Victoria Grandmothers for Africa are not exactly your stereotypical group of grannies organizing a bake sale, though they can do that too when necessary. They are a group of articulate, experienced activists, fundraisers, and go-getters, working year-round to support the grandmothers in Africa who struggle daily to look after the children orphaned by HIV/AIDS.
And next spring, the Victoria Grandmothers group hopes to raise over $100,000 when they auction off 53 exquisite quilts which make up a touring Textile Arts exhibit known as “Turning the Tide One Ripple at a Time.” The money raised will go directly to African grandmothers and their families for food, housing grants, school fees and uniforms, grief counselling and access to HIV/AIDS drugs.
Victoria Grandmothers for Africa (VG4A) is one of more than 230 groups in Canada which are part of the Grandmother to Grandmother (G2G) Campaign initiated by the Stephen Lewis Foundation.
The Campaign grew out of an International AIDS Conference in Toronto in 2006 when former UN Special Envoy (and irresistible orator) Stephen Lewis issued a call for us to do something about the appalling situation of HIV/AIDS in African countries. There, grandmothers by the thousands are raising a whole generation of orphaned grandchildren, and help is desperately needed.
Canadian grandmothers (and “grand-others”…you don’t have to be a grandmother, or even a woman, to join G2G) have responded so far by raising nine million dollars for locally developed projects in Africa.
“The requests for projects come directly from the grandmothers in Africa, and Africans are in charge of the programs,” says VG4A coordinator Joan Wenman, and that’s one thing she likes best about the Stephen Lewis Foundation philosophy.
From “Desperation to Hope”
Anne Young, Advocacy Chair for the Victoria Grandmothers, just returned from the national G2G conference in Toronto where she heard up-to-date reports on the progress being made in Africa. She says grandmothers there are moving from “desperation to hope” and a sense of empowerment, even transformation, as a result of the support they’re getting from Canadians and the new initiatives taking place in their communities.
“I think the Grandmothers can be agents of change,” Anne says. She is impressed by the respectful support the Canadian Grandmothers offer to the African women, encouraging them to do for themselves, set up businesses, and learn the skills they need to address the urgent needs of their communities.
Anne urges us all to pressure our government to live up to its Overseas Development Assistance pledges, to support the Global Fund to fight disease and eradicate poverty, and to encourage Education for All.
Victoria Grandmothers upcoming projects include an island cycle fundraising tour in September; the arrival of an African grandmother and granddaughter here in November: and a vigorous campaign to support Bill C393, a bill designed to streamline access to generic HIV/AIDS drugs in Africa.
On June 12, the VG4A were part of a National Walk for the grandmothers’ campaign, an event Joan Wenman says exemplified the “terrific camaraderie” felt by those involved in the cause. With this growing sense of solidarity reaching from North America to Africa, grandmothers on both continents are seeing that they have the power to make a difference.
Note: Star Weiss, Life As A Human writer and author of the book Havens in a Hectic World, will be reading at the Overleaf Café, 1105 Pandora Ave, Victoria on Saturday, Aug. 28 at 2 p.m., accompanied by Nuu-chal-nulth storyteller/musician Michael McCarthy. Donations and proceeds will go to Victoria Grandmothers for Africa.