• That She Might Dance

    (Another early entry from Nathaniel’s African Journal, circa 2002.)

    Kids.

    Everywhere.

    Perched on the arms of the sofa, spinning on the desk chair, sprawled on the floor, and just generally dangling about.  We were all in my sitting room watching a video.  Some have it memorized.  Others laugh and play in a distinct little world mysteriously inserted into this one.

    Suddenly, Maria walks up and pops Deus a good one.  He instantly retaliates. Daddy moves in.

    There’s an apprehension.

    I pick up my little girl.  In my mind, that dreaded parental thought: What is the most appropriate response?

    While I consider my options, I carry her to the porch and sit down.  Still in my arms, she begins to cry.

    I know instantly, somehow, that this is not an expression of anger.  These aren’t her infamous faux-tears.  And she doesn’t want me to put her down.

    Something about the dearness of her cry shows me that my little girl is healing.

    Too young for a heart-to-heart.  Too tender for therapy.  No girl-talk.

    Just Daddy’s arms.

    She cried.  Not loudly.  Not passionately.

    A precious weeping-balm of the heart.  For the heart.

    I held her.  I used my voice to communicate a sense of peace.  I’m not sure I was successful.

    She cried.

    And cried.

    “Do you want down, Baby?”

    “No.”  Nearly voiceless.

    More tears.

    Absorbed by my shoulder.

    I hope.

    This person has been through so much.  Mommy and Daddy saying goodbye to her, to this life, forever.  No aunts.  No uncles.  Just her six-year-old brother and her three-year-old sister.  While a woman in their village took them in, she had eight children of her own, and a husband who resented my little ones because they were consuming his resources.  He knew that they were living with AIDS, and wrongly assumed that they wouldn’t survive to care for him in his old age.  His resentment revealed itself in physical violence.  Abuse.  Burns.  Punches.

    And pain.

    Little Maria has been here for awhile now.  She is processing, I think, all that her short days have seen.  She’s getting older.  She is trying to…

    To what?

    To get over it?

    I don’t think so.

    To survive?

    No, more than that, I think.

    She has been surviving.  So how is this different than yesterday?

    I see that her heart is finally ready to replace sorrow with joy.  But inside she is frustrated.  She knows that her scabs must first become forgotten scars.

    It is as if her spirit has heard the faint sound of a perfect melody drifting in from the next room.  She presses her ear to the wall.  She must hear all the notes.  Every one.  Her heart-feet finally slip into their toe shoes.  At last, she will know harmony.  Tears are the precious yield of her labor to weep-open a passage to the music.

    That she might dance. 

  • “Pray for Bob, Daddy”

    (From the earliest pages of Nathaniel’s African journal, circa 2001.)

    I am quickly developing a favorite time of the day here.  It comes at the end, at what we call Tuck-In Time.  Not because it means the kids are quiet (well not only for that reason) but because I find them especially sweet as they prepare for sleep.  It is a special time for the soul to be alone with thoughts, dreams and worries.  I get to know my kids most at this time.

    Every night, my staff and I go through the routine of tucking in the covers and pulling the mosquito nets down over the little beds.  Then, I go back for individual goodnight-rituals with each child.  With my precious three-year-old girl, Ayine, I stick my head back in and under her net to steal one last kiss.  And she always pretends to try and get away from me, but her giggle on contact gives her away every time.  And, after I turn out the light in the boys room, eight-year-old Ronald always says, “Daddy, come back.”  So I creep back through the darkness to his upper bunk where, every night, I find his lips pressed against the inside of the net.  He insists on his goodnight kiss.  They are all different, and all wonderful.  And I am never more keenly aware of that than I am at bedtime.

    Last night, after all the little rituals were complete, I turned to leave.  Then I heard another voice.  It was Ivans. (We dont know how old he is. No one does, but we guess him to be between eight and ten.)  The little voice in the darkness said, “Pray for me, Daddy. And pray for Bob.”

