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From the mouth of a solo mum (22 Jan 2015)

The truth behind the smiles

What is life really like for Ethiopia’s poorest?

It’s a Saturday, the children are not in school but with Dr. Ann-Marie and dentist 

Emmanuelle Lerat visiting from Dubai, Raey’s doors are open. A group of sick guardians 

seeking treatment quietly form an orderly line in the shade. Some cough, others nurse 

aching ears, cramping stomachs or a throbbing tooth while watching a handful of 

children play.

Rediet (her name has been changed as a mark of respect) is dressed in a ragged, once-

cream sweater with frayed sleeves. A brown scarf ties back her hair accentuating a 

faintly tattooed jawline. She blinks often, her eyes swollen, red and puffy from an 

obvious infection. In one hand she clutches a newly donated t-shirt, in the other a tiny 


She gracefully enters the makeshift doctor’s room and through Abey’s interpretation we 

learn of her daily suffering. At an almost whisper she explains that her husband is dying 

of AIDs. She too is an HIV carrier, as is her youngest of three, the tiny child who stares at 

us through chocolate-coloured eyes. Raey accepted her middle child, a five-year-old 

daughter, just last September. Before that, she says, her suffering was almost too much 

to bear. As her eyes are treated and medicine is administered her tears begin to fall. 

Through her sobs she says that if it weren’t for Raey, her entire family would still be 

living on the streets in the crushing poverty. She describes the stigma of HIV, how it is 

feared and misunderstood within the community, how she hesitates to confess she is a 

carrier for fear of being outcast. She explains that many with symptoms choose not be 

tested or simply deny it if they are positive. 

In Ethiopia HIV is still a death sentence. Rediet has seen many become sick and 

eventually die lonely and afraid. But fear is not why she cries. Her appreciation for Raey 

is simply overwhelming. Now, thanks to Raey, her small family has access to food and 

medical treatment. Her daughter is receiving the education she could only dream of. Her 

tears are not because she is suffering, they are because she doesn’t know how to say 

thank you. Although Rediet finds it difficult to smile, her child does not. She lets go of 

her mother’s hands and happily joins the other children on the swings. As she joins her 

mother her smile is one of true emotion. Like the other children of Raey her smile is a 

celebration of hope, innocence and the beauty of not knowing judgment.