In 2006, the Stephen Lewis Foundation (SLF) hosted the first ever Grandmothers Gathering. We thought that the event couldn’t be matched. It brought together 200 Canadian grandmothers from the fledgling Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign with 100 African grandmothers and project staff from across sub-Saharan Africa. The motivation for the event was to meet with the women holding Africa together and to hear from them directly about the types of support they needed, and to introduce the Canadian grandmothers to the women they were already so motivated to help. The grannies spent 3 days celebrating, learning, sharing and rallying – it seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Fast-forward to 2010. The Canadian Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign has grown in leaps and bounds: there are now over 240 groups across Canada, representing every province and one territory and with membership totaling 5,000-10,000 grandmothers and grandothers. The Campaign has raised over $7 million, and SLF funding to projects that support grandmothers across Africa makes up approximately 20% of our disbursements.
The one thing that hasn’t changed in the four years since the first Gathering is the determination and strength of the grandmothers on both continents. And so it seemed time to bring them together again.
The Grandmothers Gathering of 2010 – taking place this week (May 6-8) in Manzini, Swaziland – will unite almost 500 grandmothers from 11 countries in sub-Saharan Africa so that they can share their stories, their learning, their expertise and their love. Forty-two delegates from Canadian Grandmother groups across Canada have already convened in Johannesburg, in preparation for their trip to Manzini to join their African sisters. They are here to represent their groups, their communities, and the solidarity felt across Canada for their African counterparts who are working so tirelessly to raise orphaned and vulnerable children.
The 2010 Gathering comes at a time of deep financial crisis in the area of international HIV/AIDS programming and support. This congregation of women from across Africa and Canada will bring attention to the issue, and a reminder that it is an international problem for which we are all responsible and by which we are all affected.
The excitement of all the grandmothers is mounting. All know that the 2010 Gathering will be a truly historic event. It marks the first time that African grandmothers, who have been living with the pandemic for over two decades, are coming together as experts in what it means to lose a generation and to be responsible for the young lives and spirits left behind. It is the first chance that most of the African grandmothers will have had to share their experiences as elderly parents, caregivers to the bereaved, community activists, and national policy-makers. And a movement where African grandmothers and the projects that support them can name priorities and make change collectively and for themselves will most surely be born.
The importance of the presence of the 42 Canadian delegates is immeasurable. These Canadian grandmothers represent support and solidarity from beyond the borders of the continent. They remind the African grandmothers that they are not alone.