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It’s International Women’s Day – share your #granspiration stories!

The Stephen Lewis Foundation has been asking Canadians how grandmothers inspire them for International Women’s Day. We are pleased to share the following stories and reflections with you.

Today marks the 101st Anniversary of International Women’s Day; a day that we take pause to honour the resilience and dynamism of women all over the globe.  And as we embark upon the next century of gains for women in the political, economic and social realms, we wanted to take this opportunity to reflect about the women that inspire us: grandmothers.

We are all members of the Grandmothers Campaign Team at the Stephen Lewis Foundation. That’s given us the unique opportunity to engage with women leaders, both here and in Africa, and to witness their work in their local communities cultivating social justice, gender equality and hope.

To the grandmothers of Africa: your innovation, creativity and compassion continue to propel us forward in our work. You are not only the lynchpins of survival for your own communities and families, but you are inspiring pillars of strength for the women’s movement everywhere.

To the grandmothers of the Grandmothers Campaign: thank you for continuing to inspire us with your resolve to stand in solidarity, raise awareness about the pandemic, and raise funds to support  the grandmothers of Africa

To our own grandmothers and grandmothers everywhere, thank you…

Helen, Janet, Ryna, Tammy & Zahra
My grandparents lived right next door to us.  My parents and grandparents shared farm land in the Niagara region.  We grew many, many tomatoes and had a variety of fruit trees.  My grandmother was such a hard working lady.  She and Grandpa had fled to Canada from the Ukraine in the 1926 as the Mennonites were being mistreated, killed and starved by the new regime there.  My father was only 2 years old when this happened.  They settled in the Saskatoon area and when my father was a teenager he was sent by Grandpa to Ontario to buy some land and work until all of the family (9 children) could afford to follow.  Through all this Grandma remained stalwart in her desire for a better life for her children.

Once settled on the farm in Ontario, I fondly remember Saturdays when all of Grandmas children and grandchildren would gather in their yard to share lunch together.  Wonderful Mennonite food would be carefully prepared by Grandma.   All of us grandchildren (and there were many!) would delight in always being welcomed in her home.  When my mother was having another baby (I have 6 siblings), we would be in grandma’s care for a while.  Grandma and Grandpa always made sure that we got to church and Sunday school too.  My Grandmother lived to be 91 years old.  She was born in 1900.  Her great-granddaughter now lives in the farmhouse  she lived in for over 60 years.  Words to describe my grandmother would be:  loving, caring, strong, determined, consoling, discerning, and faithful.

Erica Schubart
I was never supposed to finish high school. I wasn’t supposed to be smart. I was supposed to turn out as expected…as a disappointment. I was supposed to be limited, not only by my birth into a complex and troubled family, but also to be limited by myself.
But because of one person, early on, who always pushed me, believed in me, stuck up for me, loved me and saw something in me that no one else did – I am here. I am sitting here, with a Master of Arts in Gerontology because of her. By “her” I mean my ‘Grama’…a woman who wasn’t a blood relative. Just a woman who cared for me and raised me.
I am thanking her for every moment she put into me, for every kind word, for every stern word, for every moment she made me shine, for every moment she made me feel safe and for every moment she reinforced that I was worth more than I thought and that I was capable of more than I ever imagined.

I am thanking her for every window she opened after so many doors closed on me.
I am thanking her for loving me like I was her very own.
Marjorie Geldard Glover, of Houwden Clough in Yorkshire, U.K., thank you for everything. I’ll be toasting you tonight, as we reflect on the most important women in our lives. I’ll raise a glass of pink champagne and thank every lucky star in the sky, that when I was falling, you were there to catch me.

I love you. I hope I have made you proud.

Linda Cummings
My grandmother, like those in Africa who act as the lynchpins in their families, remained the one and only individual who held my family together. It was because of her that every holiday, my extended family would come together. Petty arguments and spats were silenced because she made us realize what was truly important in life. The bonds of family are what should be cherished and valued above all else and it was her, solely, who taught us that.

She has been gone a year now. Even though we no longer have her at the head of the dinner table on Christmas or in the front row of my cousin`s school concerts, we do have the lessons she taught us. My grandmother may not have done anything news-worthy or revolutionary, but she gave me the most valuable lesson of all. And that is the importance of love, family and compassion. Without her, I wouldn`t be the person I am today. For that unconditional love and those irreplaceable lessons, I thank her and all the grandmothers of the world.

