julie Chu
As part of our service project, we assisted the grandmothers with their agricultural work by shelling beans, picking eggplants, and pulling weeds. The Nyanya Project (TNP) had given them training in various agricultural programs, and while some of the college students, myself included, had trouble simply getting from one field to the other, the grandmothers approached the difficult terrain and fieldwork with ease.

We were also able to visit the grandmothers’ most recent mushroom project site, where we were welcomed by grandmothers both singing and clapping. With TNP’s help, the grandmothers are able to earn extra income by selling their produce in local markets.

It was empowering to witness how much the grandmothers are able to accomplish and how genuinely happy they are, regardless of the obstacles they have faced in the past, and continue to face in the future. Many of the students found the time spent with The Nyanya Project to be one of the most memorable experiences of their trip.

-Julie Chu,

Wake Forest University ’16

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More Than Just Forgiveness: A Journey Towards Reconciliation

May 12th, 2014 · No Comments

The following story, written by Blythe Riggan, was written in honor of the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide:


“Is there an answer to the question of why bad things happen to good people?…The response would be…to forgive the world for not being perfect, to forgive God for not making a better world, to reach out to the people around us, and to go on living despite it all…no longer asking why something happened, but asking how we will respond, what we intend to do now that it has happened.”  - Harold S. Kushner



April 7, 1994: the beginning of the horrific Rwandan genocide. I was an infant, barely two months old, so the events occurring across the ocean had little effect on my comfortable world. In the span of three months, an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed, as the Hutu majority was called upon to rid the country of the Tutsi minority. Neighbors killed neighbors, friends killed friends, and in some cases, family killed family.

In the summer of 2013, I traveled to Rwanda with The Nyanya Project, a nonprofit that empowers African grandmothers raising AIDS-orphaned grandchildren. In addition to spending time with those remarkable women and hearing about their farming projects and survival stories, I had the opportunity to learn about and visit key sites of the genocide that devastated this country nearly 20 years ago.

I had the privilege of dining with a couple at the Hotel des Milles Collines, the location made famous in the film “Hotel Rwanda.” I heard their amazing tale of surviving the genocide by seeking refuge in that very hotel for three weeks. I toured the Kigali Memorial Centre, a powerful monument to the horrific loss of life, and visited the Nyamata church, where the clothes, possessions, and skulls of victims remain. But perhaps the most powerful of all was the time spent in a reconciliation village.

Reconciliation is the act of re-establishing a close relationship. Before my time in Rwanda, I likened it to the act of forgiveness. We forgive others for their trespasses just as God forgives us for our own. We all make mistakes, we hope for forgiveness, but do we strive for reconciliation?

As of December 2013, there are six Reconciliation Villages in Rwanda funded by Prison Fellowship International, a Christian nonprofit, along with several partner organizations. Residents are permitted to live in the village under the condition that survivors and perpetrators of the genocide agree to coexist peacefully. The founding members of the community vote on who can live there, giving preference to the most vulnerable families in terms of poverty and/or illness. Despite their background, the villagers farm together and care for one another as true neighbors.

A widowed Tutsi mother whose family was killed during the genocide explained a dynamic of her village life: Whenever she goes to purchase groceries, she leaves her young children with her neighbor, a Hutu man who confirmed he was a perpetrator of the genocide. She trusts her children with him, and purchases groceries for him as a sign of appreciation. Together they have reached a point beyond forgiveness; following the horror, trust and reconciliation were the only means to move forward.

After my time in Rwanda, I feel that reconciliation means not only forgiving someone for his sins, but agreeing to love him, respect him, and commune with him at God’s table.  Reconciliation does not allow for superiority or judgment; it establishes that we are all equal because we all sin, we all love, and we are all part of God’s mysterious plan.

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Updates from our Nyanya Grandmothers in Ndahti: A Continuation of Blessings

April 24th, 2014 · No Comments

Jambo Friends and Family!

The New Year has brought a continuation of blessings for our grandmothers in Ndahti, Kenya. Last year we challenged you, our donors and biggest supporters, to help us raise at least $5,000 from a total of 40 different donors for our online campaign, “Sheep for Life in Africa.” $7,125 and 58 donors later, The Nyanya Project became an official partner with GlobalGiving and our sheep project in Ndahti, Kenya was launched.

