What is your life’s purpose?
To partner with children and young people living with HIV/AIDS in East Africa as they fulfill their purpose, and as they evolve into powerful change makers for the next generation.
How are you living your purpose?
I am the founder and CEO of AidChild.org. We were the first to offer free medication for children living with AIDS in Uganda, and among the first in the world to do so. Our model-of-care was chosen by the US Centers for Disease Control, the Uganda Ministry of Health, and other agencies as a model of pediatric-HIV/AIDS-care for the continent. The AidChild Leadership Institute (ALI) in Entebbe, Uganda is now actively creating a new model of leadership development and education in the region.
How did you find your purpose?
This is from my testimony before the United States Congress:
May I invite you to imagine that you are standing with me in a banana field in Africa? It is October of 1998, my first visit to the continent, and I have come with hope; the precious product of HIV prevention education.
I have been deposited here with a talented interpreter and left to find my way through the drapes of leafy trees and across the carpets of fallen foliage. Soon enough, I find my destination: a tiny mud hut. It is obvious, even from a distance, that the space is crowded beyond capacity. It is explained to me that these individuals have eagerly gathered because it has been promised that I will be providing information about HIV/AIDS. I suddenly realize that everyone here is familiar with death. They know that their families are dying. Their mothers. Their fathers. Their grandchildren.
And in so many cases, they sense that they themselves are dying.
I step to the front and begin my hopeful presentation. Once finished, I answer questions. Finally, the space clears. I am left with my interpreter and with a local leader. We wait for the Land Cruiser to come to collect me. I fall in love with the magic of Africa.
Through the rear opening of the hut steps a woman who looks to be quite aged. With her, a very young boy. With each step that they take towards me, I become increasingly aware of the severity of this sweet child’s condition. He is covered with sores. Wounds. His body is weak. I reach down and pick him up. I feel that he is burning with fever.
And I look into his eyes. There, I see something I have seen many times since: the early maturity of a suffering soul. This is dear person. Like your children. Your grandchildren.
Only, he has seen so much. So much that is terrible. So little that is good.
The elder speaks. She says, ”This is my grandson. His name is Simon. His father, my son, died when Simon was two months old. With AIDS. His mother died three months ago. With AIDS. It seems apparent to me that he also has AIDS.”
She pauses. She swallows. Then, ”Today, you talked to us about AIDS, and you talked about hope. So I was just wondering, what can you do for my grandson.”
That day, in the middle of that banana field, my life changed as my thinking underwent a revolution. You see, in preparation for that trip, I had learned that there were 1.7 million orphans in Uganda. According to the World Health Organization, USAID statistics, and Ugandan government studies, this was more than in any other country of the world.
The revolution in my thinking, though, took place only once I was able to individualize the daunting and disturbing statistics. As I held Simon in my arms, and as I looked into his eyes, I came face to face with the reality that our fight with HIV/AIDS is not about numbers and dollars, but about real people—with names and faces. With sorrow and pain.
I also realized that much of this suffering, even for those already infected, is unnecessary. And I knew that I could not walk away from Simon, or that reality.
The dictionary defines purpose as “the reason for which something exists or was made.” There and then, I knew that THIS is why I was made.
Why I exist.
What advice do you have for purpose seekers?
How do you find anything? You look for it. “What you seek, you shall find.” It is an active-process, not a passive one. Simply mulling over the question won’t do it. Pondering is not productive; action is.
Get involved in something you believe in. Get engaged in activities you viscerally enjoy.
I believe that the desires of our heart, the passions that we feel, and the activities that we enjoy—all of these factors—combine to lead us to purpose. They are not disconnected. The clarity of our story is found in their alignment. Follow them to their intersection. It is there that purpose is found.
What resources do you recommend?
Podcast: “What It Takes”
Insights in change-making: The Unfinished Social Entrepreneur by Jonathan Lewis
A story of finding purpose in a journey with cancer: Under a Desert Sky: Redefining Hope, Beauty, and Faith in the Hardest Places by Lynne Hartke
Connect with Nathaniel Dunigan:
Websites: www.aidchild.org AND www.DrDunigan.com
Book: We Are Not Mahogany: Three stories about the male African life
Dr. Nathaniel Dunigan is Founder and CEO of AidChild.org. He is a Reynolds Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship at the Harvard Kennedy School, and was the Dammeyer Fellow in Global Education Leadership at the University of San Diego. He is the author of We Are Not Mahogany: Three stories about the male African life. Prior to his move to Uganda, Dr. Dunigan was Deputy Director of the Office of the Governor of Arizona.