Grandmothers to Grandmothers
Concerned local grandmothers make a difference for african orphans of AIDS
By Catherine Richards
Thirteen years ago, at the height of the AIDS epidemic in Africa, Stephen Lewis decided to do something. As the UN’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa from 2001 to 2006, he had seen firsthand the devastating effects of the disease that cut down so many young people in the prime of life. Mid-way through his mandate he founded the Stephen Lewis Foundation (SLF) to help people at the grassroots level.
He had also seen the plight of African grandmothers who were struggling to care for their grandchildren because the parents had died of AIDS. And so in 2006 he established the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign as part of the Foundation. The Campaign would enlist grandmothers in Canada to raise money in support of the grandmothers in Africa. Gradually the word spread. Grandmothers heard the news, and gathered friends in their living rooms or around kitchen tables to discuss what they could do to help. Dozens of groups, unknown to each other, sprang up in various towns and cities all around the country. There were large groups and small, but all had one goal: to raise funds for the struggling African grandmothers. Today there are 240 Grandmother groups across Canada, each with its own strategies for raising money in whatever way works for them. The ideas and events are as diverse as the members: craft shows, national walks, musical events, art exhibitions — the list goes on and on. Dollar by dollar the funds accumulate and multiply, with the proceeds being sent to the Foundation’s Toronto office for distribution in Africa.
Dozens of groups, unknown to each other, sprang up in various towns and cities all around the country. There were large groups and small, but all had one goal: to raise funds for the struggling African grandmothers.
The Foundation channels Campaign funds directly to, and works with, community-level organizations that are helping to combat the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa. The local groups support the grandmothers by providing food, adequate housing, transportation, medical care, and school tuition and uniforms for the children under their care. The Campaign also provides HIV awareness training, counselling and testing, skills workshops and micro-credit grants for the caregivers. Personnel from the Foundation work in the affected African countries to ensure that the funds are distributed directly to those in need.
African grandmothers, many of whom are HIV positive themselves, have become the mainstay of their communities. They had few resources, but stepped up to care for their grandchildren and many others left orphaned by the deaths of a whole generation of young people. They come together in groups, supporting each other in providing for the children in their care. Small loans from the SLF enable them to start small businesses, generating much-needed income and increasing their power and leverage to get the resources they need.
African grandmothers, many of whom are HIV positive themselves, have become the mainstay of their communities.
I belong to the West Hill Grandmothers, a group started in 2006 by Thérèse Lambert who was 84 at the time. She had a heart as big as all outdoors, and a spirit of determination to match. She had heard of Stephen Lewis initiative, decided to do something, and gathered a few friends in her West Hill apartment complex (hence the name) in NDG. They met once a month, sharing ideas on how to raise money and putting those ideas into action. At first, events were small such as card games and bake sakes. Gradually we expanded our horizons, held concerts and musical events and hosted an African Luncheon, researching authentic recipes, doing the cooking, and were delighted with the result. There were so many requests for recipes that we published a cookbook. Thérèse died in 2011, but we are keeping her vision alive. Our most ambitious undertaking was a Fashion Show in May 2015. It was also our most successful event to date, as so many people gave of their time and expertise to help ease the plight of African grandmothers.
If any of you are interested in joining our group we would be delighted to welcome you. We hold two major fundraising events a year, spring and fall. Call 514 484-9162 for information. It is not necessary to be a grandmother — some members are GrandOthers. We enjoy the camaraderie of planning and implementing creative ideas to raise money for a very worthwhile cause.
Proud grandmother Catherine Richards, grew up in Ottawa, moved to the Montreal area and raised a family. She earned a B.A. (Honours) as a mature student. She has worked as a professional writer in advertising, promotional and speech writing and in Communications for provincial politicians at Queen’s Park, Toronto. She now lives in NDG, participates in outdoor activities both summer and winter, and enjoys music, bridge and travel (and other fun stuff).