The Opus Prize Brother Charles Nuwagaba
Ambassador of hope
Brother Charles Nuwagaba (BA ’09, MEd ’11) received a call in February that he felt certain was a hoax. On the other end was a representative from the Opus Prize Foundation, alerting Nuwagaba—the provincial vicar of the Bannakaroli Brothers of St. Charles Lwanga, an indigenous Catholic religious order based in his native Uganda—that he’d been named a 2019 Opus Prize finalist. He’d earned the prestigious recognition—bestowed on a different college campus each fall—for overseeing a primary school and vocational education program near Kenya’s Kibera slum, one of the largest in Africa. (It’s among three-dozen primary, secondary, and vocational schools the Bannakaroli operate.) All three Opus finalists were guaranteed a gift of $100,000. The winner, announced in November, would net $900,000 more.
Nuwagaba had never heard of the Opus Prize, the world’s largest faith-based award for social entrepreneurship. He scurried to his computer to check out its legitimacy. Three months later, the 54-year-old improbably found himself hosting a team of seven judges, students and faculty members who’d flown halfway around the world, from Saint Louis University, to tour his compound and meet the desperately poor people he serves. As he told his visitors at the time, “we tend to reach where other people don’t reach.”
The recognition that Nuwagaba’s nomination provides could be a crucial asset for the Bannakaroli Brothers going forward. The animating principle of the 92-year-old order has always been the education of the marginalized. Its namesake is Charles Lwanga, a page to a former king who was burned alive—along with 21 other Catholics—in 1886, martyred for his faith.
The Brothers’ reach is impressively wide; thousands of Africans from unstable backgrounds have benefitted from their programming in Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. Still, they maintain a low profile internationally, with a limited online presence. The 500 members live simply alongside the poor, and rely for financing on farming income, private donations, modest tuition, and parish appeals.