    Bob? Who is Bob?  I started to ask.  We dont have a Bob.

    Then I remembered Ivans small file.  One of the few pieces of information it does contain is the name of Ivans little brother: Bob.  I wondered where he was that night.  I wondered how he was.  I wondered how long it had been since these precious little brothers had seen each other.

    My heart did a quick rewind to my own bedtime thoughts as a child.  My worries.  My dreams.  I remembered worrying about my little sister, Hannah.  And how I would contemplate the anger I felt for those who had teased her cruelly.  Or how I would laugh to myself about my own big-brother-practical-joke of the day.  Sometimes, I would dream about her future, and hope that it would be wonderful.  But never once did I wonder where she was.

    My children are so needy.  Their bodies are losing a war against a vicious disease while their hearts are aching because of the horrible losses already suffered at the hands of this killer. 

    Some people say that my willingness to help these children is amazing compassion.  If they could be with me at Tuck-In Time, though, they wouldnt see it that way.  They would see it as I do: as a simple, logical response from one heart to another, and as an extraordinary blessing from Gods hand to my life.

    Thats what it is.  A blessing.  A dream come true.  I now know that when the Divine drops a vision into your heart, all you must do is act.  I have often said that, in the beginning, the reality of AidChild was on the opposite side of a river of impossibility.  But once I made up my mind to find a way to cross, I easily located the stepping stones that would lead me to my vision.  The stones were many, but they were there.  All I had to do was move.

    I was never more grateful for those stepping-stones than I was last night, now on the other side of the river, standing in the dark room of our home.  I breathed a simple thank you before I walked back over to Ivans bedside and knelt down.  As I laid my hand on his little head, I cleared the emotion from my throat, and then quietly said, “Yes, Ivan. Ill pray for you.” He opened his nearly blind eyes, and looked directly at me as I added, “And Ill pray for Bob, too.”

  • Can you fund a university scholarship for our kids?

    mkre
    It only costs $1,500 per term to fund tuition, housing and associated fees for one of our kids at Makerere University (one of Africa’s top ten schools)!

    There are three terms each year, for a total of $4,500 per year.

    Can you help?  We will name the scholarship after you or whomever you wish, creating an important legacy through the transformational power of higher education for our dear kids.

    And it’s as easy as clicking here.

    Thank you for your consideration.

    Ritah & Rogers on their way to the university!

    Ritah & Rogers on their way to the university!

  • Great news article about Dorah!

    DorahNathaniel-photoInside USD 

    Life’s Precious Gift: A Second Chance

    Tuesday, July 2, 2013

    Life is precious and each day is a gift.

    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… (Click here for the rest.)

  • Do you believe in the right to education?

    Our kids love to go to school. Watch this short video of some of our kiddos, in uniform, coming home from school, arriving at our main campus. = ) It’s almost time to pay more school fees. Do you believe in education? Can you help us?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7TIRJR9bq0

  • The AidChild Academy and Wellness Center for Girls

    The AidChild Academy and Wellness Center for Girls picWill you help us make this happen?

    This guesthouse will be converted into a very special home providing compassionate nurturing care, spiritual development, rigorous academic support and excellent medical care for girls and young women living with HIV/AIDS. Located on the outskirts of Entebbe Town, this large parcel consisting of four buildings will also become AidChild’s new headquarters, and will embody the evolution of our services. While we will continue to serve children of both genders in our other facilities, this new center will allow us to specifically cater services to girls and young women, preparing them for leadership on the national and global stages.

    “Our board and team have been focused on how to evolve to match the needs of our kids and society at-large,” says AidChild Founder Nathaniel Dunigan*. “One of our goals is to maximize the already stellar job that our humble academy is doing. Our kids perform very well on standardized tests Dr. Patrick Banura AidChildwhen they emerge from our little tutoring center. The new Academy and Wellness Center for Girls is a huge step in the right direction.”