Kelsey Goforth
After 93 impressive years, my Nana passed away last October. It was a heart-wrenching loss. She was the quintessential matriarch — a strong, wise, resourceful, generous, brave, funny, supportive and proud Canadian immigrant — who left Ireland in 1957 with my grandfather and their eight children. With little in their pockets, they worked to give their kids a better life than Ireland could provide and embraced a new life in Vancouver, adding one more baby to the fold.
My grandparents took a courageous leap to provide their family with a better future — one that now includes 23 grandchildren, 32 great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild (the baby count rises daily). When she died, I spent a lot of time thinking about what made my Nana so very special. In the simplest terms, it was this: she was honest. She told the truth — the good, the bad and, yes, the ugly. But she did it with such love, candour and sincerity that we sought it out. And no matter how tough the truth was, she always sent me off feeling like I could conquer the world.

My Nana taught us to live each day with heart, gratitude, honesty and the powerful common sense of an Irishwoman. She was living proof that you can’t go wrong by telling the truth.
I thank my Nana and all the grandmothers of the world who have shared their truth. Let’s embrace their example.

Mo Douglas, Pemberton, BC, Canada

Marie Fitzsimmons b. 1876

I am a grandmother in my early sixties, but my grandmother was born in 1876. After a tragic barn fire in which all of her family’s horses were lost, her parents and seven sisters were left quite impoverished. So in her late thirties, she trained as a nurse and graduated in 1915. Shortly after that she set out on her own, as a single woman, and travelled from Ontario to the wild west of Calgary. She was one of Calgary’s first VON nurses, and she was well known for her extensive work in the community. She married my grandfather, a man 10 years her junior, and gave birth to my mother when she was 45 years old. My memory of her is scattered, but her bravery in recreating her life to care for others at a time when women had few options inspires me. I honour her on International Women’s Day.

African grandmothers are recreating themselves as leaders in the fight against the AIDS pandemic. Their tenacity and courage in caring for their grandchildren and their communities in the face of the tragic loss of their own children is awe-inspiring.

Colleen Stefanich, Hummingbird Grannies, Vancouver
Twitter mentions

@SkyHSmith: @stephenlewisfdn Louise Cohen, OOC founded Université de Moncton, and the NAC. She was my Bubbe, my inspiration #granspiration

@gracelynnkung: #Granspiration She laughed with-not humoured-me as a child. Adventurous in times without luxury of leisure, she’s my hero @stephenlewisfdn

@ellechronique: My grandmother is strong & independent with whom I would play long games of rummy-q late into the night #granspiration @stephenlewisfdn

@joe_cressy: My grandmother was a powerhouse of wit, love and intellect. This #IWD, share how grandmothers inspire you. #granspiration @stephenlewisfdn

How do grandmothers inspire you? Share your stories with Stephen Lewis Foundation for International Women’s Day: write a story, email us a note, post on Facebook or tweet using the hashtag #granspiration, share a photo or create a video to tell us how they motivate you! E-mail

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The day before International Women’s Day: more stories on how grandmothers inspire us

The Stephen Lewis Foundation has been asking Canadians how grandmothers inspire them for International Women’s Day. We are pleased to share the following stories and reflections with you.

I was fortunate enough to have two amazing grandmothers, both of whom were named Margaret, and for whom I was given my middle name.

My Granny (my maternal grandmother) had many talents, but the things I remember the most about her was her quirky sense of humour and her patience.  She would spend hours with me teaching me how to sew and bake.  I can also credit her with brining tap dancing into my life, as she was the one who bought me my first pair of tap shoes.  My Granny loved to dance and did highland dancing well into her sixties. When I was eight she found a pair of second-hand tap shoes at a garage sale that happened to be in my size.  My parents had no choice but to enrol me in tap classes.  Tap became such an important part of my life and something I still enjoy doing.

My paternal grandmother, Amma as I called her, was also an incredible woman who showed unconditional love to her family. After fleeing Nazi Germany in the late 30’s, my grandparents gave up everything and started a new life in England. They lived a happy life but due to a number of circumstances my grandmother took on the role of primary caregiver for her young grandson.  I often think of my Amma’s generosity and strength.

