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Keeping Dreams Alive

Fighting HIV/AIDS has been a heart-tugging calling for Ishaya David ’17 since he was a teenager in his native Nigeria. Today, the Quad Cities UnityPoint pharmacist continues his quest to improve the healthcare and well-being of African youth as president of the NGO Dreams Alive. But with more than 6,000 miles separating his career from his life’s passion, it’s a considerable challenge to manage both priorities.


David’s older brother founded Dreams Alive in 2006, when David was 15. He tagged along as his brother and his friends staged HIV/AIDS educational and support programs throughout Nigeria. David had no idea that all too soon he would assume his brother’s leadership role.

In 2012, David lost his brother to sickle cell anemia. In his grief, he knew it was up to him to keep Dreams Alive going.

He quickly assumed the role of Dreams Alive president. “I followed in his footsteps trying to maintain what he and his friends started. And then we added substance abuse education and helping addicts get connected with rehabilitation centers.”

UMC Leads David to Simpson

As David prepared to grow the impact of Dreams Alive, he was also focused on his own educational dreams. His journey to Simpson is largely due to the innovative efforts of United Methodist Church Bishop Julius Trimble and his former assistant the Rev. Bob Burkhart.

In 2008, Bishop Trimble and Rev. Burkhart created an arrangement to bring one new Nigerian student each year to Iowa’s United Methodist-affiliated colleges. The Iowa Conference provided financial support and its United Methodist partners in Nigeria were enthusiastically invested in securing students. Participating colleges covered most tuition expenses.

In 2013, David became the first Nigerian to attend Simpson College with a full-tuition scholarship to study biochemistry. The lifelong Nigerian Methodist felt especially blessed to receive such a God-sent opportunity.

“God has a plan for everything. It was just meant to be and exactly what I needed.”

At Simpson, David excelled academically and fully immersed himself in campus life. He was involved in student government all four years, including two years as Class president. Other highlights included participating in conferences sponsored by the United Methodist Church to empower and develop leaders.

“Those opportunities helped me develop my faith and learn more about my relationship with God. I learned what it means to think about your neighbor’s needs and to make sure you are fair and equitable to everyone.”

Beauty from Ashes

Great relationships formed at Simpson included meeting one of his best friends, Robert Lyons ’17. In partnership with a local rotary club chapter, David and Lyons led a fundraising effort that yielded $1,200 to purchase books for students in Africa. David had the thrill of presenting the books to schoolchildren when he went home for summer break in 2015.

Returning in the fall for his junior year, David eagerly anticipated more great things ahead. But just two months into the semester, he received a devastating birthday phone call with news that he had lost another brother — this time to a horrific murder.

David says the incredible outpouring of love in his time of need stands out among many Simpson experiences that fueled him forward.

“Simpson laid the foundation for everything. It helped me in the transition phase between who I was in Nigeria and who I am becoming here. From doing research with my professors to fully engaging in campus life, the opportunities I had at Simpson were transformational.”

David went on to earn his master’s in Public Health and a doctorate in pharmacy from the University of Iowa. Yet even while enjoying a thriving pharmaceutical career, his heart is always with Dreams Alive.

So Many Miles, So Many Rewards

Since coming to Iowa, he’s returned to Nigeria three times to lead a variety of projects, such as providing health education in schools, offering HIV test kits and counseling, and distributing condoms. Each time he goes back, David says he is re-energized.

He fondly recalls a woman from his parents’ home village in Filiya stopping him on the street to thank him for providing the type of education that has been missing for generations. “‘I’m so proud of you,’” she told me. “‘My son came home and was asking all these questions. I’ve always felt like my child is to the age where I should probably have the talk with them. But I never did. I never got the education (you’re providing) and neither did my grandparents.’”

Gaining support from doctors, local governments and teams of enthusiastic volunteers, David’s work has often involved making multiple trips from the heart of the city to remote rural villages. The experiences are exhausting yet exhilarating.

He hopes that one day he can turn his part-time passion into a full- time way of life. “I never get tired of doing it. I’ve found something I absolutely love doing and it’s making an impact.”