The Stephen Lewis Foundation launched the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign in March 2006, in response to the emerging crisis faced by African grandmothers as they struggled to care for millions of children orphaned by AIDS.
What began with only a few groups of committed Canadian grandmothers has since evolved into a dynamic and responsive movement, made up of grandmothers and ‘grandothers’ mobilizing to support the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s work with African grandmothers.
The Grandmothers Campaign has supported the Stephen Lewis Foundation to strengthen grassroots organizations run by and for grandmothers who provide food, health care, school supplies and fees for their grandchildren, income-generating activities, counselling and social support, essential shelter, and other necessities.
The Campaign currently boasts more than 240 grandmothers groups across the country. Many of the groups have organized into regional and national networks in order to support each other’s development, fundraising and advocacy networks.
The Grandmothers Campaign has grown and transformed through a number of key moments. Here are some of those key moments led by the Stephen Lewis Foundation.
Campaign Launch (March 7, 2006)
On the eve of International Women’s Day the Stephen Lewis Foundation launched the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign at a press conference in Toronto. Speakers included Stephen Lewis, Adrienne Clarkson, Shirley Douglas, South African nurse Rose and grandmother Lucia. At the time of the press conference, there were six groups of Canadian grandmothers active in Canada.
Grandmothers Gathering (August 11-13, 2006)
The Stephen Lewis Foundation held the first international Grandmothers’ Gathering on the eve of the XVI International AIDS Conference in Toronto. One hundred Africans and two hundred Canadian grandmothers gathered for three days of workshops, run by the grandmothers themselves. They discussed topics ranging from grief to fundraising, and from stigma to the care of children orphaned by AIDS.
The Gathering provided an opportunity for Canadian grandmothers to hear the experiences of African grandmothers first-hand, and for both Canadians and Africans to recognize and affirm a shared identity as grandmothers and leaders. Together, they created the Toronto Statement a joint statement of commitment and intent.
Canadian and African grandmothers “have within us everything needed to surmount seemingly insurmountable obstacles. We are strong, we are determined, we are resourceful, we are creative, we are resilient, and we have the wisdom that comes with age and experience.”
African grandmothers “do not need a great deal, but we do need enough: enough to safeguard the health of our grandchildren and of ourselves; enough to put food in their mouths, roofs over their heads and clothes on their backs; enough to place them in school and keep them there long enough to secure their futures. For ourselves, we need training, because the skills we learned while raising our children did not prepare us for parenting grandchildren who are bereaved, impoverished, confused and extremely vulnerable. In the long term, we need security. We need regular incomes and economic independence in order to erase forever our constant worry about how and whether our families will survive.
We grandmothers deserve hope. Our children, like all children, deserve a future. We will not raise children for the grave.”
- Excerpts from the Toronto Statement
Canadian Grandmothers’ Educational Trip to Africa (February 2008)
In late February 2008, the Stephen Lewis Foundation organized an educational trip to Africa for a group of 12 Canadian grandmother representatives to visit grassroots organizations in Uganda, South Africa and Swaziland. There, they witnessed the incredible impact that these organizations are having in their communities and saw first-hand how African grandmothers were beginning to move beyond basic survival and forming peer support groups, planting community gardens, receiving health care and psychosocial support, and ensuring that their grandchildren were enrolled in school – to name but a few initiatives.
African Grandmothers’ Gathering in Swaziland (May 2010)
From May 6–8, 2010, over 500 grandmothers from 13 African countries and 42 Canadian grandmother delegates travelled to Manzini, Swaziland, for the historic African Grandmothers’ Gathering. Whether from Ethiopia, Swaziland, Kenya, South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, Malawi or Canada – the expertise and central role of grandmothers in turning the tide of the pandemic was undeniable.
The Gathering culminated on May 8th with 2,000 grandmothers marching in solidarity through Manzini, calling for action the world over to support them as they struggle at the frontlines of the AIDS pandemic to create a hopeful future for their families. At the close of the Gathering, the grandmothers issued the Manzini Statement, a clarion call to the world for recognition, greater resources, legal protections and a richer quality of life:
“To the international community we say: true sustainability is in the hands of grandmothers and other community activists. We call on you to deliver on your promises. We have reached a real turning point in the struggle to subdue the AIDS pandemic. Now we are seeing the growing impact of our joint efforts, the need for increased and consistent resources is greater than ever… We are strong, we are visionary, we have faith and we are not alone. Together we will turn the tide of AIDS.”
- Excerpt from the Manzini Statement
GranAfriCan (June 2010)
In June of 2010, at the same time as the G20 conference in Toronto, the National Advocacy Committee (now the Grandmothers Advocacy Network–GRAN) and the Ontario Regional Resource Group organized the GranAfriCan gathering.
300 Canadian grandmothers heard from two African Grandmothers, attended workshops on fundraising, advocacy and awareness building, and strategized around priorities. The day ended with a “Jabula” party filled with food, music, crafts, and fellowship!
AfriGrand Caravan (September-November 2010)
From September 7th to November 10th 2010, the Stephen Lewis Foundation travelled with African grandmothers and granddaughters orphaned by AIDS to 40 communities across Canada – from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Victoria, British Columbia. The concept was simple: create a forum for Canadian communities to hear directly from those at the heart of community-based efforts to turn the tide of AIDS in Africa.
The AfriGrand Caravan brought African grandmothers along with the emerging voices of the granddaughters, now in their teens. During this transformative tour, 80 events were held in high schools, universities, town halls, union halls, churches and libraries where African grandmothers and granddaughters shared their deeply personal stories, their strategies, their challenges and their triumphs in dealing with the ravages of AIDS. Canadian communities responded in turn: they formed new grandmother groups, forged new partnerships, and pledged continued support for the African grandmothers and granddaughters. Click here to watch the AfriGrand Caravan video.
Five Year Anniversary (March 2011)
In just five short years, the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign raised more than $12 million and boasted over 240 grandmother groups across Canada. A new social movement powered by elder stateswomen in communities across Canada is born.