Given the close kinship I had with my grandmothers, it therefore felt natural to me that I began working with the amazing women in Canada who make up the Grandmothers Campaign.  Working alongside these elder stateswomen, I feel constantly inspired by their creativity, perseverance and the sense of solidarity they have with the indomitable grandmothers in Africa.

Helen Margaret
There are so many ways I can describe my Bubby Elsa but I remember her in her happiest and healthiest days as a strong, independent and caring woman. My Zaidy passed away when I was three years old, but  my Bubby still filled the house with delicious home-cooked meals that included lots of honey cake, epic games of Rummy-Q that we would play past my bedtime, her computer that I taught her how to chat on-line with and so many lovely trinkets and treasures. My Bubby arrived in Canada during the second World War and like many, arrived with very little. Even after living in Montreal for most of her life, she still can’t speak French and pronounces ‘Jean Talon’ like ‘Gene Tah-len.’ Bubby Elsa has a sharp, feisty and often stubborn personality but she is still a social butterfly. She had a stroke a few years ago and much has changed since then – she moved from her house to an assisted living facility and her mobility was greatly affected. But from time to time, I still see that feistiness and spirit in her that she manages to hold on to. It’s hanging on and having close family around that helps her stay strong which is how I’ll always remember her.

Lauryn K.
My grandmother, Franny. She inspires me still, today. A descendant of Thomas D’arcy McGee, she was raised during the Great Recession and served overseas with the Red Cross during the Second World War.

A powerhouse of wit, love, and intellect, nobody could resist her. Her jokes and bonfire songs at Fort William, her gift of gab, and those all consuming hugs…she was infectious.

Had she grown-up in a different era, I have no doubt that she would have been a leader in the public or private sector, and I suspect she might have been a bit of a rabble rouser as well.

How has she inspired me? She has taught me that family comes first, that we should love always, and that we should never put our elbows on the dining room table.

Joe C.
My grandmother was a going concern. She wasn’t very parental, and she didn’t really care that much about any of her grandchildren except me. I think she sensed a kindred spirit. She lived her own life, partying her way through Prohibition, kicking against the restrictions imposed by the government and by society. She never knit a sweater, baked a cookie, or sang a lullaby. But she made me laugh until I peed my pants, and she taught me how to swear like longshoreman and speak up when I saw something I didn’t think was right. Not your typical grandmother, but then neither am I and my grandkids seem to like me just the way I am – flawed but funny. Miss you Nana – wish you could’ve continued the party with us.

Deb M.
Twitter mentions
@triciadparker: @stephenlewisfdn Osteoperosis is taking its toll on my Nana’s body yet she’s still a relentless community volunteer-so selfless #granspiration

@re_markable1: @stephenlewisfdn Oma left hew home alone, onto a boat, carved a new life. 80 yrs later, her life has led to 47 others. #IWD #granspiration

@HeidyMo: @stephenlewisfdn My ‘mamá’ is my rock! She is selfless, full of love & great advice! <3 #granspiration #IWD

@RobinAlights: @stephenlewisfdn my grandma ran two tourist camps in northern Ont and raised two kids back in the 40s, defying gender norms! #granspiration

How do grandmothers inspire you? Share your stories with Stephen Lewis Foundation for International Women’s Day: write a story, email us a note, post on Facebook or tweet using the hashtag #granspiration, share a photo or create a video to tell us how they motivate you! E-mail


Inspired by grandmothers – Canadians share more of their stories

The Stephen Lewis Foundation has been asking Canadians how grandmothers inspire them for International Women’s Day. We are pleased to share the following stories and reflections with you.

I have been inspired by each and every member of the Victoria Grandmothers for Africa, but one grandmother stands out above all. She was one of the founding members of our group and since then she has given 110% for all our activities. At present she is quartermaster for the Sales and Crafts Committee; she hosts every meeting of the committee; she looks after reordering cards–National Walk cards and those with the textile art photos; she handles sales at our meetings and summer markets; I could go on and on, but I know everyone understands how valuable such a person is. She is my favourite octogenarian–Elizabeth Rutherford.

Mary Myrtle Schmidt
My grandmother – her name was Emelia – raised fourteen children in rural Saskatchewan; seven boys and seven girls. All of her children went on to become community and family leaders who are role models to this day. She spent time travelling across Canada and the US to visit her children and grandchildren, paying special attention to the new mothers that were her daughters or daughters-in-law. One of my most vivid memories of her is of her standing over a boiling vat of oil, teaching us how to cook donuts. She also taught us how to make kleenex box covers that looked like dogs. I also have a foggy memory of her chasing a headless chicken around her garden, but I think I’ve blocked out the details. I DO remember that her chicken dinners were to die for.