That was half a year ago. What has your time, money, and support created since then? On average, each grandmother received three newborn sheep. In the month of November, the original 14 grandmothers in the group were given an additional lamb. Furthermore, some of the grandmothers’ older sheep have now given birth. Our Nyanya Project grandmothers have used the money earned from their sheep for school fees, clothing, medical needs, and/or food. More of their grandchildren are now able to attend school because our grandmothers have earned income from butchering some of their herds.

Talking with our grandmothers at the start of our Global Giving campaign last year, they were encouraged by their past success in raising sheep and cows which TNP had given them and looked forward to further success with additional sheep, thanks to the Global Giving campaign.

As one of our newest grandmothers, Lucia Mukami (age 73), said: “I have been looking for this group. I have been admiring what they are doing. I have three orphaned grandchildren, so I think The Nyanya Project will help make life better for them like it has for the other grandmothers in the group.”

Without your support, the success of Lucia and all of our grandmothers wouldn’t be possible.


Keeping the faith…

The Nyanya Project

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Giving Thanks: Our Success on Global Giving

November 30th, 2013 · No Comments


Nyanya Project Grandmothers in Ndathi, Kenya

As we enter the holiday season, The Nyanya Project has much to be thankful for, much of which has stemmed from the generosity and support of our friends and Nyanya family.

This past September, our organization joined GlobalGiving, an international online fundraising platform for registered non-profits, for our online campaign, “Sheep for Life in Africa.” Participating in Global Giving’s “September Challenge,” The Nyanya Project would be offered a permanent membership with the fundraising site if we were able to raise at least $5,000 from a total of 40 different donors.

$7,125 and 58 donors later, The Nyanya Project has become an official partner with GlobalGiving. Our campaign, “Sheep for Life in Africa,” provided fencing and sheep for our current grandmothers in Ndathi, Kenya as well as sheep for our newest grandmothers in the there. Furthermore, the campaign was able to bring in enough funds to train two of our grandmothers in butchering, a vital skill as we have found many of our grandmothers are losing money when dealing with local butchers.

Last week our Project Manager in Kenya, Julius Okatch, delivered the money from the campaign to our Ndathi “Sheep Grandmothers,” who were completely unaware about the Global Giving Campaign and its success. Julius described the surprise visit as one of “jubilation.”

“Honestly, I’ve never seen such happy people in a longtime,” Julius wrote of visit. “They asked me to tell you “ASANTE SANA (Swahili for thank you).”

Asante Sana. We thank those of you who helped us find such great success with our GlobalGiving campaign. We thank those of you who helped us provide a holiday surprise for our “Sheep Grandmothers” in Ndathi delete Kenya. Finally, we thank those of you who have loved and supported us and our Nyanya families in Africa since the very beginning.

Asante Sana and have a wonderful holiday season.

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TNP Founder Honored by Wake Forest University

October 25th, 2013 · No Comments

TNP’s founder, Mary Martin Niepold, was recently honored by Wake Forest University as one of 20 alumni who represents the University’s motto of “Pro Humanitate” (“for humanity”).

She was cited as someone who “makes a difference in the world,” at a  gala on Oct. 17. Niepold, who earned her BA at the University in 1965, joined other alumni at the event after their portraits appeared in the October issue of Wake Forest Magazine. The University’s president, Nathan Hatch, gave a brief history of the various projects of each honoree at the event which was attended by some 400 guests.

Niepold, obviously moved by the recognition, said, “The truly remarkable women are the grandmothers who hold their families together in the face of extreme challenges that would break most of us. This recognition is really theirs.”

Niepold’s daughter and TNP Board member, Mil Niepold Pierce, joined her mother at the event.

“You really have to be in Africa to see our TNP grandmothers to know the enormity of the impact. From being women forgotten by their communities and their governments – today, they are women who have learned skills and are role models for women everywhere.

“My mother always knew the key to TNPs success: She always asks the women what they need. She and TNP have never asserted their will on the women, a cause of failure for many non-profits. Instead, she always listens and lets the grandmothers point the way.”

“The grandmothers know what they need and what will work best,” Niepold added. “Our job is simply to assist them in getting there.”

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Self-Reliance is Powerful

August 24th, 2013 · No Comments

Self-reliance is Powerful.

A few months ago, we talked with the grandmothers of TNP’s Dwight’s Place Sewing Center during our visit to Kenya. Many mentioned her wish for her grandchildren to one day reach independence.

