Smile Africa started as a family compassion in Tororo, Uganda in 1996. During this time, there was a lot of scare about HIV/AIDS and many people lacked knowledge on how it was contracted and transmitted. It was common to not shake hands with others or even sit in a chair offered to you. Any home that occupied an ill person was considered a “no-go” area. It was at this time, Pastor Ruth Kahawa, felt compelled to visit those infected with HIV/AIDS. Pastor Ruth felt God was using her to show the unconditional love of Jesus to these neglected and marginalized people. She started to visit the “no-go” homes and found the ill people all alone. She began to note their greatest needs and share with them from what she had at home- a piece of soap, cup of sugar, blanket, food, or merely just offering them company with her presence.
People began to hear of the work Pastor Ruth was doing and they began to direct her to other homes with HIV/AIDS patients. Before long, it was apparent that God was birthing a ministry in her life. More and more people began showing up at her house for counseling and support. Pastor Ruth began attending training workshops to learn more about HIV/AIDS, and she started mobilizing the community for sensitization programs. Through this work, people began encouraging her to start an organization.
In 2004, Pastor Ruth registered Smile Africa as a community- based organization. She prayed God would give her a name that accurately described the organization He was leading her to do; every time she thought of it, a smile of joy was brought to her face and heart. She knew that through this organization, all of those people who would be reached would feel the love of Jesus and a smile of hope would remain with them.
Pastor Ruth rented an office in town and began empowering widows, abused women, and school drop outs. One thing led to another, and in 2006 Smile Africa moved its headquarters to a plot of land, where it currently stands today. The facility catered not only to widows, abused women, and school drop outs, but it also catered to the Karamojong community and street children.
In 2007, Smile Africa lost one of the Karamojong children that they had been assisting. This young girl was picking rotten food from the town rubbish and ended up consuming poisoned meat, which led to her death. After learning of this tragic news, Pastor Ruth was determined to start a program to keep these kids off the streets as long as possible. Up until this point, Pastor Ruth had been feeding a few of these children from her town office, but this incident compelled her to reach more of these children. This led to a feeding program, which caters to 300+ children daily, providing them with 2 meals each day. This program has enabled these children to stay away from the street life and receive warm, nutritious food each day. Furthermore, the headquarters has become a safe haven for these children. Beyond food, they are provided medication and nursing care from the on-site clinic; clothing provided by generous donors; shelter from the dangers of the streets; spiritual guidance from employees; and an opportunity for education with an on-site school.
Smile Africa soon began to receive appeals from the Probation and Police Family and Child Protection Unit of babies who had been abandoned in rubbish pits and in the bush, and of those who have been abused in various ways. This led to Smile Africa caring for these infants 24/7. This led to the opening of the Smile Africa Baby Home in 2014.
Smile Africa has been blessed to receive aid from various people, both local and international. This help has come in forms of prayer, supplies, financial donations, and volunteers that have assisted in the baby home, nursing clinic, school, and church services. Through this aid, Smile Africa presently caters to abandoned and abused babies, street children, widows, elderly, and disabled people in their various locations. Smile Africa strives to respond to situations as needs arise and as God provides.