From one volunteer to another

Thursday, August 2, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:04 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Daniel Dorsey sits beneath a painting MU art student Lizzie Siegel made for an art exhibit held last year to raise money for a genocide intervention network.

COLUMBIA-Daniel Dorsey is a self-proclaimed dreamer. He counts Mother Teresa and Dorothy Day as his heroes and lives by the rule that if someone asks for help, he should help them.

Dorsey, a former MU student, recently published his first book, “Mistakes and Glories: The Journal of Daniel Dorsey,” an unedited look at his stint this summer as a volunteer teacher in Nairobi, Kenya. The proceeds of the book will go to a college fund for Agwaro Ommumita, a 25-year-old Kenyan.

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“Mistakes and Glories: The Journal of Daniel Dorsey” can be purchased at Paperback copies are $15. Downloaded copies are $10.

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“Sometimes we look at the big picture and lose sight of the individuals,” Dorsey said. “I might not be able to rescue 5 million Kenyans from poverty, but I might be able to send one to college.”

Dorsey, 20, met Ommumita, a volunteer teacher and soccer coach, while working at National Hidden Talents Academy, an orphanage and school. Hidden Talents has a mix of children and adults who are mentally or physically disabled, street families, ex-prisoners and HIV-positive children. They cram into the one-quarter acre plot with no guarantee of having basic needs met, like shelter, clothing, food or medical care. Dorsey said there were more than 1,300 children at the academy during his stay.

“The school is super poor,” Dorsey writes in his book. “There were children playing in a pile of waste while a dog infested with fleas was digging around it. The kids don’t have books; there is one book and they copy notes from it.”

A former student of Hidden Talents, Ommumita was accepted to attend the Institute of Advanced Technology in Nairobi to study Web design. He received a scholarship, but it doesn’t kick in until his second year of school. In June, a week into Dorsey’s trip, Ommumita asked him for $37,000 to fund his college education.

“Agwaro has asked every volunteer that comes through Hidden Talents for money to go to college,” Dorsey said. “I was the first to answer. My prayer has always been for God to break my heart for the things that broke his heart. I am blessed God wanted to use me.”

Dorsey grew up in St. Louis in a Christian family. Although he regularly attended church, he now describes himself as a “Christian anarchist” who doesn’t believe in structure.

“I’ve always been intrigued by Jesus and who he was,” Dorsey said. “I always wanted to know him better, but when I was younger I was suffocated by evangelical Christianity.”

In high school, Dorsey became a member of the Save Darfur Coalition, a group working toward stopping the genocide in that region of western Sudan. The summer before his freshmen year of college, he traveled to South Africa on a mission trip. He is also a member of the Blood:Water Mission, promoting clean blood and water efforts in Africa to reduce the spread of AIDS/HIV. At MU, where he studied peace studies and philosophy for two years before leaving in May, Dorsey was the divestment coordinator in STAND, a student anti-genocide coalition.

Dorsey originally planned to go to Darfur. When he wasn’t able to make that trip, he teamed up with Global Volunteer Network, which sent him to Kenya. The eastern Africa nation is known as a tourist destination because of its abundant wildlife safaris, white sandy beaches off the Indian Ocean, unique shopping and five-star accommodations.

However, for the native Kenyan, life is far from a vacation. According to the CIA World FactBook, life expectancy is 55 years; 1.2 million people live with AIDS; the unemployment rate is at 40 percent; and 50 percent of Kenyans live below the poverty line. reported in July that rape cases were up 50 percent over the past five years and that 112 people were killed in gang-related violence and police shootings in June, which it cited as one of the most violent months in Kenya’s recent history.

Dorsey said he was most amazed by the high spirits of the Kenyan people despite their living conditions.

“Poverty does not equal unhappiness,” he said. “These people know nothing but their struggle, but in struggle God shows up. When I got there, I found myself being changed more than I was changing the people there. They have so much to teach us.”

Ellis Ingram, associate professor in the department of pathology and anatomical science in MU’s School of Medicine, is Dorsey’s mentor. Ingram encouraged him to keep a journal of his experiences in Kenya and is one of the people to whom Dorsey dedicated the book.

“If I ever get to be old, I want to be like him,” Dorsey said. “He has a heart for people, a heart for children and a heart for those that have been ignored by society.”

Dorsey plans to live at The Revolution church in Kansas City beginning in the fall while working part time to raise money to return to Kenya next summer.

“I’ve been a dreamer of a better world for a long time,” Dorsey said. “Not only is it possible, but it is real. I want to be a part of it.”

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