Right in the heart of the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa is a small orphanage called 'Little Heaven'. One of the orphans, Lydia, is 13 today. A truly joyful event, because she can now move to the ‘other house‘ where all of the ‘big kids’ live. Unfortunately this special day is overshadowed by the shocking news delivered to her by the head nurse: Lydia is HIV positive.
The children living in the Ethiopian orphanage 'Little Heaven' are told that they have HIV on the day of their 13th birthday.
For the main character Lydia, this is without a doubt one of the most emotional events in her life, and with difficulty she can now understand why she is an orphan, and why she is so often ill and in hospital. More significantly she can now understand why the husband of her sister Betty didn’t want to have Lydia in their home any longer.
In spite of this sad news, Lydia has no intention of sitting at home being depressed. She wants to live, and to dream. This is why as soon as she arrives into the room of the new orphanage, she hangs her motto above her bed: “I want to be happy every day”.
The other children in the new orphanage do all they can to support Lydia. At first glance, they look like any normal group of young children: they go to school, they play together in the courtyard of the orphanage, and they have fun laughing on their bunk beds.
The children in the orphanage live as independently as they can. Apart from taking their daily dose of medication they try as much as possible to exclude the burden of illness from their daily lives. However, Lydia suffers quite a lot with her own health and is continually confronted with her illness during frequent hospital visits. "I sometimes feel like a chemist shop with all the medication I have to take,” she sighs. Lydia’s illness also prevents her from doing what she absolutely adores the most but no longer has the strength for, which is dancing.
The children in the orphanage receive news that the students with the best results can go to a better school in the coming year. This news encourages Lydia to persevere with her illness, and towards her dream to become a teacher later on in life, and she is now more determined than ever before to make this dream come true.
The director, Lieven Corthouts, lived in the Little Heaven orphanage for two years and placed Lydia’s story at the heart of this documentary. The director follows Lydia, the main character with HIV in the lead-up to an important school exam. Will Lydia’s marks be high enough for her to get into a better school and create a light at the end of this tunnel of struggle and set-backs?
Lydia reveals to viewers how her life vacillates between hope and despair through fragments from her diary.
Little Heaven is a hard and confrontational story that never gives in to a sense of desperation thanks to the energy and vitality of the children and their caretakers in the orphanage.