By Sue Griggs, TCP Associate
Two and a half years ago, I heard a radio interview about the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign of the Stephen Lewis Foundation. The focus was on raising awareness and mobilizing support in Canada for Africa’s grandmothers who are raising a generation of children whose parents, their own children, have been killed by AIDS. The campaign has raised money for community-level organizations in 14 sub-Saharan African countries that provide the “GoGo Grannies” with much needed support, such as food, housing grants, school fees for their grandchildren and grief counseling. Being a grandmother myself, I was so excited when I heard this idea that I helped to organize and participated in the Grandmothers Gathering that launched the campaign in the summer of 2006. As a result, I became co-chair of a group of 20 grandmothers. However, I soon realized that this was not the best use of my skills or my interest. After helping these grandmothers find another ‘home’, I became involved in other areas of the campaign.
At the Grandmother’s Gathering, I was inspired by the African grandmothers’ stories of their lives and challenges. I plunged in with my usual enthusiasm and with a colleague, initiated the idea of publishing a “More Than An African Cookbook” to create direct connections among the grannies and produce a volume of Canadian and African recipes, stories, photographs, etc. that would have broad appeal and raise money for the campaign. Although the publishing date has been pushed back several times, this project has proved to be significant and so far has involved hundreds of grandmothers across Canada and many others from South Africa. As of November 6, 2008, there are 220 grandmother groups across the country and since they all have friends and family, the possibilities for raising awareness of the issues among Canadians are enormous.
Although I admit it takes a great deal of energy, I have been rewarded by making a difference in others’ lives, by encouraging others and seeing them learn and grow, by the connections to new people and my own learning through the process. Late last year, six other volunteers and I organized the Ontario Regional Resource Group (ORRG) to raise awareness, educate, and connect the over 90 groups in the province. ORRG has held four Regional gatherings so that the grandmother groups can share information and connect with each other. It has been wonderful to see the huge amount of collaboration that been has engendered and the “little victories” that are heart-warming to witness. Women from age 50 to almost 90 are working together and are learning to use computers, to run meetings, to understand group dynamics, to support each other and are becoming empowered in the process.
Other Regional groups, based on the Ontario model, will be starting soon. I now see my role as moving from doing to coaching others, encouraging collaboration and shared leadership rather than stepping in. I want to use more of my coaching skills and my ability to see larger perspectives and systems, contributing to the Canada-wide steering committee. I also want to write about my experience with the campaign as a way of sharing the learning from my involvement. It is a fascinating social phenomenon that has tumbled forward with lots of missteps but all the time growing, inspiring, connecting and collecting grandmothers around the world – it is a story that needs to be told.