Margaret Mead has stated over and over again that a small group of thoughtful people could change the world…Indeed, that is the only thing that ever has...
It is a privilege for me to have the opportunity to write about how a small group of 4 committed individuals mushroomed into a formidable force of 225 strong in Kingston, Ontario raising well over $850,000 for elderly African women who are grieving the loss of their own children who have died of HIV/AIDS.
Me Nkhono Malengolo is a 70 year old Woman living in Hotse Lesotho. She had 8 children and lost 4 to HIV/AIDS. She is bringing up 4 Grandchildren. She gets up at 6 AM to fetch and heat bath water and prepare food for her orphan grandchildren. She worries all the time…She worries about the rains, too much or too little and how her grandchildren will manage when she dies and how she will manage to feed them. It is a hard life...This is just one of the 500 grandmothers our group has supported over the years.
In Stephen Lewis’s book "Race Against Time" and I quote "There has never been a sociological phenomenon of this kind; grandmothers are assuming the overwhelming burden of care...yet there is almost nothing in the way of special support for the parenting they provide." Africa has become continent of orphans and in the midst of this devastation grandmothers are emerging as the Unsung Heroes of Africa. They bury their own children; they start over and begin to parent again raising their own grandchildren with little or no support.
In 2006, we as a group decided to support both Help Lesotho, an NGO our of Ottawa that my sister Dr. Peg Herbert runs and the Stephen Lewis Grandmother to Grandmother Campaign. We intentionally decided not to have charity status but to raise monies for both organizations; they distribute tax receipts. When we give money to Help Lesotho, the money goes for specific projects. With the Stephen Lewis Foundation, they are involved in 15 Sub-Saharan countries and have people on the ground to identify needs of the Grandmothers.
Many people have asked why our group has become so successful…I think it is because most of the women have had interesting careers, are organized, creative and have transferred their skills generously to our group. But more importantly, they collectively desire to make a difference to the daily struggle of these incredible grandmothers.
We started our fundraising by auctioning off 30 Adirondack Chairs painted by local artists; we raised $30K that event. We have had speaker nights, music evenings, had a WALK in downtown Kingston, many markets, spring and fall raising $25K most days, sold calendars, food vouchers and more. We frequently do presentations in schools, to service clubs, Queen`s MBA classes, retirement homes and other groups in the community.
After I retired as a Nurse Educator, I went to Lesotho and worked with the Grandmothers there for 6 weeks. Lesotho is a landlocked country in South Africa. It has the third highest incidence of AIDS in the world. It was a memorable visual watching the 40-50 Grandmothers walking with canes for miles to the workshops, many very arthritic, bent over and dressed in the traditional Lesotho Blankets. In the workshops, we always had an interactive session on subjects such as grief, coping with how to raise children, their medical issues of Hypertension, Diabetes, Arthritis etc. Following this interaction, we would serve them a meal of Papa, Moroho, and Chicken. They would bring a “Plastic” to take home food they did not eat. One vivid memory I have was watching a Grandmother cut up an apple in 5 pieces to take home to her 5 Grandchildren… it brought tears to my eyes. After the meal, we would all dance and sing and sing and dance. Such joy for these ladies to be accepted, to feel empowered and to have fun.
It is the resilience and courage of the Grandmothers that inspires our group to keep working on their behalf.
As Gandhi has said and I quote “There is much need in the world and we can not be overwhelmed and paralyzed and do nothing. We can all step forward do something to make this a better place for those less fortunate.”
Anne Richards (RN, BA) has been employed at Queen’s University for 20 years working with Medical students. She founded the Kingston Grandmother Connection group in 2006. The organization has 240 members and attracts 30-40 to each monthly meeting, including a Chair person, Secretary, Treasurer, Publicity Educational Chairs and no administrative costs.
Anne has a husband, 3 children living in Montreal, Kingston and Denver and 9 grandchildren under 12.