Nancy P

You simply put one foot before the other
Not knowing where or how the journey ends.
Grandmother, you should know that you’re my hero
And I’d be more than proud to be your friend.

1. I’ve heard about the burden you are bearing
Taunts that come to those that you hold dear,
I’ve watched you struggle onward for your family
And know you face a future full of fear.
But I have also seen your resolution;
You daily deal with pain that should not be.
You’ve born your grieving with tremendous courage
And shown the world a stalwart dignity.

2. You’ve heard your grandkids cry out for their parents
Dying young and hard from HIV,
You are the only “home” that they can cling to,
You have become their only family.
You labor in the fields or in the quarry,
You bury adult children in the yard,
You’ve never known such hardship or such sorrow:
A grandma’s love the constant in your heart.

3. I really don’t know how I’d bear such heartbreak –
Don’t know how I’d face reality!
I often wonder, “What if we changed places,
If I were you and you were somehow me?”
I know I’d need some friends to walk beside me
I know I’d always want a helping hand
From those who care for me, my life, my family,
Companions who I know would understand.

You simply put one foot before the other
Not knowing where or how the journey ends.
Grandmother, you should know that you’re my hero
And I’d be more than proud to be your friend.

Carol, EASTSIDE GRANNIES, Sherwood Park, AB
Alice and Irene

The women who became Grandmothers to my children were an inspiring influence. These women of strength, and substance, solved the economic troubles of their families, created warm welcoming homes, and cared for others in times of illness well into their senior years.  Although my Mother, and Mother-in –Law were different, they shared a profound depth of loyalty to their families, and a tough, gritty determination to take hold when times became difficult economically. At times they were the backbone of survival for their families, helping to provide the financial resources that enabled their Grandchildren to gain an education.

Each of these women spent many years of their married lives rearing children, maintaining homes, volunteering, and managing frequently required family moves.  They were both middle aged when challenging family circumstances required them to find employment.  As older women entering the work force, while still raising families, they were often weary beyond measure, worried about financial security, and uncertain of their ability to cope with the demands of their jobs, yet they persevered. Were they still with us, I know they would proudly applaud the work of the Grandmothers in Africa, sharing a bond of commitment to their grandchildren.

Elizabeth  Stobie Law

Twitter mentions
@g_mitchcan: @stephenlewisfdn #granspiration #IWD Their never-ending love and support for children in need. Always a kind hand, kiss, wise words.

@AndreaLConroy: @stephenlewsfdn: you should have seen the grandmother parade down main st. in Jinja, Uganda. Vibrant, energetic, amazing. #granspiration

How do grandmothers inspire you? Share your stories with Stephen Lewis Foundation for International Women’s Day: write a story, email us a note, post on Facebook or tweet using the hashtag #granspiration, share a photo or create a video to tell us how they motivate you! E-mail

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Canadians’ stories on how grandmothers inspire them

The Stephen Lewis Foundation has been asking Canadians how grandmothers inspire them for International Women’s Day. We are pleased to share the following stories and reflections with you

When someone says the word grandma, I immediately think of my Dad’s mom. She was the strongest person I have ever known and ever will know. She had six children and she was poor growing up on a farm in northern Saskatchewan. She worked hard for every dollar her and her husband made. She loved to volunteer for numerous organizations, including Meals on Wheels and the Prince Albert Legion. She was my inspiration to start volunteering for whatever I could. My Grandma was always cooking or baking for others. She gave herself in all that she did, always putting others before herself. She was my role model and encouraged me in whatever I wanted to accomplish.
Last year, her life was taken by a hard battle with cancer. She fought the hardest she could have, but she just wasn’t strong enough to ward off the disease. My Grandma still lives in the hearts of my family and I and she will always be known as the strongest woman I’ve ever known. Like the African Grandmothers, my Grandma stood up for what she believed. They will do anything for their families, just like she did. Grandmothers in Africa are an inspiration to all. We could all learn something from them.

