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Movement powered by love

Salmon Arm Observer, October 25, 2017. Barb Brouwer

Members of the local branch of Grandmothers For Grandmothers are excited to be meeting one of the many African women who have received assistance from the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

By the time the AIDS pandemic in Africa had reached its height in the early 2000s, millions of children had been orphaned. In the face of overwhelming loss, the grandmothers of Africa stepped in to hold families and communities together.

Moved by the power of their own love, five Salmon Arm women answered Stephen Lewis’ call to help by forming the Salmon Arm branch of Grandmothers to Grandmothers in 2006.

The late Bernadette Forer, Emily Goddard and Edna MacQuarrie and continuing members Claudette Coté and Frances Kostiuk put out a call of their own and while the number of members fluctuates, there are currently approximately 25 grandmothers, who help raise about $10,000 for the foundation every year.

Now Joanna Henry and photographer Alexis MacDonald, with Ilana Landsberg-Lewis, have documented this story by visiting eight African countries to interview and photograph hundreds of grandmothers (including Sarah Obama, Barack Obama’s grandmother) who have reclaimed hope and resurrected lives. Several years after they stepped in to save their communities, these indomitable grandmothers have now created a social movement focused on empowering women and children.

This fall, the publication of Powered by Love by Goose Lane Editions captures the story and will be marked by more than 40 different events throughout Canada, organized by Canadian grandmothers’ groups and featuring the participation of many of their African sisters.

“We thought we knew what was happening in Africa when the AIDS pandemic raged across the continent, sweeping away 35 million lives. But we never knew it the way this book reveals it, in the shockingly intimate voices of the grandmothers who had to rescue their orphaned grandchildren when no one else was left alive,” writes editor Michele Landsberg. “These voices will leap straight into your heart. Their unguarded faces, in portraits that glow with character, pain and humour, will captivate you.”

In 2006, the Stephen Lewis Foundation launched a campaign to engage Canadian grandmothers to support their African sisters.

The foundation works with community level organizations, providing care and support to women, orphaned children, grandmothers and people living with HIV and AIDS in Africa.

The Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign is now a movement 10,000 strong that stretches around the globe. Ten years later, it has raised over $25 million that has gone directly into the hands of African grandmothers and their grassroots organizations working at the front lines of the AIDS pandemic. Powered by Love tells the story of these indomitable women and the social movement they created.

Members of the Salmon Arm branch knit, crochet and quilt items that are sold in the Mall at Piccadilly on the first Friday of the month, host a special Christmas sale and a large fundraising garage sale in the summer.

Organizer Marge Kuwica says this is the first time the local grandmothers will have one of the African grandmothers visit Salmon Arm.

To meet Ethiopian grandmother Etabezahu and learn about the book and the Grandmothers to Grandmothers movement come to the Salmon Arm Library on Oct. 30 at 1 p.m. at and at 7 p.m. in Room 130 at Okanagan College.

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