Iron Horse Gallery’s show gives hope to people halfway across the world
Nathaniel Dunigan is proof of the difference one man can make.
He first visited Uganda for a month as a volunteer HIV/AIDS prevention educator in 1998. He was just 26 years old when, two years later, he decided to leave his post as the Deputy Director of the Office of the Governor in Tucson, Ariz., sell his car, home and belongings and move to Uganda to start an education and care organization for children and families suffering from the disease.
Dunigan’s organization, called Aidchild, had a starting budget of $3,500 and took in its first child in 2000.
It quickly became the model for pediatric HIV/AIDS care for the entire African continent.
Dunigan was honored at the Iron Horse Gallery Friday evening as part of an art exhibit to help raise money for the organization that currently provides medication, education, housing and three solid meals a day for about 3,000 orphans.
The goal of the organization is to be sustainable, Dunigan said, and Aidchild now has two art galleries, a restaurant and café in Uganda to help fund in- and outpatient care.
Still, Aidchild depends on donations and the kindness of art lovers to underwrite about 30 percent of its annual budget.
The reception at Iron Horse featured about 50 paintings from Ugandan artists. The paintings will be on display for the next two weeks, after which one or two pieces will be featured periodically. The brightly colored canvases range in price from about $400 to about $2,000.
Compare those numbers to the cost of caring for an outpatient child with HIV/AIDS and other opportunistic infections and people can see the difference a little generosity makes.
Dunigan said it costs about $67 a month to provide a child with academic assistance, antibiotics, antiretroviral medication and care at one of Aidchild’s two live-in centers and as little as $5 a month for outpatient care.
"We’re showing the pride and talent of Uganda instead of focusing on AIDS," Dunigan said of the artwork. The oil paintings are playful, splashy and expressionistic with titles such as "Smiling Fish" and "Competition."
Other bright spots for Uganda are the children, ages four months to 14 years old, who are now living longer, healthier lives under the auspices of Aidchild. "Some of the kids have been abandoned, living alone, and haven’t been going to school," Dunigan said. "We try to intervene before neglect transpires."
Aidchild provides the structure and consistency for kids to recover from diseases and infections that range from tuberculosis to skin infections and malaria, Dunigan said.
"It’s a death sentence if medicine isn’t available and isn’t adhered to," he said. Often, people with HIV/AIDS stop taking medication once they start feeling better. Dunigan works with physicians to help educate victims of the disease on the necessity of continued treatment. "It’s a foreign concept to take medicine for anyone who doesn’t feel sick," he said. "We show them their lab results and they see the obvious benefits. They look healthier because they are living with good TLC."
Care and medication depends on the needs of individual children, but Dunigan said most kids take two to 10 tablets three to four times a day. That’s as many as 40 pills a day. "We try to talk about the success of these kids and not the need," he said. "These kids are living, striving and growing and we are helping one at a time."
Dunigan has, in his eight years in the country, adopted 80 children and many of those he has not legally adopted call him dad. "I didn’t tell them to call me that. They just started doing it," he said, blushing.
He added that he doesn’t have a problem with celebrities such as Madonna, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie adopting and raising children from Africa. "We just need as many interventions as possible," he said. "We need to just all do our best. I chose to do it the way I’m doing it because I’m able to help more children."
Dunigan says it’s difficult to describe an average day, but he usually starts his email offensive at 3 a.m. He spends the rest of his day tending the children and checking on the organization’s art gallery and massage clinic in Kampala and the café and gallery located at Mpigi, all of which benefit the nonprofit organization.
Dunigan has testified before the United States House of Representatives Committee on International Relations and international AIDS conferences.
Jan Henderson is an artist living in Salt Lake City. She said seeing the work of Ugandan artists Mukiibi Enoch, Juuko Hood, Anwar Sadat, Mugalu Edison and Eria "Sane" Nsubuga was well worth the 45-minute drive. "There’s some fascinating work here," she said. "And it’s going to a great cause."
Joyce Plowman, Iron Horse Gallery director, said about 110 people attended the exhibition kickoff Friday night and some of the paintings already had red "sold" stickers attached to them. "There was so much interest in this," she said. "I’m impressed with the quality of the work, the color and style and technique. I love doing events and having people have a good time, but this one has the extra twist of benefiting the organization. I couldn’t be more tickled."
To donate to Aidchild or for more information, visit aidchild.org. Visit Iron Horse Gallery at 1205 Iron Horse Drive or call 615-6900.
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