Cherry Hill resident Patricia Bulicki was introduced to 25 year-old Nigerian Daniel Atamu by her cousin, via the word game Scrabble in 2021.
The two quickly became friends, and the 69-year-old Bulicki continued to speak with Atamu through the video app Marco Polo and WhatsApp. When he expressed interest in pursuing further education, she and a cousin decided to help him pursue a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.
“My cousin and I just thought it would be a good thing,” Bulicki said. “School wasn’t that expensive; it was like $1,500 per year, and then we were sending him and (his friend) God Bless money for food with that.”
Though her family had some concerns Bulicki might be scammed, she continued to send aid and helped realize Atamu’s dream of starting an orphanage in his country.
“There are scammers everywhere,” Atamu said. ” … Just the one percent of benefit of the doubt could change the lives for a lot of people, just like the kids of the orphanage.”
Bulicki helped Atamu purchase land for the orphanage in September, and construction started a week later. Though she had helped feed the homeless, sponsored kids from third-world countries and took in troubled youth while raising her family, the orphanage was beyond anything Bulicki had done before.
Last month, she spent 10 days with Atamu and helped him paint the orphanage.
“Before I got involved with this, I was kind of just living my life,” Bulicki recalled. “I didn’t have any real purpose … Now, I feel like I have a purpose, a major purpose that can go on long after I’m gone.
“It impacted my life quite a bit.”
Atamu had always wanted to help people in Nigeria. He was privileged to be educated in both the north and south of the country because his father served in the military. When he retired, the family moved back to his hometown in Delta State.
Atamu recognized the value of education, and he wants the orphanage to double as an elementary school.
“A lot of people want to get an education or a better opportunity for themselves, but some of these people don’t have parents or someone who could guide them and lead them to make these decisions to make them productive as human beings,” he noted.
In Atamu’s Nigerian state, shifting administrations have led to inconsistent education policies.
“Education has not been stable, and most of it has been a bit expensive for the common Nigerian to afford,” he explained. “That’s why some people find it hard going further with school.”
In addition to a government job, Atamu has worked as a teacher and hopes to continue improving peoples’ lives through learning. The orphanage, called Open Heart Children’s Home, is finished and functional and will house five to six boys ages from infancy to age 16 once documentation is complete.
“I really thought this is something I would be doing in the last years or decades of my life, but praying and having this come to reality sooner than I expected, that’s a miracle to me,” Atamu said.
“It’s an inspiration,” he added. “Just because you have something to offer to the world and you don’t have the resources to do it, doesn’t mean it’s not going to come.”
This article was updated June 6 to correct that school costed $1,500 per year, not $15,000.