Marion Boyd, member of the local Grandmothers for Africa chapter, attended the Reflection & Renewal Conference in Vancouver on March 11th and 12th. As she puts it, “It was an amazing conference that renews my faith in humanity!”
Reflection & Renewal: 10 years Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign, Stephen Lewis Foundation
by Marion Boyd
The sound flowed over us, back and forth, resonating as 300 woman sang in the call and response style of Africa: “We will not rest. We will turn the tide.” The women from Canada and from Africa were gathered in Vancouver March 11 & 12th to celebrate ten years of solidarity not charity, ten years of hard and determined grassroots work, ten years where dignity, mutuality and women’s spirit triumphed in fifteen countries where whole communities were torn apart and as many as 1 in 3 citizens had AIDS. What do you do when 36 million people have AIDS? What do you do with 17 million orphans? As one African grandmother put it, “Sitting and crying is not a solution.” A Canadian grandmother added, “It wasn’t enough to just write a cheque. We had to connect.” Another added, “If you think its time to retire, its time to work!”
So the Grandmother to Grandmother idea was born. It was a collaborative system not a heirarchy. It was inclusive and respectful. It emerged as a mass movement, a global movement with the face of a grandmother. It broke the isolation, stilled the fear and created a sense of community that sustained. Gradually, very gradually, African grandmothers began to regain hope, a sense of survival. They got up every morning to face fear, loss, illness but working together with Canadian grandmothers they gradually found their voice, realized they were worthy and could speak up and claim basic human rights.
It has taken ten years but they are demanding their governments help with health care, pensions, education. They are asking us in the developed world to be aware that our ‘free’ trade (TPP) agreement serves the pharmaceutical companies while depriving the poor of less expensive generic drugs to fight AIDS. They are fighting for land titles. They are slowly resurrecting their communities. Not every need is sated but they have a sense of dignity and hope and they are feeling better. Together we sing and we laugh and we move forward.
So what next? Ilana Landsberg-Lewis (pictured), Executive Director of the Stephen Lewis Foundation and a passionate human rights lawyer, wants to be able to fund the 100 to 200 new proposals the Foundation gets each month. Already they have funded over 1,400 initiatives and partnered with over 300 community based organizations in 15 countries. We want to double the number of grandmother groups in Canada that raise money for the Foundation. We want the grandmother to grandmother campaign to go global and find voice in international discussions at centers of power.
There is so much that has been done. There is so much that still needs to be done.
One of the inspirational African grandmothers who spoke concluded with these words: “Please don’t stop. We need resources. We need you. Please don’t rest. I’m begging you guys!” And here in Oliver, we won’t stop. If you’d care to join us we meet in the Oliver United Church the first Thursday of each month at 1 pm.
Local President Shirley Polk with Mariam Mulindwa of Phoebe Education Fund for AIDS Orphans, Uganda
Marion Boyd, Oliver Grandmothers for Africa group, with Mariam Mulindwa of Uganda, Ida Nambeya of Zambia and Siphwe Holphe of Swaziland
Ilana Landsberg-Lewis, is a labour and human rights lawyer and named one of the 25 top women of influence in Canada in 2012. She is the Executive Director of the Stephen Lewis Foundation and a passionate advocate for human rights.
Stephen Lewis, diplomat, politician, former Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations and UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS to Africa and the Chair of the Stephen Lewis Foundation.