Coast Reporter, November 2, 2017. Jan Degrass
The Sunshine Coast Grandmothers and Grand Others organization (SCG&GO) is truly a local grassroots group, though its origins are far away among the grandmothers of Africa.
By the time the AIDS pandemic in Africa had reached its height in the early 2000s, many adult parents had died from the terminal disease and millions of their children had been orphaned. In the face of overwhelming loss of their kids, the grandmothers of Africa stepped in to hold families and communities together – sometimes taking care of dozens of grandchildren growing up without their parents.
The repercussions were felt deeply by groups of concerned people, grandmothers and grandfathers included, across Canada and around the world who worked with the Stephen Lewis Foundation to raise money to help support African grannies with the basics they needed: food, housing and a chance for the children to go to school.
“This is unlike other aid projects,” said Julie Gleadow, chair of the local group. “It works with the community organizations in place in Africa and they’ve figured out what they need.”
Next week, the local Grandmothers and Grand Others will be hosting guest speakers and the launch of a book on the subject. For the first time, stories of the African grandmothers have been documented in a new book, Powered by Love: A Grandmothers’ Movement to End AIDS in Africa (Goose Lane Editions).
Starting in 2012, author Joanna Henry and photographer Alexis MacDonald visited eight African countries, interviewing and photographing hundreds of grandmothers, including Sarah Obama, Barack Obama’s grandmother. The book also includes interviews with other grandmothers’ movements in Canada.
“Reading this book has brought up some issues to my mind,” said Gleadow. “I realized that many of the women had to give up the jobs they were doing to take care of the children – get them to clinics and schools and nurse them. They were left with no resources.”
The stories are told honestly, Gleadow adds – the stigma of shame around the disease, sometimes no food and no time to tend a garden, the anger that must grow in women trying to feed and house the kids, and the sadness that children must feel not knowing why their parents were no longer there.
Powered by Love launches on Thursday, Nov. 9 at the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre in Sechelt at 7:30 p.m. Doors open at 7 p.m. Guest speakers will include, from Africa, Nompumelelo Glads Mayaba and Siseko Mkalipi, and from the Stephen Lewis Foundation, Ida Nambeya Mukuka and Olivia Penner. They will be joined by a local member of the SCG&GO, Gail Wilen, who has visited African grandmothers.
Tickets are $5 and are available at Swish, Laedeli, Ambrosia Organic Living and the Sechelt Visitor Centre. Books will be available for sale for $35 at this event courtesy of Talewind Books. All royalties from book sales will be directed to the Stephen Lewis Foundation to support organizations run by and for African grandmothers who are raising children orphaned by AIDS.
One of the questions that Gleadow is often asked: “Why are you doing this for people so far away?” The answer is clear: “Community is not just next door. Our community is around the world.”