While that goes for everybody and everywhere, when Uganda’s Dorah Wanyana Dunigan awakens, she knows perfectly well the gift she’s received. It’s the gift of motivation to be the best she can. It’s the desire to give back, to make the world a better place. And it’s all because she was given, perhaps, the greatest gift of all: a second chance.
This young woman, on a daily basis, moves closer to her goal of becoming a doctor. She’s committed to her education and determined to find a cure for what ails her and millions of other men, women and, especially, children in her country.
Dorah, age 20, is HIV-positive. Her life changed 11 years ago when she met Nathaniel Dunigan in 2002. In Dunigan, the founder of AidChild, Dorah discovered a person and an organization dedicated to providing loving care for children stricken by HIV/AIDS and neglected in Uganda, East Africa. Dunigan’s AidChild understood her needs and other children who were struggling mightily with this epidemic disease.
“AidChild is an organization that cares for orphans with HIV/AIDS who don’t have support from extended families,” Dorah explained. “It is a home with real hope, one that holds life precious and we appreciate it.”
Dunigan, a Dammeyer Fellow in Global Education Leadership and PhD candidate in Leadership Studies through USD’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences, made AidChild his vehicle to help thousands of children living with AIDS in Uganda. In 2002 he testified before the U.S. Congress’ House of Representatives’ Committee on International Relations to discuss best practices for the care of orphans and vulnerable children in Africa.
AidChild’s mission statement, on its website, said it is “committed to empowerment, quality medical care and education within a proven framework of self-sustainability.”
Dunigan, who spends whatever time he can away from his USD responsibilities to travel to Uganda, said AidChild’s budget relies on donations and funding through three business ventures, such as the opening of Olubugo, a restaurant built through a connection Dunigan made with 1996 USD business alumnus James Brennan.
The businesses provide jobs for locals, critical budget resources and awareness for AidChild and effectively demonstrate Dunigan’s commitment to help those whom he affectionately calls his children.
“AidChild was the first in Uganda to offer free antiretroviral (ARV) therapy to children and among the first in the world to do so,” he said.
Said Dorah: “ARVs are meant to suppress the number of viruses in the body. My treatment is Douvir-N, which is comprised of Lamivudine, Zidovudine and Nevipine.”
Treatment, proper nutrition and education support Dorah and others, but the genuine love shown by AidChild is reciprocated. Dorah’s happiness, academic prowess and a determination to help others realize their second chance give her purpose and strength. Dorah considers Dunigan her father.
“When I joined the organization, that’s when I started calling him Dad, because he really acts as a Dad to all of us,” she said. “We all want to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS in Uganda, we want to know how to prevent it and to take care of those who are already affected. That’s why I work hard. That’s why I want to be a doctor. I want to make sure when he gets old and can’t do it anymore, I want to be able to take over.”
She’s well on her way. Aside from excelling academically in Uganda, Dorah is a medical clinic intern in Uganda. She is support staff for infant care, assisting mothers during feeding times with many tasks, including diaper changes and anything she can do to make them comfortable. She also has a business venture to help young Ugandan girls stay in school by recognizing a problem and actively seeking a solution.
“I began to notice there were many girls in Masaka dropping out of school. One reason why was the lack of sanitary towels for girls at schools in rural areas,” Dorah explained. “They couldn’t sit in class when they weren’t comfortable. They would miss three to seven days of school. Enrollment of girls in school was down. I believe this will benefit them and let them know nothing should make them stay at home.”
Dorah’s personal growth is expanding and breaking barriers that at one time seemed impossible. Last week she boarded an airplane for the first time and flew to the United States. Waiting eagerly to greet her in San Diego was Dunigan.
Dorah is participating in a three-week program hosted at USD and SOLES and sponsored by the Fred J. Hansen Foundation. She’s one of 20 fellowship recipients in the Summer Institute on Leadership and International Cooperation. The academic fellows — from Morocco, Bosnia, Russia, Argentina, Uzbekistan, Nepal, Ethiopia, Poland, Kyrgyzstan, Romania, Rwanda, Georgia and the United States — are here through July 21.
Ronald Bee, managing director of the program, describes the program as a prime opportunity to bring people from different places in the world together. They meet, learn more about each other, experience a new culture together and leave with a greater appreciation. The itinerary is packed with local events, cultural experiences, speakers, business and leadership activities and social entrepreneurship elements.
“I’ve seen how this program changes lives,” Bee said. “We did evaluations that found that 82 percent of our participants have stayed connected. We’ve had marriages come from this, which shows the impact lasts longer than just the three-week program. It’s not just about learning something. There are opportunities to bond, to sit down and just talk to each other in an informal setting.”
Dorah hopes to gain new business and leadership skills to use upon her return to Uganda. Communicating with new people and learning more about other countries is also important. She’ll probably gain a few more followers on her Twitter handle, @dorahdunigan.
It should be a life-changing summer program for all participants, especially because, like Dorah, they’ll treat it as a precious gift they’ve received.
— Ryan T. Blystone