More than 25 million dollars has been raised in the past 10 years for African grandmas by Canadian grandma groups. These groups are part of Stephan Lewis Foundations campaign Grandmothers to Grandmothers which raises funds for African grandmothers who are raising their grandchildren after the kids have been orphaned by the AIDS pandemic.
In the Invermere area the local grandmothers group known as The Valley Go Go Sisters have worked hard to fundraise $90,000 for the Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign. On wednesday June 1st The Valley Go Go Sisters hosted guest speaker Cheryl Fraser of the Kelowna Grandmothers for Africa.
Fraser first got involved in the Stephan Lewis Foundation after reading Race Against Time about a decade ago. She and her husband became financial supporters of the foundation but it wasn’t until 2013 when Fraser got started with Kelowna Grandmothers for Africa. They got an invitation to attend the grandmothers tribunal in Vancouver B.C. where they heard testimony from six grandmothers. The six African grandmothers spoke about their experiences raising these orphaned children, their communities and the issues they have to face. As soon as she got home Fraser found her local grandmother group and hasn’t looked back.
“Last fall the Uganda grandmothers organized — with the help of six community based organizations that the foundation funds in Uganda — a gathering (in which) 500 grandmothers gathered and the foundation here in Canada accompanied 22 grandmothers, 20 Canadian and two UK grandmothers. We were able to be observers at the gathering,” said Fraser.
According to Fraser it is estimated that 17 million children have been orphaned by HIV AIDS and these children have been taken in by grandmothers in their communities or by sibling homes. In Africa 60 per cent of those orphaned children live with a grandmother-headed house and the other 40 per cent live with a sibling-headed house. For the sibling headed-household it is the eldest sister who assumes the responsibility of guardianship. The Stephan Lewis Foundation supports both of these households with the grandmother to grandmothers campaign.
While in Uganda Fraser worked in breakout groups with different grandmothers to hear how these grandmothers are managing to raise these children in their communities. Fraser got to hear firsthand how these community based organizations that her fundraising efforts go to are supporting the community. The community based organizations create programs such as nursing care, education, shelter and HIV testing / treatment education to support what the community of grandmothers need. One of the programs that impressed Fraser was birthing support in health clinics. In these clinics, with the support of the local organizations, expectant mothers are getting the proper prenatal care. The clinic in Uganda Fraser spoke about has been able to register zero per cent transmissions of the HIV virus from mother to child since 2011. Other organization work she saw firsthand were brick houses built with the fundraising from Canada provided the Canadian grandmothers.
“At the end of the two days the grandmothers wanted to write the Uganda statement to try to hold civil society, the United Nations, their own government and the international community (accountable). (To) try to make them aware of the issues in Uganda and try and put pressure on their government to be accountable,” said Fraser.
The Ugandan government has a constitution and laws that protect the grandmothers and children of Uganda. This constitution and set of laws are not being enforced. That is why the 500 grandmothers who gathered together wanted to write this statement to gain attention about the needs of the communities.
“The grandmothers since the (AIDS) pandemic started, have been holding the communities together and doing an amazing job. They know the solution, they just need help and that’s what the foundation has been trying to give them over the years is help for them to create what they need in their communities. After 10 years hope is rising, dreams are beginning to be dreamed again,” said Fraser.
In Canada there are 10,000 grandmothers supporting the campaign with 250 different groups around the country. The Stephen Lewis Foundation is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign. The Valley Go Go Sisters were celebrating the anniversary when they hosted Cheryl Fraser on Wednesday June 1st to be a guest speaker. The local grandmothers group have been working hard to raise awareness and funds for the campaign throughout the community.