Focus on Africa
Cheryl Hewitt, February 20, 2019
The Grandmothers Campaign was created by the Foundation in 2006 to:
• Raise funds to meet the needs of African grandmothers and the children in their care;
• Listen to African grandmothers, respect their expertise and amplify their voices to promote authentic and substantive responses to the pandemic in Africa;
• Build solidarity among African and Canadian grandmothers to motivate and sustain the vital work of turning the tide of AIDS in Africa.
African grandmothers are putting their grandchildren through school, creating support groups to manage grief, and delivering comfort and hope through home-based care. They teach others about HIV prevention and treatment, create local savings and loan groups, sit on land-rights councils, and they are becoming small business owners in order to earn a living for their families. African grandmothers are leaders, sharing their expertise in their communities and on the international stage, pressing for their human rights and a hopeful future.
We Royal City Gogos take our role as fundraisers and educators seriously, and we have been learning as we work about solidarity.
Solidarity means something different to many of us, which isn’t surprising since it is the least concrete among our three objectives.
Solidarity can be viewed as a way toward tolerance, patience, empathy, compassion and determination. It can express our respect, acceptance and understanding of others.
I think that solidarity means sharing the advantages of resources as well as the burdens of inequality. It means doing with rather than for, with no whiff of moral superiority. It is mutual aid which is really only possible among equals. Solidarity is truly reciprocal.
Solidarity challenges all of us to recognize the roots of inequality and to address both economic and social inequality. It challenges our North American society’s general hierarchical structure, asking us to think horizontally, to respect others and to learn from others. We try to live those values the way we organize ourselves as the Royal City Gogos and our regional structure.
The SLF approaches our work in Africa as an ally, and in solidarity – sharing resources with African communities, and knowing that it is they, the Africans, who really know what is needed to challenge economic and social inequality. Our accountability as the Grandmothers Campaign is to the grandmothers we support. No one else.
I think one of the strongest testaments to our work is that we hear repeatedly through the SLF that African grandmothers find strength and courage knowing that grandmothers half way around the world stand with them and support them. We are solidarity in action – sharing our skills and talents to fundraise and educate our communities so that African grandmothers and the children they care for have more resources to address the many social, economic and cultural barriers to the loving, inclusive, healthy and happy families and communities they seek to create.
Most other, but not all, non-governmental agencies working in around the world on health and social issues use a charitable model. They address deficits, as they see them. Essentially, they do “for” rather than “with”. Someone outside a community determines what the most pressing problems are, or determines that a community could really use the resources the outside group has to share. Their accountability is to their funders, including other governments, and not really to the folks they are trying to help.
Solidarity challenges us to ask:
Who creates the problem? We need to look at root causes.
Who holds the knowledge? Those facing barriers know best the impacts of actions or inactions.
Where is the accountability? It needs to move outward to those facing the challenges, not inward to the needs of the organization or its funders.
A mix of charitable and community-based organizations provide health and social care in our communities here at home. The same questions apply to our work in our own communities.
I want to end with some comments Ilana Landsberg-Lewis made when she spoke at the close of the African Grandmothers Tribunal in Vancouver in 2013.
"Friends, Judges, Grandmothers ... We have heard your voices, and I know all of us feel the searing sting of injustice, the agony of loss, and the profound determination, strength and love that you have brought to meet the ravages of AIDS in your families and communities. The tenacity and intelligence of your responses to the scourge of AIDS are breathtaking, and I could not be prouder in this moment to stand here with you as a witness and a passionate ally in the struggle.
We know that you speak for millions of grandmothers and the organizations supporting them. We understand that this is not an exercise in charity or benevolence. The threshold of tolerance for injustice must be shattered today, and the resources and support you require to effect change in the face of AIDS—whether it is pensions, access to healthcare, or to be consulted and counted in the responses to the pandemic—must be acted upon.
We will take up your call to action and the recommendations of the judges, and we will not rest until the world comes to its senses and the support that should and must come is yours.
You have given us a clear agenda for support— whether it’s a global fund for cash transfers, the need for national level advocacy, the continuing urgency for land rights and housing, access to healthcare, universal and accessible education, food security, and laws protecting grandmothers from violence and the means to enforce them.
Today we commit to you anew.
All of us at the Stephen Lewis Foundation—and I know the Canadian Grandmothers are with us—will not rest until you have the justice you demand.
We commit to redoubling our efforts and to bend every fibre of our collective beings to break the inertia, the silence, and the dam of neglect and negligence that prevents the flood of resources from flowing.
We will be accountable to you, and heed you, as must now the world."
At our meeting members heard about the need for increased funding to sustain existing programs in Africa in the wake of ebola and other world crises.
At the same time we have been encouraged by the SLF to try to raise more money to fund initiatives that advocate for systemic change in African society.
Some Royal City Gogos responded enthusiastically to the request for more and set the bar high for our efforts but, in private, a member asked, "How much is enough?" It's a question we ask ourselves as we strive to find balance in our lives.
By what Stephen Lewis calls "the inexplicable lottery of fate" most Canadians have adequate means, leisure time, access to education and health care.
I believe If each one who is able, focussed on one need at home or abroad and gave it her all, the world be a much better place. Royal City Gogos have chosen their focus.... African grandmothers and their children. We can't respond to all the needs in the world, but we CAN do our best with this small piece.
How much is enough for the Grandmothers Campaign? Each of us will find our own answer to this question and it may alter from month to month depending on our family circumstances.
For now we continue doing the work we enjoy in the company of congenial women. "We will not rest until they can rest" is a promise we strive to honour.
The art exhibition is in its penultimate venue at Gibsons. To date it has been shown in 12 centres in BC and Alberta raising funds and awareness for African grandmothers. In each venue, the grandmothers groups hosting the show have invited their communities and created special events. Funds raised in the events surrounding the show have now reached +$30,000 and approximately 10,000 viewers have seen this moving exhibition.
The show will be in Gibsons for the month of February at the Gibsons Public Art Gallery and then it comes back to Vancouver. The Vancouver and Richmond grandmothers groups will host it at the Unitarian Church at 49th and Oak St. With an opening reception, craft sale and chocolate tasting, their events should draw a crowd.
Meanwhile committees of Royal City Gogos are hard at work planning the reception, the mechanics of the auction, and the publicity campaign. It's exciting but daunting. We want to maintain the high standard we have set for events, make sure our guests have FUN and make tons of money for African grandmothers. Tickets will go fast! It's a good thing we have online bidding. I've chosen 2-3 pieces I would love to have in my home. I HOPE the bidding doesn't go beyond my budget. Watch this space.