Sarah Logan
My grandmother came to Canada in the early 1900’s as a new bride. My grandfather had secured a job in the Alberta coal mines and had worked several years to earn enough money to return to Italy to bring my grandmother, Mary Zinonni, back to Canada with him. Although my grandfather had learned enough English to function in his work environment, and their four children spoke English fluently, my grandma never did.

During most of my childhood, my Italian grandmother lived only half a mile away from our farm, so I often walked to her house. We communicated our love for each other when we met or parted with hugs and endearments in our separate languages. We would go out into her amazing garden and I would ‘help’ her hoe, weed, water and harvest. She, on the other hand, protected me from her vicious, free-ranging turkeys and geese that somehow sensed my fear and took advantage of me whenever she wasn’t around. She taught me how to make dandelion chain-necklaces and dandelion-leaf salads. I felt secure enough in her company to sing the little songs and poems I’d composed and was always rewarded with a warm smile and an encouraging arm around my shoulder. Special times with grandma often culminated in an intimate luncheon—just her and me—sharing her home-made bread, newly churned butter, and some of grandpa’s home-made wine. I remember those meals as love-banquets—a special kind of non-verbal communion between my grandmother and me—in a closeness where words were superfluous. There was a profound acceptance of each other’s being and a contented enjoyment of each other’s company.

It came as a serendipity—just here and now as I am writing about her—that although I have questioned perceptions about, around, and beyond myself and my world for 70 years, I—at no time—ever doubted that my grandma loved me dearly. And I, her.

CM, Sherwood Park, AB
In the early 90’s following my social work practicum with AIDS organisations in San Francisco at the General Hospital I returned to Canada and was given the opportunity to visit Uganda to work with health care agencies and offer workshops in many remote rural villages.

Working out of Kampala I spent all my time visiting rural communities and speaking with a multitude of various groups and what struck me most was the fantastic courage and determination of African grandmothers.  Wherever I went their presence was obvious.  Despite their tired bodies these Grandmothers managed to smile and invariably sing as they cared for numerous grandchildren orphaned by AIDS and I was so impressed with their obvious love and care for them.   This “parenting” role had been thrust upon them but they cheerfully took up the challenge.  Many of the babies and young children were infected but those dedicated Grandmothers struggled to maintain their humble dwellings and create a fit place for raising them.  I recall feeling so guilty returning to my hotel at night which cost 100 dollars, knowing that I had been told that for a mere 10 dollars the roof of their hut could be waterproofed and the mud floor could be cemented.   The grandmothers worked tirelessly to nurse these children while hauling water, growing what they could in their small garden and taking turns to teach at the local school. They were truly amazing and I was so excited when Stephen Lewis took up the cause and the SLF was born which offered hope to so many of those women.  They deserve our greatest admiration and all the support we can give them through the work of our various Grandmother groups across this country.

Go Grannies Go!

Barb Clay
Often I think of my maternal grandmother, who died when my own mother was only 18 years old.  Seven times she gave birth; only three daughters reached adulthood.  One daughter died at 14 of diabetes before insulin was discovered; two others of childhood diseases. Her first child and only son was stillborn.

Such losses are not uncommon in the developing world, but for us  in Canada in the 21st century they are nearly unthinkable.  On the other hand, the grandmothers in Africa know about such loss and with courage I imagine my own maternal grandmother shared they continue to love, to care and to build the future.  True heroes indeed!

Frances Bauer
My Grandmother, Elizabeth Allen McDonald

My maternal grandmother was a special woman of strength, who gave birth to nine children, eighteen grandchildren and several great grandchildren.  She was the unmistakable matriarch of the family.  My grandfather was a sailor who sailed the seven seas from their home in England.  After three children,  my grandmother decided this was no life for her family so she scrimped and saved the passage for her husband and babies, (steerage) from England to Canada.   They were marooned in the Gulf of St. Lawrence for 10 days.

Once they landed in Canada, she taught her husband how to read on a farm outside Montreal.  She bore her other children, seven daughters and two sons, encouraging each one to reach his/her full potential.  She came to Canada to make a better life her family.  Her dreams came true.

At the age of 94, when she died we gathered for her funeral, something interesting happened.  We shared our stories of Granny, and each of us was convinced we were her favourite!  She had that special way of listening, sharing and loving that made us feel unique.  We hear her voice of encouragement to this day.

