Grannies striding to turn tide on AIDS
Grandmothers want to turn the tide on HIV and AIDS in Africa.
On June 12, the Georgian Bay Grannies - part of a network of more than 240 'Grandmother to Grandmother' groups across the country - will hold a Stride to Turn the Tide event to raise money for the Stephen Lewis Foundation, an organization started by the Canadian politician and ambassador to put a spotlight on the the HIV/AIDS pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa.
Last year, grandmother groups walked more than 12,000 km for Stride to Turn the Tide, raising close to $400,000. The 2011 goal is to surpass that amount - and the Georgian Bay Grannies, formed this past January, are working hard to do their part.
"This effort involves not only thousands of grandmothers, but their friends and families in support of grandmothers caring for the millions of children that have been orphaned by AIDS and all proceeds go to the Stephen Lewis Foundation," said local group member Jill Doble.
Lewis started his foundation in 2003 after he visited the continent while serving as the Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa. Since then, it's funding more than 700 projects with 300 organizations in 15 African countries. One of the main areas funded by the foundation are programs to support grandmothers who are raising their grandchildren orphaned as a result of the AIDS epidemic.
"It became (Lewis') passion when he saw what was happening," said Doble. "It must be very healing for them to know that people care and are working to help. You don't have to be a grandmother or become a member to take part and support the cause - anyone can walk," said Marilyn Jones of Georgian Bay Grannies.
There will also be African hand-painted Kazuri ceramic jewellery and baskets on sale at the walk, and the Saugeen Grannies will have a booth selling vintage jewellery.
Jones said as corporations and governments have withdrawn their financial backing for Africa during the recent financial downturn, Grandmother to Grandmother groups are stepping forward to raise money with innovative and groundbreaking grassroots projects supported by the Stephen Lewis Foundation.
This is the local group's first fundraising event, and Jones said members are excited to support a grassroots organization with a 'lean' administration where the majority of the funds go back to the cause.
"There are 15 million HIV/AIDS orphans in sub-Saharan Africa, and most of them are being raised by grandmothers who have buried their own children - then have to turn around to help raise their grandchildren, usually in extreme situations of poverty," said Jones.
Georgian Bay Grannies member Naseem Sunderji is looking forward to the group's first walk and hopes a lot of people will take part.
"Even if you are not walking you can still make a donation," said Sunderji, who says she enjoys the social aspect of being involved in Georgian Bay Grannies, as well as the educational component and how Grandmother groups can help.
The Grandmothers to Grandmothers movement started in 2006 and continues to grow as more and more Canadian communities come on board.