Rhoda Mwkali (age 60) said, “The reason why I take my grandchildren to school is so that when I die, they will have knowledge for their own self-reliance.”

The Nyanya Project has seen great evidence of this transition towards self-reliance in all of its project areas, including the projects located in Kenya. The Nyanya Toto Preschool, in Nairobi, Kenya, has now reached a remarkable milestone as it is now fully-operating without the financial aid of The Nyanya Project. This achievement can be accredited to the grandmothers who work both in the preschool and the adjacent Dwight’s Sewing Center, as the sewing center grandmothers donate half of their total profit towards the maintenance and operation expenses of the preschool.

There are seven Nyanya Project grandmothers working in the preschool,in their households are 35 grandchildren and approximately 62 people.

To approximate extended social impact of our programs, we calculate that each of the family members in Kibera impacts another 10 people in the community, bringing direct impact to 620 people from our group of seven grandmothers.  With another 25 grandmothers now working in the Sewing Center, several hundred more community people are impacted by our work in the Kibera slums of Nairobi, most likely the largest slum in Africa, with nearly 2 million residents.

Self-reliance is Powerful.

When talking with TNP’s Sheep Grandmothers in Ndahti, Kenya, one mentioned her recent milestone of independence. Edith Gaathoni Munene (Age 76) said, “Recently, I was sick and I was able to pay my hospital bills without any help.”

Our sheep grandmothers have grown their herds since 2009:  30 sheep have grown to 139; one cow has grown to 11 cows; and they have added 17 goats.

The grandmothers reported that they continue to earn income from selling their livestock.  Income helps them with school fees, food, and occasionally, they will sell a goat or sheep to meet unexpected needs of one of the group members. The grandmothers’ income allows the families to look towards the long-term future, instead of bracing themselves for the next emergency. As Lucy Wanunku (Age 65) of Ndahti, Kenya said, “[The Nyanya Project] helps me take my grandchildren to school. I have no worries for my grandchildren…once in a while, we feast.”

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Success in Rwanda: Getting Up, Standing Up

August 24th, 2013 · No Comments

The Nyanya Project grandmothers of Jabana Hills, Rwanda are finally experiencing success after many years of hardship. We trained 15 Rwandan grandmothers in 2010, 30 grandmothers in 2011; today we have assisted 110 grandmothers in Rwanda. We now have two pilli pilli pepper fields and a mushroom hut. The hard work of The Nyanya Project and our grandmothers is beginning to pay off.

Understanding that there are no realistic ways to compare levels of poverty or need, The Nyanya Project hesitates to compare the different grandmother groups within the organization. However, it is hard to forget events that happened not too long ago. The 1994 Rwandan genocide adds a different dimension to the hardships of our Rwandan grandmothers, as each of them was affected. These grandmothers are resilient. Single and uneducated, our grandmothers raise up to 11 orphaned grandchildren, supporting their families torn apart by AIDS and the genocide.

This remarkable resilience can be accredited to the strength our grandmothers find from within their nyanya community. As Anastatsie Musabende (age 70) shared, “Before, I felt alone. But now, being in a group has helped me communicate better. I speak up in front of people now.”

Our grandmothers have certainly begun to speak up. Just last week our Nyanya Project grandmothers participated in an International Trade Fair in Kigali, Rwanda. They spent two weeks in the trade fair displaying their mushroom harvest and selling their produce. The fair was their idea and local people helped pay the fees for them to participate. The community wants them to succeed and is inspired by their dedication and hard work.

Since their involvement with the fair, our grandmothers are now reciveing large orders from new clients. They are becoming full-fledged business women, and their families have even more income for stronger futures.

Clearly, the Rwandan Nyanya Project grandmothers have shown us that success is getting up and standing up, no matter how difficult.

2013-08-06 16.08.20

A Nyanya Grandmother at the International Trade Fair in Kigali, Rwanda.









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A world of Wake Forest connections:

June 19th, 2013 · No Comments

This was a blog post by Maria Henson (Associate Vice President and Editor-at-Large at Wake Forest University, ’82) appeared on The Deacon Blog on June 17th, 2013. It can be found at http://blog.magazine.wfu.edu/2013/06/a-world-of-wake-forest-connections/.


If you’re like me, you get a kick out of how Wake Foresters can pop up anywhere in the world and find easy-going, common ground.

