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Teacher Newsmagazine  Volume 22, Number 1, September 2009 

Grandmothers to grandmothers

By Ariel Eastman

Stephen Lewis Foundation

African grandmothers have become the heart of the response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. As the guardians of children who represent the future and hope of Africa, it is clear that special intervention is needed on their behalf.

The Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign does just that by supporting grandmothers in sub-Saharan Africa who are raising millions of children orphaned by AIDS. As recent studies show in Africa and in British Columbia, children living with their grandparents fare better in school than those living with other relatives or foster parents.

I became involved with the Grandmothers Campaign because I, too, am raising my three-year-old grandson and I am well aware of the day-to-day care of a little child along with a full-time teaching career. I think of the African grannies every time I give him a bath and realize how easy it is to simply turn on the tap and get fresh clean water. I think how easy it is to cook food at the touch of a button. When I had to take him to a hospital at 11:30 one night last summer, I thought how accessible help is to me and what it must be like for African grandmothers to watch helplessly as their children and grandchildren suffer before their eyes.

Here, a growing number of grandparents are raising their grandchildren. According to the Canada Census 2001, of the 8,780 children in British Columbia being raised by grandparents, two-thirds were women and 46% were retired. My husband and I have joined a local Grandparents Raising Grandparents support group and are amazed at the personal stories that speak of courage, commitment, and love. As a group, we are finding our collective voice and are advocating for increased awareness of our challenges and the resources available, including financial support. The orphans in Africa will lead the continent out of the AIDS pandemic. Support for the grandmothers caring for them is a responsibility I cannot ignore.

When Stephen Lewis, humanitarian and former United Nations Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS, spoke at the University of the Fraser Valley on International Women’s Day (March 8, 2008), my grandmothers’ group, the Abbotsford Area Gogos, was born. We belong to a regional network of grandmother and grand“other” groups in Southwestern BC who operate under an umbrella called Greater Van Gogos (gogo is the Zulu word for grandmother). BC boasts 52 grandmother groups and many of us are teachers or retired teachers and principals who have a wealth of experience to add to our commitment to our African sisters.

Stephen Lewis established the foundation that bears his name in 2003. In 2006, on the eve of International Women’s Day, he challenged Canadian grandmothers to bond with their African sisters. Later that year, the SLF brought together 100 African grandmothers and 200 Canadian grandmothers in Toronto. At the end of their three-day gathering, the African grandmothers promised, “We will not raise our children for the grave,” and the Canadian grandmothers promised, “We will not rest until they rest.” In just over three years, we have more than 200 grandmother groups across Canada representing well over 5,000 individuals. Our mission is threefold: fundraising, awareness (education), and advocacy. The Grandmothers Campaign has raised more than $6 million and has become an important component of the SLF’s fundraising efforts.

What’s different about this campaign is that the SLF singles out grandmothers in Africa as having special needs. I am impressed by the way the African projects build community at a grassroots level. The projects provide grandmothers with counseling, school fees, and uniforms for their grandchildren, and support for income-generating programs such as sewing and other crafts community gardens.

Our advocacy efforts resulted in a 32,000-signature petition, presented to Parliament in March of this year, asking the government to keep its promises on foreign aid, contributing our fair share of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria, and to speed the delivery of generic drugs to Africa. This fall, we will turn our advocacy efforts to the Millenium Development Goal No. 2—free, universal primary (up to Grade 8) education for boys and girls throughout the world.

Many BC grandmother groups are already working closely with teachers and school administrators providing speakers and fundraising ideas to staff, parents, and students. Several retired educators, within Greater Van Gogos, have formed a Schools Working Group and are developing programs appropriate for all grade levels that will engage teachers and students in supporting the inspiring work of the Stephen Lewis Foundation. While the gogos prefer to present at school assemblies, they will tailor programs for interested classroom teachers, if time permits. In the Vancouver area, contact Ann Marrs at welisagogos@gmail.com. For more information go to stephenlewisfoundation.org and if you’d like to hold a fundraiser in your school, e-mail community@stephenlewisfoundation.org. To find a grandmothers group in your area, go to www.grandmotherscampaign.org and click on “group profiles.”

Ariel Eastman teaches at Sardis Secondary School, Chilliwack. ariel_eastman@sd.33.net.

Dare to Dine

In October, Stephen Lewis is challenging Canadians to partici‚pate in A Dare to Remember: Ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

The idea for this nation-wide fundraising week was inspired by African communities where every single day, ordinary peopleógrandmothers, children, womenóare forced by the AIDS pandemic to go above and beyond what they thought was humanly possible.

During the week of October 17ñ25, 2009, thousands of Canadians will choose a memorable dareósomething funny, healthy, kind, sporty, anything at allóset a personal fundraising goal, and ask their friends, family, and colleagues to sponsor them. All proceeds will go to the Stephen Lewis Foundation to support community-based organizations that are turning the tide of AIDS in Africa.

As part of the SLFís Grand‚mothers to Grandmothers Campaign, Canadian grandmothers are taking on A Dare to Remember by holding 1,000 dinners during this week. Called ìDare to Dineî dinner hosts will collect donations from their guests and the money raised will be allocated to the courageous and resilient grandmothers of Africa. For more information on this initiative, go to www.stephenlewisfoundation.org.