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Osoyoos grandmothers continue to provide plenty of support for grandmas in Africa
While the AIDS epidemic is much less deadly in Canada and across the developed world compared to 10 and 20 years ago, that is not the case in Africa, where it continues to kill 5,000 people per day.
The great majority of the 24 million people living with HIV and AIDs in Africa are women and girls, which has resulted in hundreds of millions of young people being raised by grandmothers across the continent, said Linda McWhinnie, the vice-president of the Osoyoos chapter of Grandmothers for Africa, which was formed almost one year ago.
Speaking at the weekly Rotary Club of Osoyoos luncheon last week, McWhinnie detailed the massive crisis that still remains across Africa, why the local chapter was formed and their plans to initiate fundraising efforts to raise money to help grandmothers in Africa.
There are now Grandmothers for Africa chapters spread across British Columbia, including 100 Mile House, Kamloops, Kelowna, Oliver and Osoyoos, she said.
The chapter in Nelson is particularly successful and has set a fundraising target in 2013 to raise $100,000, she said.
Grandmothers for Africa was designed to assist the Stephen Lewis Foundation, which was former in 2003 and has raised tens of millions of dollars to assist those suffering from HIV and AIDS in Africa.
Lewis is the former leader of the Ontario NDP party and the son of former federal NDP leader David Lewis. He was the longtime Canadian ambassador to the United Nations.
His foundation has now supported 700 different projects in Africa over the past 10 years, in 15 countries, involving tens of thousands of women, men and children.
Grandmothers for Africa was formed in large part because Lewis is not always welcome in many African nations, said McWhinnie.
“He’s not popular in every country … he’s a disturber and he upsets the apple cart,” she said.
Because so many young and middle aged women have died from AIDS, literally millions of African boys and girls have had to be raised by their grandmothers and many of the children have AIDS or HIV, she said.
Over this past generation, African grandmothers have become central to the life of their communities to not only provide shelter, food and comfort to their grandchildren, but also to teach them about HIV prevention and treatment, harvest the crops and create income-generating programs for their grandchildren, she said.
African grandmothers have also stepped in to care for orphaned grandchildren and help put them through school and assist them with the loss of their parents and siblings, she said.
All of the money raised by Grandmothers for Africa chapters in Canada goes directly to the grandmothers in Africa and not one single penny is directed towards administration costs, she said.
In one African nation this past summer, a total of 60 houses were built by money donated by the Lewis foundation and a lot of that money came from Grandmothers for Africa, she said.
Money raised by the organization has also allowed local youth to train to help build these houses and eventually they become skilled tradespeople and are able to help provide for their families, she said.
The foundation also lends significant amounts of money to help purchase school uniforms and to build community gardens and more than 95 per cent of the money loaned has been repaid as these people become more and more self sufficient, she said.
While the cost of medication needed to treat those with HIV and AIDS has been significantly reduced, it’s still difficult and expensive to get that medication to remote areas in Africa and the foundation is spending a lot of money to provide that medication, said McWhinnie.
The Osoyoos chapter hopes to begin fundraising “in baby steps” in the next couple of months with events like a crib tournament and bridge tournament and then perhaps consider a larger community event next year, she said. There are currently 15 members of the local chapter and anyone interested in helping a great cause are more than welcome to attend a meeting, she said.
Meetings are held the second Wednesday of each month at the United Church in Osoyoos starting at 1 p.m. More information is also available at www.grandmotherscampaign.org or by calling 1-888-203-9990.