AfriGrand Caravan: "Helping grandmas care for orphans of AIDS"

Here’s a great article on the AfriGrand Caravan from the Halifax Chronicle Herald:

Helping grandmas care for orphans of AIDS
September 10, 2010
By Clare Mellor

Nonkululeko Nowathe lost her mother to AIDS in January.

And like vast numbers of sub-Saharan African children who have lost parents to the AIDS pandemic, she is being cared for by her grandmother.

“My mother was sick for a very long time,” says the 18-year-old, who lives in Mamelodi, South Africa.

When Nowathe’s mother became ill in 2008, she was cared for by Nowathe’s grandmother but also received home nursing services from a community-based program called Tateni.

Another branch of the same program runs a youth drop-in centre, where Nowathe gets basics such as food and new shoes, as well as grief counselling, HIV-AIDS education and help with homework.

All the programs receive funding from the Stephen Lewis Foundation, which supports community-based organizations in Africa that help those affected by HIV and AIDS.

A Grade 12 student who speaks 11 languages, Nowathe now has her sights on law school.

“Some kids, they don’t have a chance to go to school because they don’t have someone to care for their (sick) parent. . . . That is awful for them because they have to drop out,” she said

The Stephen Lewis Foundation brought its AfriGrand Caravan to Nova Scotia on Thursday, with a visit to Citadel High School in Halifax. Students there have raised thousands of dollars for the foundation.

The tour includes African grandmothers who care for orphans and young women who have lost parents due to the AIDS pandemic, speaking first-hand about their experiences.

Grandmother and retired nurse Regina Mokgokong runs the Tateni programs in Mamelodi, a township north of Pretoria.

The program provides home-based care and support to about 300 people living with HIV-AIDS and provides more than 300 orphans with food and help with school, Mokgokong said.

The program also gives support and parenting courses to grandmothers who, after many years, have to become parents again, said Mokgokong, who cares for her HIV-positive niece and her niece’s four children.

While community-based programs are making a difference, funding is still needed, the 68-year-old said.

Hospice services are required for the very ill dying of AIDS at home.

“I came across a 10-year-old with a little brother of four years old trying to give their mother water. They didn’t know their mother was dying. So that hospice service is really, really important,” she said.

After listening to Nowathe and Mokgokong, Citadel High students held brainstorming sessions for fundraising ideas for the foundation.

The caravan has been organized by Grandmothers of Canada, which is part of the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign that began in 2006, said Linda Wills, a member of the Tantallon-based Bay Grandmothers.

There are 240 groups of grandmothers across the country raising funds for the foundation’s programs in Africa, said Wills, who helped organize the tour’s Halifax visit.

“When you hear the stories of the grandmothers in Africa and you hear of the HIV pandemic, you just can’t turn your back. Grandmother to grandmother, it just speaks to us. I have four grandchildren of my own. They are so precious to me.”

Some of those involved, like Citadel High chemistry teacher Kathy Reid, aren’t technically grandmothers but that doesn’t seem to matter.

“It’s a state of mind,” said Reid.

She said the Canadian grandmothers are trying to get others involved, especially the young.

“Students are so interested and so compassionate. Like a lot of us, they want to do something.”

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