From One to Many: Master’s Student Nathaniel DuniganBy Jill Anderson
Nathaniel Dunigan never could have predicted that being given the opportunity to travel to Uganda for one month would forever alter the course of his future. But, it did.
Nine years ago, while working as the deputy director for the office of the governor in Tucson, Ariz., Dunigan trained to teach HIV/AIDS prevention through the Governor’s Office of AIDS Awareness, which subsequently led to him traveling to Uganda to educate for a month. “Africa was not on my radar screen at all,” he says, looking back. “When I got over there, I saw this incredible need. The suffering was so intense…I couldn’t take it.”
On one particular day, Dunigan traveled to a village where a jam-packed hut of people awaited his talk on HIV prevention. At the end of the talk, he was approached by an Ugandan woman holding a young boy flushed from a fever and covered in sores, who said, “So you talked to us about hope, but what can you do about him?” The question affected Dunigan so much that he realized, though looking at the big picture of HIV/AIDS can be overwhelming, on an individual level, there are a lot of things one person can do. “When you think of that little boy, you realize… you can help him,” he says.
Within a year after that initial trip, Dunigan left his aspirations to a political career behind, held a yard sale, sold his car, and moved to Uganda armed with a donated laptop and digital camera. In a moment of serendipity, Dunigan came across eight acres of space complete with multiple buildings owned by a local church. The church community gladly rented the facility to Dunigan citing their hope that someone would come along and use the space for the community.
Now, nine years later, Dunigan’s hope to help one little boy has flourished into a full-blown organization serving 3,000 children. Aidchild comprises two centers which supply homes, medical care, laboratory support, psychosocial support, and education to orphans living with AIDS. Additionally, the organization also runs two art galleries, a restaurant, a cafe, and a massage center as means to help support the centers. In fact, due to these amenities, the center is 70 percent self-sustained.
“I couldn’t have done it all by myself,” Dunigan says, noting that Ugandan partners, volunteers, and his family were immensely helpful in getting the center off the ground, as well as keeping it running. Although starting an organization has its challenges, Dunigan notes the commitment he made to the children, partners, and donors keeps him going.
At the forefront are Dunigan’s questions about how to tackle problems revolving around the teaching profession and the recruitment of teachers in Uganda. Children within his center do well academically, but due to the country’s structuring of the teaching profession, it can be difficult to understand most teachers’ motivation. To many in Uganda, teaching is considered just a job requiring only two years of professional training. “There needs to be answers so we can be better,” Dunigan says. “I see education being key to achieving change not just in Uganda, but everywhere.”
It was the plethora of questions about children, emotional development, education, and teacher recruitment led him to the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Human Development and Psychology Program (HDP). “HDP has the flexibility I needed with my international focus,” he says. “I want to think more like a psychologist to understand what’s happening.”
At HGSE, Dunigan says he has found a wonderfully supportive community. “It feels like everyone wants you to succeed not just in your master’s but with your aspirations and goals beyond being here,” he says. The rapport even led to Dunigan to invite the entire HDP cohort to Uganda for spring break.
As for Dunigan’s future after HGSE, he admits that as much as he enjoys all the luxuries of American living, he’s eager to get back to Uganda. “It’s hard to be away from the kids,” he says.