Capturing Compassion with Nurse Redeat Wondemu

Volunteer Story
Photo courtesy of Red Wondemu.
Photo courtesy of Red Wondemu.

Our promise of improving health and dignity during the COVID-19 pandemic endures. We're helping front-line health workers stay safe, nourished and empowered to better serve their patients by providing life-saving supplies and equipment, as well as remote training to bolster their response. We’re also providing nutritional assistance, hygiene kits and virtual health services to support people and their health needs so they can thrive. If you can, when you can, help us keep our promise to care for children and create hope for tomorrow.

Our nurses provide patients with their professional skills and personal touch.  

Redeat "Red" Wondemu started her journey with Operation Smile in 2010 as an interpreter in Ethiopia, where she was born. Two years later, she became a volunteer nurse and has served a vital role in changing lives ever since.

Red's first mission was a spontaneous decision to tag along with a friend to volunteer on a medical mission while she was visiting Ethiopia.

In Ethiopia, she was in awe when she saw people from countries around the world come together for a condition she never knew existed. This inspired her to become a member of our global family as a credentialed operating room (OR) nurse.

“That first mission was a total inspiration to becoming an OR nurse and led me to where I am now,” Red said.

Red speaking with the family of 15-month-old Yalfal during a 2019 Operation Smile medical mission in Jimma, Ethiopia. Photo: Jörgen Hildebrandt.
Red speaking with the family of 15-month-old Yalfal during a 2019 Operation Smile medical mission in Jimma, Ethiopia. Photo: Jörgen Hildebrandt.

She is currently an OR nurse at Sibley Memorial Hospital, providing health care to patients living in the Washington, D.C., area.

“The most rewarding part is that at the end of the day I can go to sleep knowing I was able to help someone and comfort them,” she said. “For Operation Smile, it’s not just about making them comfortable. You’re completely changing their life, the way they grow up and the way they're accepted in their community.”

For Red, being a part of Operation Smile goes beyond surgery. It’s a resolution for children born with cleft in low-resource countries to live happy and dignified lives. Volunteering her skills to be a part of this change is fulfilling for her.

“Whatever the role is, we do it with our whole heart,” Red said. “And I think that’s beautiful.”

Red playing with patients during a 2017 medical mission in Puebla, Mexico. Photo: Jasmin Shah.

In March of this year, Red was set to go on a mission to Ethiopia but had to cancel this trip due to the beginning of the pandemic. When we made the difficult decision to postpone or cancel many medical missions out of concern for our patient’s safety, Red found herself with ample time outside of the OR.  

She began to put effort into another line of work that she is equally passionate about. Before starting her job at Sibley Memorial Hospital in September of this year, Red was working as a full-time photographer, capturing beautiful moments during a time of great uncertainty and hardship.  

“For me, it was bittersweet,” Red said. “I wish I was with my friends working, but at the same time, I wasn’t needed as an OR nurse.”

Her friends from all around the world told her about the fear and panic the virus caused in hospitals during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. They reminded her that, despite surgeries being on hold, there were still many things left to tackle.  

Red saw this as an opportunity to be on the other side of the story. As a nurse, she often serves an active role in many people’s stories of recovery, but as a photographer, she has the opportunity to help tell the story.  

Red is drawn to photography because, as a nurse, she is a part of many emotional moments. These moments have shaped who she is today. Photography allows her to capture these moments, hold onto them and share them with others. 

Red shared a story where she found herself as both a photographer and a nurse.

During a trip to Ethiopia, her friend’s father became ill. She was helping her friend take care of him, but she was also asked to take a family portrait of them. Several hours after Red took their photo, her friend’s father passed.  

“That day really showed me how grateful I am for both things,” Red said, “To be able to capture those last moments with his family was as important as me being there as a nurse.” 

Whether she is photographing meaningful moments or helping surgeons in the OR, Red's passion lies within helping people.  

In the future, Red hopes to continue her missions with Operation Smile. That's why we celebrate the men and women who serve various nursing specialties. Our missions wouldn't be possible without their caregiving skills or their compassion. 

“I look forward to peace and prosperity in Ethiopia,” Red said. “But more specifically, I look forward to resuming Operation Smile missions in Jimma and, in the near future, seeing a cleft center that serves the children of Ethiopia.” 

Help us keep our promise to patients amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Your support today means we can continue to help them through these uncertain times and provide them with the surgery they deserve when it's safe to resume our work around the world.

Red with volunteer anesthesiologist Dr. Benjamin Moses during a medical mission in Jimma, Ethiopia. Photo: Jörgen Hildebrandt.
Red with volunteer anesthesiologist Dr. Benjamin Moses during a medical mission in Jimma, Ethiopia. Photo: Jörgen Hildebrandt.