Stratford Beacon Herald. April 17, 2017. By Galen Simmons
A jar of old buttons, some extra yarn, or a swatch of leftover fabric.
Individually, these materials may not be of much use sitting on a shelf or stored in a sewing-table drawer, but together they represent a chance to raise both funds for and awareness of the plight of grandmothers across Africa who have been left on their own to raise nearly half of the 15 million children orphaned by the continent’s HIV and AIDS epidemic.
On April 29, in support of the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign, the Stonetown Grans will host its third biennial Threads of Hope Fabric, Yarn and Notions Fundraising Sale in the St. Marys United Church Hall from 9 a.m. to 1p.m.
Launched in 2006, the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign was a Canadian grassroots response to the emerging crisis faced by African grandmothers as they struggled to care for the millions of children orphaned by AIDS. Since AIDS first started to spread on the continent, grandmothers have had to take responsibility for these children by putting them through school, creating support groups to manage grief and by delivering comfort and hope through home-based care – often with no support, financial or otherwise, from their governments.
As the United Nations’ special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa from 2001 to 2006, Stephen Lewis witnessed first-hand the everyday trials of African grandmothers. When he returned to Canada in 2006, he and his daughter, Ilana Landsberg-Lewis, held the first international Grandmothers Gathering in Toronto, at which approximately 100 African grandmothers shared their stories with more than 200 grandmothers from across Canada.
As a result of the gathering, the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign was established, which, more than a decade later, comprises 240 grandmothers’ groups and more than 10,000 members (grandmothers and non-grandmothers) across Canada, all of which share the same goals of raising awareness, building solidarity and mobilizing funds for community-based organizations that support African grandmothers and the children in their care.
“The Stonetown Grans were formed roughly around the same time, 2006 or 2007. Like every other granny group, they were doing the same work – they were fundraising, they were making communities aware of what the campaign is all about,” said the St. Marys grandmothers’ group’s communications representative, Marg Thompson.
“The Threads of Hope is a sale of fabric, yarns and notions – that means buttons, zippers, all the other stuff that goes along with sewing.”
In the weeks leading up to the sale, the Stonetown Grans set up two donation drop-off sites; one at Hyggeligt Fabrics on Queen Street in St. Marys (accepting donations until April 26) and one at the St. Marys United Church on April 22 from 9 a.m. until noon.
At these sites, the Stonetown Grans collect donations of fabric, yarn and notions, all of which will either be sold at the Threads of Hope Sale on April 29 or given to charity.
“There’s always so much stuff donated and it’s really inexpensively priced. If someone is a knitter and let’s say they’re knitting charitable stuff and they want inexpensive yarn, they can get it at the sale. If they’re a quilter and they want pieces of fabric, they can buy them at the sale. It’s just a whole cross-section of people, a whole cross-section of materials, and then anything that is not sold is donated to the Mennonite Relief Fund in New Hamburg,” Thompson said.
Proceeds from the sale in St. Marys and similar fundraisers organized by grandmothers’ groups across the country are contributed to the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign in Toronto, where the Stephen Lewis Foundation board of directors sends the funds to countless projects and initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa that support African grandmothers.
Since its first year, the campaign has raised more than $25 million, all of which has help African grandmothers educate others about HIV prevention and treatment, create local savings and loan groups, sit on lands-rights councils, advocate for the rights of women and girls, support income-generating projects and much more.
Of that $25 million raised, the Stonetown Grans have contributed between $2,000 and $3,000 from the group’s first two Threads of Hope sales.
“Everyone who’s a knitter or a sewer is going to find something at the sale to buy. We called it Threads of Hope because handcrafts – it could be sewing, it could be beading, it could be basket-making – are crafts that are typically used by some African grannies to generate income. Not every grandmother in Africa does that, obviously, but I’ve seen some of their work and I’ve purchased some of their work and it is exquisite,” Thompson said.
“So, Threads of Hope is sort of the thread, the connection that’s joining Canadian grannies and African grannies in their efforts to raise a new generation of children.”