Linda Wills
Grandmother Regional Liaison, Atlantic, Member of Grans to Grans
Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign,  Nelson, British Columbia

Beverley Wills
Member of the Bay Grandmothers
Tantallon, Nova Scotia

My grandmother was known as “Gram” by all who knew her. She was a very generous person; and gave her time and talents freely to others; she always helped when she had the opportunity to do so. She was artistic; she sewed, knitted, cooked, painted and made crafts and was the first recycler before it was” in vogue”. She lived as a widow for almost as long as she was married.

She lived in the city and my family lived in a rural community outside of the city. My parents were a very mismatched couple and our home life and childhood was not the happiest or securest environment. So whenever we visited Gram, (my maternal grandmother) it was like an escape or vacation as she always made me feel welcome, loved and safe.

My grandmother showed me how a home should feel and how family should act and love. Unfortunately, my children didn’t get to know her but through my stories and memories of her she lives on. Grandmothers are a very valuable part of a family and should never be taken for granted or forgotten. I look forward to being grandmother someday. I miss you Gram! Love Barb

Barb Brown-Conrod
My Ma Tante ,  my aunt, Juliette Beauchamp ( a kind of surrogate Mother to me) was the inspiration to always be kind to others and to make something of nothing. She was an amazing craftsman. She taught me to be compassionate at a very early age.

My Mother who was a Gran-granny, as her great grandchildren, dubbed her  was the most courageous woman I have ever know. She made a life for herself as a single parent  at 24. Being a divorced single parent in the 1940s was not an easy burden to carry. She had her own display business for a number of years. She was a waitress at Miss Montreal’s ( a forerunner to A & W) she was a cleaning lady for awhile and then became the first woman in Canada to drive a taxi for a living so she could support my sister and me. She spoke several languages well . She was also a wonderful artist. She also supported us by painting portraits.

She also in her early fifties gave up the luxury of a serene life to take on the upbringing of my niece (8 years) and nephew (6 years).

She was a ‘doer.’

At her funeral so many folks came up to me to tell me how she had helped them in one way or another. She always believed that one should leave a place in better shape than when one found it.

She died in 2004 so she never knew about the Grandmothers campaign. I know she would have cheered us on and been one of our greatest supporters.

H. Carol Schmidt, Past Chair
Omas Siskona( Grandmothers Together) of Kitchener-Waterloo

How do grandmothers inspire you? Share your stories with Stephen Lewis Foundation for International Women’s Day: write a story, email us a note, post on Facebook or tweet using the hashtag #granspiration, share a photo or create a video to tell us how they motivate you! E-mail

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This International Women’s Day, tell us how grandmothers inspire you

For this International Women’s Day (March 8th), join us in making a public declaration – honour the grandmothers in your life and tell us how they motivate you!  Write a story, email us a note, post a tweet, share a photo or create a video to tell us how you have been inspired by the African grandmothers, the Canadian Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign, your grandmother, or a grandmother in your community.

Grandmothers in Africa and Canada have inspired us and continue to motivate us. The AIDS pandemic has left millions of children orphaned by AIDS. With compassion and fortitude, Africa’s grandmothers have stepped in to care for them. They have become the lynchpins of survival for their families and communities; they are advocates pushing for rights and protection; they run small businesses to support their families; and they are the invaluable home-based care workers who bring care and solace to people struggling with HIV and AIDS in their communities.

The Canadian Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign began in March 2006, in direct response to the emerging crisis faced by African grandmothers struggling to hold their families and communities together. What began with a handful of groups of committed Canadian grandmothers has grown into a dynamic social movement of thousands of women across the country – made up of Grandmothers and ‘Grand-others’, they are the embodiment of solidarity – raising awareness about and funds to support African grandmothers to turn the tide of AIDS in Africa.

For this years’ International Women’s Day send us your acclamations and reflections and together we will honour the many elder statewomen – African, Canadian or otherwise – who are so powerfully transforming lives, families and communities!  In the lead-up to March 8th we will feature your submissions on the Foundation’s Blog. You can also share your reflections with us directly via Facebook or Twitter (use the hashtag #granspiration).

We’re going to spread the message far and wide – through our Blog, Facebook, Twitter, and creating Art that will be shared with Canadian and African grandmothers!

How do grandmothers inspire you? Tell us and tell THEM!

Email or regular mail:
Email your 200 word story to or mail it to the address below. Content will be posted on the Foundation’s blog in the weeks prior to International Women’s Day and will be featured on March 8th. You are also welcome to submit photos and captions, as well as links to any videos you have filmed.

