Wed, July 17

Africa's AIDS orphans<br><I>Christian social worker shares story</i>

Photos by Nathaniel Luedeker

Nathaniel Dunigan, Christian social worker, speaks to a group at the Methodist Church in Camp Verde about the success of the non-profit organization Aidchild that provides care to AIDS infected orphans in Uganda, Africa. Dunigan founded the organization four years ago.

Today, the Christian social worker’s effort is known nationwide as the nonprofit organization Aidchild and is the USAID model for pediatric HIV/AIDS care in Africa.

Dunigan, now 31, returned from Africa last week and met with the public and members of his congregation Saturday at the Methodist Church in Camp Verde to inform the group ofjust how successful the effort has become. Aidchild Management Leader Gloria Johnson, 26, accompanied Dunigan to the luncheon.

Dunigan, who could pass for a high school student despite his glasses and red goatee, told the group that initially he thought he would be able to help around 10 to 12 children at a time by providing them with emotional comfort.

“Then my vision grew so much,” he said.

In the beginning of Aidchild, before the organization had the means to administer medication to the orphans, Dunigan said volunteers were having great success with the children by providing them with “active compassion.” This, Dunigan said, basically amounted to giving the children tender loving care.

“They haven’t had someone to kiss them on the forehead at night,” he said.

Although “active compassion” is still the building block of the organization, Aidchild now has several other weapons to be used against the devastation caused by AIDS.

Thanks in part to funding from the U.S. and Uganda governments, Aidchild has two centers in Uganda that provide a home to a total of 75 orphans. In addition, the organization has in its arsenal a microbiology lab in Uganda, and Aidchild provides medical attention, including Antiretroviral Therapy, to the orphans.

According to Dunigan, Aidchild has further expanded to a point where it will provide outpatient care to about 1,500 HIV-infected children in Uganda.

Dunigan told the group that Uganda, the location of the first confirmed case of HIV, actually has a low infection rate compared to some countries.

“About 6 percent of the population is living with HIV; it used to be 33 percent,” he said.

However, he further explained to the group that this was “bittersweet news,” because the rate dropped drastically when those with the infection died, creating the 2.3 million orphans.

Uganda has more orphans than any other nation in the world, according to Aidchild literature.

Johnson, who double majored at the University of Arizona in biochemistry and microbiology, said when a child arrives at the center a metamorphosis takes place.

“They just come alive in a day or two. They just blossom, and it’s beautiful,” she said.

Johnson, who has been with Aidchild for over three years, said that she got involved in the work because she always had compassion for the plight of the orphan and was all too familiar with the AIDS virus due to her science background.

Johnson told the group that she was unsure about what she was getting into when she first volunteered for Aidchild.

“While boarding the plane I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, I wonder what these kids are going to be like,’” she said, expecting some of the children to have behavioral problems due to their situation.

To the contrary, Johnson found the opposite.

“There is so much hope; these children are the happiest people I can imagine,” she said.

Johnson said she has high hopes as well and was undaunted by the staggering number of orphans with AIDS.

“How do you help 2.3 million children?” she said. “The answer is one by one.”

Aidchild has an art gallery and café on the Equator Line in Uganda, in addition to a poultry farm that sustains it financially. However, the organization is accepting donations to expand further in order to help more children.

About 12 to 15 members of the Camp Verde Methodist Church are involved in the United Methodist Sewing Circle. The circle sews about two quilts a week fore the Uganda orphans.

The luncheon featured items for sale, including crafts made by the orphans, photographs of the orphans, and various African-themed goods.

For further information on Aidchild refer to the Web site Donations can be made to Aidchild, P.O. Box 26100, Christiansted, VI 00824-2100 USA.