Interview: Ugandan NGO founder on the joys of helping HIV+ children

Big organizations with big titles make big news. The World Bank, the United Nations and the Red Cross, just to name a few, are household names, but they’re not the only ones enacting change around the world. Hannington Segiriniya directs the New Dawn Africa Foundation (NDAF), a small nonprofit in the Entebbe region of Uganda that exemplifies how local change is making a difference, too. He reached out to us through Twitter, inspiring us to profile him here on the ONE Blog.

Now in its second year, the New Dawn Africa Foundation (NDAF) collaborates with local communities to ensure that children diagnosed with HIV/AIDS receive proper medical care and nutrition. The Foundation’s center opens its doors to parents and kids alike in an effort to engage the entire family in a child’s development. Workshops and trainings help parents acquire skills that will help them enter the workforce — and with a paycheck in hand, they can better feed their children.

I spoke to Hannington over the phone last week to talk about the intersection of HIV/AIDS and nutrition, NDAF’s work on the ground, and what makes him tick as an activist. To learn more about the organization, check out their website and their Facebook page (where there are lots of other great photos!).

Paulena: You’re still a young guy. Have you always been an activist at heart?
Hannington: Yes, I’ve always seen myself as a person who can change my society if I put my mind to it. Even as a child, I wanted to help out. I would see other children — children who were needy — and wonder why that had to be that way. As I grew up and got more opportunities, I realized that I was lucky. I had a place to call home, but there were still children in the streets who didn’t have that. And that urge to go on and realize my dream of helping others was still there. I joined the Red Cross 15 years ago and haven’t stopped since.

Why did you decide to start the New Dawn Africa Foundation?
A friend of mine did a survey of Entebbe and the surrounding area and found that even though children with HIV/AIDS were receiving ARV treatments, they weren’t getting the proper nutrition. They need more than just the medicine; they need good food, too. Without the food, the medicine does little. We wanted to do change this.

The beginning wasn’t easy, but we had the dream. I said to my friends, “Hey guys, look here, we need to use the resources that we have to help others.” So we all pitched in to get started, and here we are, two years down the road.

Your programming focuses on under-nourished children with HIV/AIDS. Why do you focus on HIV/AIDS and nutrition?
They’re both huge issues. We come face-to-face with HIV/AIDS every day. I have three sisters living with the virus and I see how much they suffer. They shouldn’t. People living with the infection need good nutrition so that they can stay healthy. If they feel sick, they will lose hope — and they will die early. By focusing on both elements we can help people really take over their lives again. We want them to realize that there is still life to live after a diagnosis.

What does a day in the life of Hannington look like?
Every day comes with new experiences. There’s no standard day or one routine. Sometimes I do some home visits, checking in with the families to make sure that the children are getting what they need: Do they have enough medication? Do they take it on time?

Actually, recently a lot of my time has been dedicated to tackling this very problem. A lot of caretakers forget to give their kids the medications at the right time. That’s a crucial mistake. We’re trying to implement a plan to have automatic messages or calls sent to mobile phones at the prescribed time so that no child goes without what he or she needs — even for one day.

From your Facebook pictures, it looks like you’re having the time of your life. What is your favorite part of your job?
Seeing children live the life they have. Seeing them smile. It really makes me feel complete. I can’t tell you how much it rejuvenates me.

What do you want the world to know about your country?
It’s such a beautiful country, and really a land of opportunities. It’s a country that’s on the right track in terms of development. There are so many great initiatives happening here, large and small, and people are very vested in helping each other and their communities. It’s not only about Kony 2012. It’s about widespread growth and change.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing Uganda?

We need organized leadership. We have corruption here, like many places do. We need to bring up a new generation that values organized and fair leadership with an eye for change. It’s not an easy journey, but it can be completed.

We have lots of members who want to be involved but don’t live on the continent. How can those activists make a difference?
Activists abroad need to spread the word. We need people who know about the issues and who appreciate those who are making change in the world. We need people who commend leaders — famous and not — who are good and do good. We need people to send positive messages. Too many times we focus only on the bad. But the good is important, too. We cannot keep quiet about that. We need people who speak out — and keep speaking and speaking and speaking! So everyone learns what is going on.

Do you have an organization that you’d like too see profiled on the Blog? Send an email to the ONE Blog Editor Malaka at malaka.gharib@one.org for more info.