Stephen Lewis Foundation
260 Spadina Avenue, Suite 501
Toronto, ON M5T 2E4

Send a tweet to @stephenlewisfdn or tweet a photo of your grandmother,a link to a blog entry you have written or a video you have filmed. @stephenlewisfdn will retweet your messages in the weeks leading up to International Women’s Day and on March 8th.  Remember to use the hashtag #granspiration.

Post your photos, videos and stories about how grandmothers inspire you on the wall of the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Facebook page.

Share your story through a 90 second video! Send us a link to your video and we will share it via our blog, Twitter and Facebook accounts. Or send the actual video file to, and we will post it on our YouTube Channel.


The power of mentorship and music

Over four days last week in Johannesburg, South Africa, 14 community-based organisations gathered to kick off the third year of the SLF Mentorship Initiative- a peer-led programme (supported by dedicated funds from an external donor) designed to match up two organisations for a minimum of one-year to exchange lessons learned, test out innovative ideas, and work together to strengthen their transformative grassroots work. These organisations deliver home-based care, nutrition programmes, psychosocial counselling, play and music therapy, and countless other services and supports to whole communities struggling with HIV and AIDS.

The lodge in Johannesburg provided a welcome, albeit brief, change from the urgent work they do every day. Even after the rigorous formal agenda of the Roundtable had ended, the peaceful surroundings and evening light helped to ground their reflections, build trust, share expectations, and further explore practical solutions to deeply complex issues. The importance of building trust and maintaining open communication were key themes to emerge from the Roundtable.

The participants came from organisations that have been mentoring one another for the past year, and new organisations just beginning their mentoring relationships. This gathering facilitated a kind of “mentorship within mentorship”, as the partner organisations who already had experience with mentorship spoke candidly and with great enthusiasm about what worked, what they would do differently and what surprised them along the way. The new organisations came ready with their hopes and expectations and left with a clear plan of action, supported by the guidance and passion of those more experienced.

Throughout the Roundtable, partners from Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, South Africa, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe shared the meaningful impact of their year-long peer exchanges. One poignant example was the rich partnership between the Music Therapy Community Clinic (MTCC) and dlalanathi (both based in South Africa). They both work with children and decided to focus on teaching each other the techniques of their particular arts-based practice in order to expand the forms of therapy they bring to their work. dlalanathi has been focused on art and play therapy and the staff are self-confessed “non-musicians”, with some hesitation about their ability to produce anything vaguely musical. However, over time and with open exchange, commitment and enthusiasm, dlalanathi learned to strengthen their art and play therapy through music as a tool for the expression of grief, fear and anger. They also use music as a powerful tool for building and interpreting group dynamics among children.

MTCC has now begun to incorporate a wider element of play in their musical workshops with vulnerable children and youth. dlalanathi shared with MTCC how they “leave skills behind” by embedding lasting skills with both children and caregivers so that they can continue to draw on and share the benefits of their creative sessions long after the work has ended. MTCC now integrates this approach into everything they do.

The ultimate goal of the mentorship programme is to establish a flexible process in order to harness the capacity and talent powering the grassroots response to AIDS in Africa and leverage it to strengthen community-based responses across the continent. Although these two organisations differed in their approach, they found common ground by forging a deep friendship that identified commonalities, taking what is relevant and transferable from their differences. As Robyn, from dlalanathi remarked, “When you share the same values, speak the same language and have a similar foundation, you walk on the same ground from the same place, even if you do things very differently.”

The power of mentorship and music was brought to life within the Roundtable when MTCC led all of us through a rousing song-writing exercise. One by one, each person was invited to add a beat to an evolving song either by singing, snapping their fingers, tapping their toes or even finger-drumming on a tea cup. The results were beautiful and we were all more musical than we realized!

“On its own, my contribution sounded boring or disorganised, but as part of the whole, it fit and contributed to a lovely song. As your turn approaches, you don’t know what to do but when you listen to others you begin to add what fits. Someone needs to start the rhythm, but then everyone is equal in their contribution.”

The music was a metaphor for our work. Everyone contributed, listened, and played a role. It was the perfect ground work for lasting friendship and deep learning.