    This center will serve as a model for future endeavors, and as a learning center for the organization’s leadership. We hope to capture the ingredients of our current academic successes so that they can be transferred to other settings and students.

    And we’re ready to go. All we need is a little funding, everything else is in place. The total budget is only $55,109, including most of the first year’s operating expenses (or $39,153 including six months’ operating budget). Will you help us?

  • I Looked Up

    (From Nathaniel’s African Journal, circa 2006.)

    “When we miss them too much,” I said, “well come here to the flags, and look up.”

    The kids were very quiet, listening to my words.  So were the VIPs who had joined us for the special flag raising.  Some eyes were eager to meet mine.  Others were moist with tears.  Three heads were averted in grief.

    “Each of these flags represents a brother. A sister. Our children. Our loved ones who lived here with us.”

    I was trying to be careful not to emphasize that they died with us, but that they had lived with us.  While the reality of death cannot be hidden — or made to go away — I so hate for it to shroud the wonderful preciousness of the short lives.  Beautiful soul-instruments who performed magically in our orchestra; realizing a perfect concert of melodious gentleness and tenderness.  A symphony unlike any other.

    We raised five flags; one for each of the children who have recently been with us.

    The first one is bright yellow for Milo whose personality was a beaming flower in our garden.  Sunny petals carried away by an early gale.

    The second is deep blue; Ivan’s favorite color.  How he loved to wear it; “to look smart”.  How we loved him.

    The third is light blue — a soft, tender heart. Young. Precious. Innocent.  Mzee.

    Next is a ravishing, pink flag flying for our lovely, little lady. Exquisite only begins to describe our Prisca.

    And last is Isaacs penetrating red; a perfect symbol of his deeply strong spirit.  Passionate.  Courageous.  Beautiful.

    The first letter of the childs name is in black on her flag.  His flag.  A gesture of mourning.  A remember-me voice.

    On Friday, we had a bus-full of visitors; HIV-Positive Community Counselors from the capital.  Aidchild hosts visitors about once a week, and it is always incredibly moving for me to give my tour to guests who are themselves living with this virus.  This disease.

    I started the tour at the new flagpoles.  I wanted to explain that the flags came from my intense desire to help my kids to not fear death.  While we do not tell them that they have AIDS, the children are unimaginably wise.

    Some know.

    Even though we dwell on hope; though we tell them they can and will fight; though we believe that our prayers and treatment will lead to longer lives, the children know that we will all die.  One day.

    One day.

    And they fear.

    Nasaka (age 9) keeps looking into my eyes with a placid alarm.  Silently she says, “Im afraid, Daddy.”

    Im afraid.

    I have set my heart to find a way to answer her.  To relieve.  To calm.  To help.  To find a way.  I must find a way.

    “Look up. Look up at the flags, sweetheart. See how beautiful they are? Look beyond them to heaven. See how fantastic? Its not scary. Its wonderful. Its perfect there.  Dont be afraid, baby.”

     

    My guests and I stood together.  We looked up.  Up the twenty feet to the flapping, waving, beautiful banners of honored memory.  To the heavens.  We fell silent.

    I looked at Isaacs red flag.  It is still at half-mast as we remain in mourning.  He died only days ago.

    I looked at my many visitors. I saw their thin bodies, their painful skin conditions.  I heard their coughs.  And felt their sorrow.

    I looked back at our beautiful flags.  While I wanted my hope to somehow be extended to them in a significant way, at that moment all I could muster was an inner-dam of tears.

    Dont cry in front of these people.

    The disturbing reality of AIDS drenched me like a pelting rainstorm of emotion.  I wanted to run for cover.  For protection.  I wanted it all to just go away.

    They stood there looking at me.

    Again we fell silent.

    Finally, I cleared the emotion from my throat.  I chased the hopelessness from my heart.  I continued the tour.

    We went to the Aidchild Academy while the kids were at recess.  They admired the childrens artwork; their soul-monologues of beauty and voice.  They had questions.

