Update on Dunia’s Progress – What’s Next?

Dunia's BirthdayI’m happy to report that Dunia has recovered from his previous two surgeries and is enjoying the summer. He celebrated his 9th birthday last month!

Dunia will have another procedure at Stony Brook Hospital in early September to improve the symmetry of his mouth and that will conclude the first phase of his surgical treatment plan. Dr. Alexander Dagum and the Stony Brook Hospital medical team have done a phenomenal job creating upper and lower lips from tissue taken from Dunia’s forearm. (Read CNN article)

Our original plan was to return him to a private boarding school in the Congo this fall, where he would be in a safe environment and could focus on his education. The Smile Rescue Fund would fund his room, board and education. However, current conditions appear unsafe for his return this fall as planned (Read Human Rights Watch) to learn more.

Although there is a school in neighboring Rwanda that appears well suited, he’s not yet performing at his target grade level, a requirement for enrollment. (Due to his appearance after the chimpanzee attack, Dunia never attended school until arriving here in the U.S.). But he’s getting there! Dunia’s teacher, Mrs. Tamara West, his classmates, the entire Pines Elementary School staff and administration have taught Dunia to speak fluent English, among other skills, and embraced and cared for him with love and respect.

After much consideration, we’ve decided that the best course of action is for Dunia to remain in the U.S. for now. He will stay with his guardian family in Brooklyn, and enroll in another year of school. He is very comfortable with the family and we anticipate an easy adjustment. It is our hope that he will catch up to his peers by the end of the school year, allowing him to enroll in the boarding school in Rwanda shortly thereafter, so he can be closer to his father.

In the meantime, Dr. Dagum will continue to monitor Dunia’s surgical progress at Stony Brook Medical. To take advantage of his extended stay, additional surgical procedures to improve function and esthetics are now in the planning stages.

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the outstanding efforts of Jennifer Crean (SRFK Director and host mom to Dunia), her fiancé Kevin, her children, Collin, Eian and Grace, and his children (her stepchildren) Connor, Brianna and Kiersten. They befriended him, nurtured him and most importantly unconditionally loved him as they welcomed him into their home. They have restored his self-image and have given him confidence.

The efforts of all our SRFK volunteers are instrumental. From hospital visits to weekend hosting to summer excursions, our volunteer community has gone above and beyond to ensure Dunia’s journey is a positive one. Your time, dedication, positivity, and love are what drives this organization.

At this time, we need to establish a SRFK fundraising committee to help us raise money necessary for Dunia’s continued education. If you would like to volunteer to help, please send me an email: leon@smilerescuefund.org. Fundraising experience would be helpful but a desire to make a contribution of your valuable time and make a difference is much more significant. Of course, direct contributions are always welcome on our secure Smile Rescue Fund PayPal website link.

I started the Smile Rescue Fund for Kids in order to help children with severe facial deformities. Unlike most other charities, we have a very holistic approach which goes well beyond improving their facial appearance. Our not-for-profit goal is to help these children integrate back into society and lead a productive life. Our motto “every child deserves a chance” is more than a marketing tagline.

Many thanks, as always, to everyone that’s helping us give Dunia a chance.  As always, I welcome your suggestions, thoughts or comments below.

Leon

1 reply
  1. Donnalee
    Donnalee says:

    I love this story Leon. Such phenomenal, amazing results in so many aspects that you and everyone else has contributed toward Dunias care. Saline as well. Donnalee

    Reply

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