Blog entry by Felicity Heyworth, Communications Officer

Watch our interview with Sunelle Fauche from MTCC; part 1 and part 2

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SLF’s Peer Mentorship Programme – Expertise Comes to the Table

“It’s like walking alongside someone. You are not leading them by the hand. You are finding your way together” – 2010 Mentorship Roundtable Participant

In September 2008, the Stephen Lewis Foundation brought together nine grassroots organizations from seven African countries that were doing groundbreaking work in the area of home-based care. They met to discuss innovations, challenges and effective practices in their life-sustaining work providing health care and support in the homes of people living with and affected by HIV and AIDS. One of the overwhelming messages to come out of the meeting was the necessity and enthusiasm for capacity building and peer mentorship. The organizations all expressed a real appetite for the opportunity to learn from the strengths, expertise and successes of other organizations – and to share their own, emphasizing that the most relevant, effective, and transferable knowledge was that which was generated at the grassroots.

Taking our lead from our colleagues across Africa, the Foundation launched a peer mentorship programme that would pair grassroots groups together to learn from and teach each other as they enhanced their community-level work and internal systems. The goal was to establish a flexible process designed specifically to harness the capacity and talent powering the grassroots response to AIDS in Africa and leverage it to strengthen community-based responses across the continent. And so was born a peer mentorship programme.

Three years later, we have Foundation staff members * in South Africa this week to facilitate the third peer mentorship roundtable. Representatives from 14 grassroots organizations – and eight African countries – are gathered in Johannesburg and today (Tuesday, January 17th) will begin a four day meeting. Eight organizations, who have been working in pairs, will be wrapping up a year of mentorship work and are meeting to consolidate and share lessons learned about the peer mentorship process as well as the deep knowledge and inspiring expertise they witnessed and absorbed from each other. Three new pairs will launch a year of involvement in this programme, detailing how they will work together, what they want to learn from each other, and what their organizational strengths and needs are.

The organizations involved in this work come from a variety of countries, community sizes and structures, and face unique challenges in their daily work. But when around a table, they bring a common and deeply-held sense of commitment, motivation, and expertise. When shared and exchanged, this collective capacity and passion can turn the tide of AIDS in Africa.

** Joanna Henry, Programmes Advisor; Idah Mukuka, Field Representative; and Felicity Heyworth, Communications Officer

Blog entry by Felicity Heyworth, Communications Officer

Felicity will blog regularly from the third Mentorship Roundtable, which is being held in Johannesburg, South Africa from Tuesday, January 17th until Friday, January 20th 2012. More information about the Foundation’s peer mentorship programme will follow in the weeks and month to follow in eblasts, newsletters and on our website.


Toronto darers: Do a yoga dare, get an unlimited January pass for $99!

Woman doing yogaHappy New Year! Are you looking to start 2012 with a month of yoga? And do you want to raise funds for grassroots organization turning the tide of AIDS in Africa? This January, you can do both!

This month only, Toronto yoga studio Yoga Sanctuary is offering a special discount to Dare participants. Register a yoga dare and receive an unlimited pass for the month of January for only $99. Dare to start doing yoga or challenge yourself to practise your downward dog every day for the whole month.

Register your yoga dare and visit a Yoga Sanctuary location to get your unlimited monthly pass.

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Hope Rising: featuring Alicia Keys, K’NAAN and more!

Thank you to everyone for making Hope Rising a success! A special thanks to our presenting sponsor, CIBC, and all of the artists and sponsors whose generosity made the night possible. Hope truly is rising here and in communities across sub-Saharan Africa that are turning the tide of AIDS.

Read more, view photos and watch video clips from Hope Rising, a benefit concert for the Stephen Lewis Foundation at the links below:

To find out more about the Stephen Lewis Foundation and the grassroots African organizations we support, click here.

Here are photos from the event, via our Flickr stream:

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Dare to Wear Love on TVO’s Get Involved (VIDEO)

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Jim Searle and Chris Tyrell, the men behind Canadian fashion label Hoax Couture, were recently profiled on TVO’s Get Involved. In the video, Jim, Chris and Ilana Landsberg-Lewis — Executive Director of the Stephen Lewis Foundation — talk about Hoax Couture’s efforts to support the Foundation through Dare to Wear Love, the fashion-forward and cause-driven fashion show that since 2009 has closed out LG Fashion Week beauty by L’Oréal Paris (a.k.a. Toronto Fashion Week).

To find out more about Dare to Wear Love, click here!

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