Grandmothers rally for change in Africa

Christine Wood/Staff Writer / Staff writer
September 20, 2013 01:00 AM

Sunshine Coast Grandmothers and Grandothers member Jennie Tschoban stands with one of the speakers from the African Grandmothers Tribunal held in Vancouver earlier this month.

Grandmothers cried together, sang together and found strength together during the African Grandmothers Tribunal in Vancouver Sept. 7.

Six members of the Sunshine Coast Grandmothers and GrandOthers (SCGG) group attended the people's tribunal hosted by the Stephen Lewis Foundation, meant to shine a light on the AIDS crisis in Africa and enlist public help.

"It was so emotional. Really emotional," SCGG member Jennie Tschoban said.

The AIDS pandemic in Africa is serious. Most recent statistics from 2011 show there were 1.2 million deaths attributed to AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa alone. Worldwide there were 1.7 million deaths due to AIDS that year.

Many parents in Africa have succumbed to the disease, and grandmothers are frequently left to care for orphaned children, who themselves are often infected with HIV.

The grandmothers face much discrimination, lack of medical support and desperate poverty, but it's not uncommon to see a grandmother caring for upwards of 15 children at a time.

The Stephen Lewis Foundation was started in 2003 to work with grassroots organizations to turn the tide of HIV/AIDS in Africa.

Since 2003 the foundation has funded more than 700 initiatives and partnered with more than 300 community-based organizations in 15 countries to help further the cause, but there is much more to be done.

In that vein, the Stephen Lewis Foundation hosted the tribunal to "amplify the voices of the courageous African grandmothers and send out a clarion call for change," the African Grandmothers Tribunal website states.

Six African grandmothers took the stage to tell of their hardships, struggles and hope for the future.

"We will not let the AIDS pandemic defeat us nor destroy our communities, but we cannot prevail alone," said African grandmother Zodwa Hilda Ndlovu at the tribunal.

Tschoban was moved by the speakers and reenergized to keep fundraising to help through SCGG.

The Coast's link to the Stephen Lewis Foundation is the SCGG group, which raises money year round to help grandmothers in Africa. The local group also knits and sews clothing, blankets, hats and booties for orphaned children.

Since the local group started in 2007 they have raised about $96,000 through community fundraisers. That feat was accomplished with a core group of only 25 people.

"We hope to hit $100,000 by the end of the year," SCGG member Lynda Olsen noted.

Members want to share what they learned at the tribunal and encourage others to get involved in the cause, so they're hosting a conversation about the tribunal on Oct. 6 at 1:30 p.m. at the Davis Bay Hall.

Everyone is invited to attend the event that will also shed some light on the local group and their fundraising activities for the year.

You don't have to be a grandmother, or even a woman, to get involved (thus the GrandOthers), and the SCGG is actively looking for more members.

"Join us for tea/coffee and treats and find out the many ways you can help - sewing, knitting, collecting grocery receipts and Canadian Tire money - as well as new ideas and enthusiasm. Everyone is welcome," Olsen said.

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