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Hamilton’s Grandmothers of Steel keep fighting for their African sisters

Published September 4th, 2019. Written by Grandmothers Campaign group member Anna Schäfer. Read the original story here.

“In the early days of the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmother to Grandmother campaign, some local women travelled to South Africa to meet with grandmothers there. The African women had lost children to AIDS and now had to care for their orphaned grandchildren.

To cope, they had begun to form support groups. One of the grandmothers introduced her group with the words, “For this job, you have to be made of steel.”

Back in Hamilton, the Steel City, we couldn’t think of a more fitting name for our own group, and so became the Grandmothers of Steel.

We try to increase awareness of the ongoing AIDS crisis in Africa and to support our African sisters as they grow food, educate children and adults, and provide health care and drugs. We also help them deal with their local governments, to ensure their rights and needs are not ignored.

Our biggest inspiration has always been their courage, their belief, and that in spite of grief, sickness and death, there will be a future for their grandchildren. In one grandmother’s words:

“Listen, Granddaughter, when your Mama died, I wanted to die too — just lie down and die. And then I saw you and the other children, and I knew I must not die. We must help the children to sing and play again, to read and write and count. We must not think of death, but of life.”

Words like these have sustained us and still do. We have held many fundraisers, African-style dinners, markets, auctions, speakers, walks, films, art exhibitions and more. We have helped build schools, clinics, farms and small businesses. There has been much progress. Between 2005 and 2012, the annual global deaths from HIV-AIDS dropped to 1.6 million, from 2.2 million.

However, in the past few years, new problems have arisen. In much of the world, AIDS has become a chronic condition that can be managed with drugs, changes in lifestyle, etc., but new pandemics, like the Ebola virus, threaten. With AIDS getting less attention, it’s actually grown in strength again.

There’s an especially large increase in girls and women infected. On the other hand, the number of grandmother groups, many of their members and their grandchildren living with AIDS themselves, is also growing rapidly. Compassion, courage and love can replace shame and stigmatization. 

We are determined to walk with our African sisters and not rest until they can rest. We believe that strong grandmothers raise strong grandchildren and build strong communities.”

— Anna Schäfer is a retired teacher living in Dundas and a member of Grandmothers of Steel (Stephen Lewis Foundation).

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