Highland Park student’s humanitarian mission endures
Highland Park 17-year-old Sophie Nathan visited Rwanda last summer to volunteer at the HIV and AIDS clinic that she helped raise money to build. She also visited a nearby children's orphanage to meet children born with the disease. | Photos courtesy Sophie Nathan
Updated: June 18, 2012 8:45AM
Sophie Nathan was only 12 years old when she learned that she could make a world of difference.
Her Bat Mitzvah was rapidly approaching when the daughter of her teacher at Solomon Schechter Day School came to class one day. The classroom guest was a member of the Peace Corps, who had carried the mission of helping children with HIV and AIDS in Africa.
The stories stuck with Nathan.
Wanting to do more, she convinced her parents to take her to Cook County Hospital to meet a doctor who was spearheading a project to stem the spread of the disease in Rwanda post-genocide. Nathan learned that money was needed to build a treatment clinic in Kigali.
Even more inspired, Nathan turned the cause into the centerpiece of her Bat Mitzvah. Instead of receiving gifts, Nathan’s invitations solicited donations. With a matching donation from her parents, Nathan raised enough money to help finance the clinic.
That was five years ago. Now a 17-year-old junior at Highland Park High School, Nathan’s contributions and connection to those children in Rwanda have grown even stronger.
While working at Just 4 Kids clothing store in downtown Highland Park, Nathan organized a clothing drive to deliver much-needed outfits to her friends in Rwanda.
Nathan’s most recent effort — she gave up birthday presents to raise money this time — was the purchase of 80 wristwatches so the kids would know exactly when to take their medicine. She explained that the medicine is most effective when taken exactly 12 hours apart.
“When I started this, I didn’t think it would go this far, but I’m so happy it did,” Nathan said. “I am very fortunate that I’m able to do this and help kids my age who are suffering.
“It makes me smile because I’ve made other people smile.”
Nathan saw the smiles up close last summer when she visited and volunteered at the clinic in Rwanda. She also spent time at a nearby children’s orphanage.
Having a 3-year-old boy reaching out to hold her hand — he was born with HIV — is a memory she will never forget.
“It’s sad to see their situation,” Nathan said. “They are innocent kids.
“It’s changed my life forever,” she continued. “I have everything I need. I want someone across the world to be happy, too. I’m fortunate to have been able to give as much as I have to make them happy.”
Nathan will be taking her humanitarian nature to India for two weeks this summer to help build a school through the Road Less Traveled program. She is thinking about entering the Peace Corps after high school, but in any case she plans to continue visiting her young friends in Rwanda.
Said Nathan: “I know I will always stay involved with the clinic.”