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The Grandmothers Campaign has been marked and transformed by 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 gathering for three of workshops, run by the grandmothers themselves. They discussed topics ranging from grief to fundraising, 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, 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.”

Grandmothers Campaign Educational Trip to Africa (February 2008)

In February 2008, a delegation of twelve Canadian grandmothers from seven provinces traveled to Uganda, South Africa and Swaziland to visit SLF-funded projects firsthand and meet with African grandmothers and their orphaned grandchildren living in communities struggling with HIV and AIDS.  The delegates witnessed first-hand the impact of the grassroots organizations in their communities and saw how African grandmothers were beginning to move beyond basic survival – forming peer support groups, planting community gardens, receiving health care and psychosocial support, and ensuring that their grandchildren were enrolled in school. On March 8 – the two-year anniversary of the Campaign – the twelve grandmothers took part in a solidarity march with 1,000 grandmothers and women in Swaziland to mark International Women’s Day. Upon their return to Canada, each woman dedicated a year to public speaking and community outreach and education.

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

The 42 Canadian delegates have used their experiences and knowledge gained in Manzini to do community outreach and education. They speak and make presentations at schools, churches, clubs and local unions all across the country.

AfriGrand Caravan (September-November 2010)

From September to November 2010, the Stephen Lewis Foundation travelled across the country with African grandmothers and granddaughters orphaned by AIDS. The AfriGrand Caravan created a forum for these women to tell their stories – in high schools, universities, town halls, union halls, churches and libraries – and to share their strategies, challenges and triumphs in dealing with the ravages of AIDS.

Individuals in 40 Canadian communities from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Victoria, British Columbia were able to connect directly with African women and girls at the heart of these community-based initiatives. It also offered Canadians the opportunity to be inspired by these stories and to join the movement by forming new grandmothers groups, forging new partnerships, and pledging continued support for the African grandmothers and children in their care.

The AfriGrand Caravan was proudly supported by the Canadian Auto Workers, CIBC, the Communication, Energy and Paperworkers Union, and Aeroplan’s Beyond Miles programme. The AfriGrand Caravan vehicle was provided courtesy of Chrysler. 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.

African Grandmothers Tribunal (September 2013)

Discrimination and inequality place a heavy burden on the African grandmothers who are struggling to support communities devastated by HIV and AIDS. African grandmothers deserve better—they deserve justice. On September 7, 2013, the Stephen Lewis Foundation hosted a people’s tribunal to shine a public light on the denial of their human rights, and to issue a call for action.

Grandmothers are advocates for their families, and are emerging as experts and leaders, increasingly acknowledged by governments and international NGOs.

Six grandmothers from across sub-Saharan Africa presented their personal testimonies before the Tribunal’s judges: Theo Sowa, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, Joy Phumaphi and Gloria Steinem. The women spoke directly to the triple threat of discrimination grandmothers face at the frontlines of the AIDS pandemic, based on sex, age, and HIV status.

The African Grandmothers Tribunal amplified the voices of the courageous African grandmothers and sent a clarion call for change: for their rights to be promoted, protected and respected—rights to property, bodily integrity, income security, freedom from violence, and quality health care. Both the grandmothers and the expert wit­nesses—the representatives from grassroots organizations which support the grandmothers and the orphaned children in their care—spoke to the need for change through improved laws, policies, funding priorities, consultation, positive cultural practices and greater access to justice.

Based on their testimonies, the Tribunal set the stage to chart a new path forward for advancing African grandmothers’ rights. The Grandmothers issued a Call for Action “that the time has come. It’s time to recognize that grandmothers at the forefront of the HIV/AIDS crisis must have our human rights respected and protected. It’s time to support our organizations fully and put systems in place to address our needs and the needs of the children in our care. It’s time to recognize our contribution to the survival of our communities and the expertise we have developed to do so, by giving us our rightful place and voice wherever decisions are being made.”

The Stephen Lewis Foundation made a moving documentary centring on the African Grandmothers Tribunal. The film begins in Africa, and highlights the six grandmothers who gave testimony; they have become leaders, showing the way to resurrect lives, families and communities devastated by AIDS.

Grandmothers Campaign Educational Trip to Africa (March 2014)

In mid-March 2014, the Stephen Lewis Foundation led a group of 20 Canadian grandmothers to visit four grassroots partner organizations in Ethiopia, Rwanda, and South Africa.  One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust (HACT) in South Africa, where the Foundation had been invited to put teams of Canadian grand(m)others on the field at the annual Gogolympics!

This was HACT’s fourth annual Gogolympics to celebrate the success of their Granny Project and emphasize the importance of an active lifestyle to grannies. HACT has over 30 Gogo Support Groups operating across five communities, with 1500 members!  In recent years, the gogos have started playing soccer, netball and other sports as a way to keep fit and healthy and to promote healthy living to their grandchildren. It was also a precious opportunity for older women to PLAY!

When they returned, the Canadian grandmothers undertook many speaking engagements in their communities, informing and education young and old alike.

Uganda Grandmothers Gathering in Uganda (October 2015)

From October 5–7 2015, hundreds of grandmothers from across Uganda made history in Entebbe. They came together for the country’s first National Grandmothers’ Gathering–an unprecedented opportunity for older women diversely affected by HIV and AIDS to voice their experiences, share their innovative strategies for responding to the pandemic, and collectively lay claim to constitutionally-protected rights too often denied.

The Ugandan grandmothers were joined by grandmother delegations from Kenya and South Africa, as well as by 22 Canadian grandmothers representing thousands of members of the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign. For the first two days of this historic gathering, the grandmothers met in workshops, to rigorously discuss the difficult issues affecting them and their communities. On the culminating day of the Gathering, they walked jubilantly through the streets of Entebbe, demanding access to education, healthcare, land, legal representation, and freedom from violence and theft. The participants then released the powerful Ugandan Grandmothers’ Statement, calling on government, the private sector, civil society, media, UN Agencies and members of the international community to support their collective vision for a future in which their grandchildren and communities are thriving, and have left the ravages of AIDS behind.