Nine years ago a small group of Aurora/Newmarket/Oak Ridges Grandmothers and Grandothers formed a chapter of the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign.
Stephen Lewis calls this movement ‘the Grandmother phenomenon’ which has grown to more than 240 groups across Canada – hundreds and hundreds of Grans and friends of Grans with hundreds and hundreds of years of experience, wisdom and passion for grandchildren.
Combine us with our African Grandmother sisters in 15 sub-Saharan countries and a stunning brand new powerful social force is on the move.
When the movement began, the African grandmothers were isolated, stigmatized, mourning the loss of their adult children to AIDS and unprepared to parent their bereaved, impoverished, vulnerable and confused grandchildren.
We, Canadian Grans offered our voice to act as their ambassadors, telling their stories, pressuring governments to get much needed medicines to those in need and to raise funds to directly assist projects they, themselves initiate. They gratefully accepted our voices and our pledge ‘We will not rest till they can rest’
Funds from the Grandmothers Campaign go to African grassroots organizations working with grandmothers and the children in their care in partnership with the Stephen Lewis Foundation. The SLF collaborates with grassroots groups who support grandmothers’ immediate needs such as: nutritious food, health care, transportation, home visits, adequate housing and bedding, school fees, uniforms and supplies for orphans – and longer-term needs such as parenting and business skills, micro-credit grants, bereavement counseling, HIV awareness training, counseling and testing and grandmother support groups.
There is no exit strategy to rebuilding communities that have unraveled over 30 years of the pandemic.
But even though the infection rate has gone down, there were still 1.5 million new infections in Africa last year and 1 million deaths. Just last year!! Consider that the population of York Region has just edged over 1 000 000. That’s equivalent to the entire population of York Region dying in one year!
Some further perspectives:
34 000 000: Population of Canada
22 000 000: people now living with HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa (less than 40% are receiving essential antiretroviral drugs. Yet this is an improvement! We now know early treatment can almost wipe out mother to child transmission and greatly lessens the spread of the virus through sexual activity)
13 000 000: Population of Ontario
17 million: number of orphaned children in sub-Saharan Africa today
Sadly, 60%: ages 15 – 24 (overwhelmingly women)
The Grandmothers’ Campaign began with the tagline “Easing the Pain of AIDS in Africa”
- grans isolated, alone, grieving, frightened, ashamed, stigmatized, totally unprepared to raise confused grieving grandchildren, no support, often sick themselves with limited access to medications. Many became HIV+ themselves while caring for their dying adult children
- most projects were fairly individualized such as school uniforms, seeds for subsistence gardening, funeral expenses, water harvesting jars for individual homes
- After a few years these isolated grans began to find each other, to realize they were not alone, to break through the stigma that kept them voiceless. They began to form local support groups and requests became more group focused. Supplies for communal gardens, nutrition programs, community centers, student meal programs, home based care provisions. This new focus became “Turning the Tide of Aids in Africa”
- In 2010, a great gathering of African Grans from many African countries took place in Manzini Swaziland (a number of Canadian grans attended including our own Andrea) and they began to claim their power in their own countries and across countries.
- They, Africa’s indomitable grandmothers, are now lobbying their governments for pensions, health care for older women, land rights councils, universal schooling and end of high school fees, reform of ancient property inheritance and wife inheritance laws. (explain) They have begun to look outward and mobilize for their own and their grandchildren’s rights.
- This is a totally grassroots movement founded on the idea of community –based organizations led by the grandmothers themselves – those who know and understand that the entire community must engage in creating a network of care for these vulnerable orphans as they grow from babies to children to adolescents, all in desperate need of loving care and attention.
- All this has taken root in just 9 years and the incredible partnership with Canadian Grandmothers and Grandothers!
- How much money goes to Africa?
- 90% of every donation made to the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign will go to the grassroots organizations with whom we work. We work very hard to keep our administrative costs as low as possible.
See the 2015 letter from Stephen Lewis concerning administration costs.