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Grandmothers going the distance

By Sheryl Dubois Bedford Sackville Observer

Around the table are members of the Bedford Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign (G2G) group meeting at Scott Manor House. From left: Corinne MacDonald, Julie Irwin, Joan Johnston, Brideen Morgan, Penny St-Amand, Barbara Haysom and Diana Haydon with Marilyn Sceles and Barb Macey standing. (Sheryl Dubois)

“Some people think HIV-AIDS has disappeared; it is not the case,” says Marilyn Sceles, speaking specifically about sub-Saharan Africa. “It’s not going to be eradicated in one generation.”

Sceles is referring to the millions of Africans — fatalities of HIV-AIDS — who left a generation of grandmothers to care for their orphaned grandchildren. There are millions of these children, according to Sceles, and many are also carrying the disease.

“You can’t stop thinking about how the grandmothers have managed to overcome such tragedy because you can imagine [the women in Africa] thought their children would be supporting them as they got older,” says Sceles, but it did not turn out that way. Instead, “they are parents again … and with such barriers to raising these grandchildren — food insecurity, poor housing and their grief,” adds Sceles, noting often a grandmother is caring for grandnieces, grandnephews and children unrelated to them, all orphaned as the result of HIV-AIDS.

Sceles is a Bedford resident now retired and is an avid volunteer and member of the Bedford contingent of Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign (or G2G as it is commonly known).

G2G is part of the Stephen Lewis Foundation. Lewis, once a politician and diplomat, founded the Stephen Lewis Foundation and since 2003, “… works with community-level organizations which are turning the tide of HIV & AIDS in Africa …” notes the website, stephenlewisfoundation.org. The foundation launched G2G in 2006 “… in response to the emerging crisis faced by African grandmothers as they struggled to care for millions of children orphaned by AIDS,” according to the G2G website, grandmotherscampaign.org. The funding creates opportunities for grandmothers in Africa to gather and discuss, supports self-employment initiatives and provides educational supplies, medical needs, housing, bedding, HIV-AIDS counselling, support groups and more.

Sceles says of the Bedford group, “mainly we have teas and lunches … and we are very lucky that the Bedford Players [theatre group] donates tickets to us, which we can sell.”

Sceles outlined several reasons she stays with G2G as a volunteer, including having “a sense of satisfaction knowing you are contributing in some way to an international cause.” The Stephen Lewis Foundation also incurs limited administrative costs with the “funding going directly to the project it is earmarked for.”

Moreover, Sceles applauds the way the foundation looks at success by incorporating measures of “social, psychological and emotional” progress. They ask questions such as the following: Are grandmothers dealing with their grief better? Are they expressing their thoughts and emotions more freely? Are they starting to dream and plan again? Are they smiling or laughing?

The G2G groups are open to “grandothers,” says Sceles. “Grandothers are people that do not have grandchildren,” but believe in the purpose of the organization.

Sceles notes the group in the St. Margarets Bay area was one of the first G2G groups in the Atlantic provinces and that other groups throughout HRM work extremely hard to raise funds. Bear River, Bedford, Dartmouth, Fall River, Halifax, Head of Jeddore, Lunenberg, Sackville, Upper Tantallon and Wolfville all have G2G groups and are looking for new members.

“The important thing,” Sceles says, “is continual fundraising ….” Sceles says that along with helping grandmothers meet basic needs, the program empowers the grandmothers to be active in other areas, such as organizing in preparation of voicing their needs to their governments.

G2G groups from HRM down to Lunenburg will get together to have one huge fabric and yarn sale in April 2019. 

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