Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign

December 20, 2010

African Grandmother

© Ricki Horowitz / Stephen Lewis Foundation

By Jeanie Keogh

One of the best things about being a grandparent is the ability to spoil your grand kids and then send them back to their parents. But if you are a grandmother in Africa you may be struggling to provide the basic necessities for your orphaned grand kids. The Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign raises money and awareness  for African grandmothers bringing grandchildren whose parents died of the AIDS pandemic. Grandmothers are given financial support for food, transportation, medical care and school fees.

In a humanitarian mission that has been instrumental in raising nearly six million dollars for AIDS-affected sub-Saharan Africans, grandmothers are mobilizing to make a difference through their support of the Stephen Lewis Foundation that has provided financial relief to grassroots organizations in 15 African countries since 2006.

African grandmothers who, after caring for too many orphaned children, said “We will no longer raise our grandchildren for the grave.” Canadian grandmothers responded, saying, “We will not rest until you can rest,” said Director of External Relations Alexis MacDonald for the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

What resulted was the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign that began as five or six Canadian grandmother groups in 2006 and has since spread to 240 groups today, with more than 20 in Southwestern British Columbia.

Co-chair of the Greater Vancouver Gogos – the Zulu word for grandmother – Nina Matthews is a South African grandmother who cares deeply about the people and issues in the country. The campaign is a chance for both cultures to use their combined wisdom and draw on the respect they have earned from society to bring attention to a worthwhile cause.

“Grandmothers are the ones who have nurtured through life, they’ve nurtured their children, they’ve nurtured their grandchildren. They have an affinity and an empathy for other people and so I think the natural resonance in both cultures is very tangible,” Matthews said.

On November 5, the cross-country AfriGrand Caravan tour that started in Newfoundland just after Labour Day, stopped in Vancouver.

With them is fifty-six-year-old African grandmother Tsabile Victoria Simelane, who looks after 30 orphans, six grandchildren, two of whom are HIV positive in her community that suffers from a 98 per cent unemployment rate. For years she has taken care of people as a promise to family members dying of AIDS. As the chairperson of her community HIV/AIDS support group, Tsabile conducts home visits to terminally ill clients.

Last spring, forty grandmothers, or gogos, were selected to represent Canada at a conference in Swaziland along with 200 grandmother delegates from Africa.

“Stephen Lewis often talks about how the grandmothers are holding the fabric of society together and grandmothers here have found a resonance to that and so they could imagine what it would be like to have to raise their orphan grandchildren and I think there is a natural affinity to band together and to use the resources they have. Many of them have retired and so have some more time on their hands and are then able to use the connections they have built up over their life to come together and work for something that is going to make a difference,” Matthews said.

To learn more about how you can get involved in the campaign visit Grandmothers Campaign Website.

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