    We stepped out of the classroom just as the children were returning from their break.  Just then, Ronald, 9, came skipping down the hill.

    Skipping.

    Carefree.  Joyful.  Fun.  A perfect interpretive dance of the life that we have, desire, and cherish.  If briefly.

    We looked at each other.

    We smiled.

    We laughed.

    Small teardrops formed in the corners of eyes.

    Hope-petals re-opened in wilting hearts.

    “I have something to say on behalf of the whole group.”  The voice came from a man standing near me.  “Thank you,” his eye contact was intense.  “As counselors in the field, we work with many AIDS patients who are dead long before they die. They give up. They let hope leave them.”  He swallowed.  “You have shown us that this doesnt have to be. Your flags have shown us a beautiful hope. Your project has shown us a precious life.”

    He looked at the other members of the group, and then back at me.  “Thank you for your work.”

    I had no response.

    My visitors returned to their battered bus; to their reality, I remember thinking.

    Here came that emotional rainstorm again.  It was as if they had been filled with our mutual, single-measure of hope; draining it from me.

    I desperately wanted this reality to disappear.

    Go away. Just go away.

    I tried to give up.

    I made myself walk. Going where?

    How can this be reality?

    My steps.

    The base of the flagpoles.

    I stopped.

    I exhaled.

    I released the inner-dam of tears.

    And I looked up. 

  • Getting a tax-refund?

    How about using a bit of it to buy a mosquito net for a child living with HIV/AIDS in East Africa ? Or a mattress? Or school books and a uniform? Or medication?

    And remember, it’s tax-deductible, meaning you can deduct it next year!  What do you say? aidchild.org/donate

  • The Noise of Poverty; Understanding Its Power over Self & Other

    by Nathaniel Dunigan, EdM, AidChild’s Founder

    As I transition from the “West” to Uganda—yet again—I am anticipating the different sounds in the lifescape.  Some will welcome me, emoting joy and pleasure. Others will attack me in offensive ways, stirring negativity and frustration.  Others will be processed subconsciously—and yet will nevertheless affect my sense of peace and wellbeing.

    Some elements of the life-noise are cultural, of course.  The drumming from a village celebration, for example, or the calls to prayer from the mosque.

    The Ugandan affection for music means that it is often heard in the absent-minded song of a passerby, via the crude speakers of a battery-operated device, or seriously booming from a nightclub’s woofers.

    Traffic is always robust.  The use of horns is not seen as offensive or bothersome, and so their blasts are heard throughout the day, and even into the night when they are used to summon gatekeepers and guards.

    Other sounds are natural.  The number of birdcalls I hear within the space of a minute is fantastic, and I have developed a great love of the sounds of the breeze as it rustles the huge fronds of the banana trees.

    While finally other noises emerge from the intersection of lifestyle and need.  A crowing rooster is never… (click here to read the rest).

  • The senseless losses in Connecticut and globally are indeed worthy of our great lament–and action.

    The senseless losses in Connecticut and globally are indeed worthy of our great lament–and action. May we always allow our grief to inform a deeper, ever more cherished understanding of this human experience–and of the power of our own active compassion in the face of an evil that emerges in the forms of mental and physical unhealth. A laser-sharp focus is required in the search for solutions while a concentrated indwelling in the present makes appropriate space for the healthy, humane responses we call sorrow and pain.

    In the past, I have liked the phrase, “Let the change begin with me.” Tonight it seems too passive. I am now actively looking for strategies to make this more than a pleasant-sounding wish. That said, I have a great worry as I see people rushing to a legislative response to an emergence of evil. (Selah.)

    A colleague recently discovered that he has high cholesterol when he was told that he had been prescribed medication for the same. I shared with him that–when I learned I had high cholesterol–my physician prescribed changes in my diet and lifestyle. Now 80 lbs lighter, I wonder, is our rush to law the same as a rush to the pharmacy?

    Can we really legislate and prescribe wellness, or is it corporately developed through an ethic of nurturing and care?