A few weeks ago I heard from Blythe Riggan, who had just finished her first year at Wake Forest and was writing from Kigali, Rwanda. Participating in the Institute for Public Engagement’s summer nonprofit immersion program, Riggan was traveling with Mary Martin Niepold (’65), a senior lecturer in journalism and founder of The Nyanya Project, which helps African grandmothers support their AIDS-orphaned grandchildren.

Mary Martin Niepold ('65) with Kenyan grandmothers on an earlier trip

Mary Martin Niepold (’65) with Kenyan grandmothers on an earlier trip

As you’ll see from Riggan’s blog post, Wake Forest was not her first choice of universities. Reynolda campus was all-too familiar terrain for this Lexington, N.C., young woman who dressed as a Wake Forest cheerleader for Halloween when she was little. Black and gold seemed old hat. But her first year was more than she could have hoped for, and, as she wrote from Rwanda, “Somehow everything fell into place and I am now in Africa having the experience of a lifetime.”

She and Niepold visited nyanyas (Swahili for “grandmothers”) in the slums of Kenya and the hillsides of Rwanda, assuring grandmothers they would not be forgotten and surveying them on their economic progress to track the nonprofit’s impact. One day, in Kigali, she wound up at a dinner table with Niepold and Jeannetta Craigwell-Graham (’06). I visited Craigwell-Graham last year in New York, where she was an associate at Shearman and Sterling LLP, a blue-chip law firm. I wrote about how her two-month stint doing pro bono work in Africa ignited a passion to figure out a way to return. In a few weeks, she had found the way. She left New York for Kigali, for a job in the Strategic Investment Unit of the Rwanda Development Board.

Observing the immediate rapport between Niepold and Craigwell-Graham, Blythe wrote, “As we sat under the cool shade of the tin roof of a local restaurant, Zaffran’s, I listened to these two highly intelligent women discuss the government situation of various African countries. My surroundings flooded over me and I thought, ‘Wow. How did you end up eating at an Indian restaurant with these two women in Rwanda? Can you believe that you are eating lunch in Rwanda with two Wake Forest alumni?’ … I continued to listen in awe as the two swapped stories and discussed the development of African countries. My next thought? ‘Wow. Did you ever think this was possible? Now, can you even imagine the future possibilities?’”

When I saw Blythe in Winston-Salem last week, she said she had no words for how deeply the trip had affected her. She planned to continue working with Niepold this summer and found herself drawn to elders now that she was home.

Blythe Riggan ('16) at Mary Martin Niepold's ('65) home last week

Blythe Riggan (’16) at Mary Martin Niepold’s (’65) home last week

I zipped off a note to Craigwell-Graham to ask about her impressions. Not only had she welcomed Blythe and Niepold, she’d also hosted other Wake Forest community members in May: Ajay Patel, a business professor who heads the Center for Enterprise Research and Education, and, separately, a group of Wake students traveling with Mary Gerardy, associate vice president and dean of campus life, and with Marianne Magjuka, director of campus life.

“Tracing back to the conversation I had with Maria Henson one year ago in a midtown restaurant, we were talking about the mission inherited by all Wake Forest students: Pro Humanitate,” she wrote. That’s why she was “hardly surprised” and “neglected to remark ‘what a coincidence’” to see all of these Wake Forest visitors.

Jeannetta Craigwell-Graham ('06) in her old life in Manhattan

Jeannetta Craigwell-Graham (’06) in her old life in Manhattan

“It’s no coincidence that a certain type of person would be attracted to Wake Forest,” Craigwell-Graham wrote. “Therefore (if I may be forgiven to make this logical leap just once), it’s no coincidence that some of those same people might end up in Rwanda. To meet, analyze, assist, learn — all different forms of action but aligned with the idea of service to mankind.”

Craigwell-Graham was pleased to see all the visitors and catch up on campus news, including whether Shag on the Mag still exists. (It does.) Most important, she wrote, the visits provided “clear and unequivocal reassurance” that she had attended the right college.

“Just one year ago I was stuck in a concrete jungle,” she wrote. “Now today I am in a place, Africa, Rwanda to be more specific, that is known for them and I couldn’t be more free.”

She was on the right track all along, she said. It was one more way she and Blythe share common ground on a planet that feels smaller every day as connections widen and strengthen. As Blythe would say: Imagine the possibilities.

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