In Ethiopia, parents of an estimated 1.2 million children have died from AIDS in recent years. Many times, extended families of the children refuse to take them in, worried that they, too, might become infected. Often those children end up in the capital, Addis Ababa, running between moving cars to beg for money or shining shoes.
Woinshet Mashrusha, founder of the group Hope for Children, has great snapshots of children having parties, children dressed up in fancy clothes, children with their mothers, children mugging for the camera with big, toothy smiles. But her album is also a chronicle of death. One picture is of a little boy sitting next to his pretty, young mother. The mom died, she says. Flip the page and it's a little girl celebrating her seventh birthday. She did not live to see her eighth.
She says, "I started with one woman, an HIV positive woman, and I worked a lot on her, and she is a great support now. She went to the extent of exposing herself in front of the community and to advocate for the children and for the persons living with HIV and asking the community: Why are you stigmatizing us, what's wrong with us? What about the other people who are not tested and do not know about their blood status living with you, and you are not stigmatizing them? They are eating with you, sleeping with you and you are not stigmatizing them, but you are stigmatizing us."
Ms. Mashrusha works with 20 HIV-positive children - including five orphan boys - and 35 HIV-positive mothers that she takes care of in a home. She asks businesses and community leaders to contribute just 1 birr per month to her cause, the Ethiopian equivalent of a dime. Often, volunteers come to help or give money, clothes and toys. It only takes about 30 cents a day to take care of one of the children for a year. Many families in Ethiopia live on the equivalent of one dollar per day.
She says, "If everyone gives 1 birr, it is twice or three ways bigger than what we are getting from abroad with regard to AIDS, funding with regards to AIDS, so encouraging these people side by side with the other funding will make much difference you know. Many people are getting infected in Africa and around the world. We need to encourage everyone to get involved, especially in a country like Ethiopia. If everyone gets involved in paying 1 birr monthly, he reminds himself about AIDS."
Eight-year-old Sintayehu wants to be a pilot. Mituku, 11, wants to be a doctor and find a cure for AIDS. The boys all play together happily at the home Ms. Mashrusha provides for them. Other orphans have been placed with adoptive families.
Sintayehu says, "I lost my parents due to HIV AIDS and when I grow up I want to be a doctor. I want to find medicine for HIV AIDS I want to be a researcher, I want to be a doctor. But I don't know who is going to support me, to make my vision realizable, but I want to help out."
But no matter how much hope they now have for their future, the boys still long to be with their families. One tells about how he brought his father to the hospital in Addis Ababa, where his father died. His eyes fill with tears as he says he was not allowed to see his father after that.
Abyout sings a song about life in Mercato, the village where he was born. If he could just go back, he believes he would be happy again.
Woinshet Mashrusha says, "No matter how much money you have for the children, it doesn’t matter when they lost their parents, you know, it’s good to keep their parents alive rather than putting them with a wealthy family or a big house which they haven’t lived in. They want their parents, you know? You know the song he has sung for you, he wants to go back to his village; he misses his house. He imagines how he would be happy if he could go back to his house and find everything as it has been."
To find out more about Ms. Mashrusha's program, you can contact her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org