Karen Toovey’s is a typical reaction. “I heard about them and was compelled to do something.”
“Them” is the increasing numbers of African grandmothers who are charged with raising their grandchildren after their own children have died of AIDS.
Since 2006, the Stephen Lewis Foundation has been raising awareness of their plight through its Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign, which now has 240 groups across Canada which have raised over $10 million.
Toovey is organizer of a local chapter of the foundation’s efforts, the Burnaby Gogos–”gogo” is Zulu for grandmother. The groups include grandmothers, “grand-others” and “grand-sisters.”
Four years ago, the foundation brought 100 grandmothers from 11 countries of sub-Saharan Africa to Toronto where they spoke of their experience to 200 Canadian grandmas. About 14 million children in the region are orphans and many are being cared for by grandmothers.
“The African grandmas said they would not raise their grandchildren for the grave,” Toovey said. “The Canadian grandmas said ‘we will not rest until you rest.’”
And the Gogos groups have been fundraising ever since, with the money going to help the African women, who apply to the foundation for financial assistance. “It’s all at the grassroots level.”
On Thursday, Nov. 4, 7:30 p.m., the Burnaby Gogos, along with Simon Fraser University’s health sciences faculty and students, will welcome 19-year-old Thandeka Carol Motswa and Tsabile Victoria Simelane, 56, from Swaziland to James Cowan Theatre in the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts.
Motswa is the head of a household where she cares for her three younger brothers after caring for their mother until she died of AIDS in 2005. She was forced to drop out of school because she could not afford the school fees.
Simelane is a grandmother taking care of 30 orphans in her community. She cared for her sister who died of AIDS and is now looking after six grandchildren in her home, two of whom are HIV positive. As the head of her community HIV/AIDS support group, she also conducts home visits to terminally ill clients and works closely with a mobile clinic outreach team.
“These women in Africa always say ‘don’t pity us, help us but don’t pity us,’” Toovey said. “There’s so much we can learn from them. It just absolutely amazes me their resilience, their fortitude … They are the backbone of the continent.”
The Burnaby fundraising event, dubbed Entertaining Hope, will also feature performances by the B.C. Girls Choir, Sarah McLachlan’s Musical Outreach choir, Classical Nouveaux, Burnaby singer Daniella Barreto, and mime artist Yayoi Hirano.
Tickets are $35 and available at www.shadboltcentre.com or 604-205-3000.
By Wanda Chow Reporter, Burnaby NewsLeader