By the time the AIDS pandemic in Africa had reached its height in the early 2000s, millions of children had been orphaned. In the face of overwhelming loss, the grandmothers of Africa stepped in to hold families and communities together. Author Joanna Henry and photographer Alexis MacDonald visited eight African countries, interviewing and photographing hundreds of grandmothers (including Sarah Obama, Barack Obama’s grandmother) who are reclaiming hope and resurrecting lives. The extraordinary images and stories of resourceful women fighting for a better future make Powered by Love an inspiration for everyone.
Writes journalist-social activist Michele Landsberg, “We thought we knew what was happening in Africa when the AIDS pandemic raged across the continent, sweeping away 35 million lives. But we never knew it the way this book reveals it, in the shockingly intimate voices of the grandmothers who had to save the abandoned children when no one else was left alive. These voices will leap straight into your heart. Their unguarded faces, in portraits that glow with character, pain and humour, will captivate you.”
In 2006, the Stephen Lewis Foundation launched a campaign to engage Canadian grandmothers to support their African sisters. The Grandmothers Campaign, now a movement 10,000 strong, has raised over $25 million that has gone directly into the hands of African grandmothers and their grassroots organizations. Powered by Love joins this campaign by telling the story of these indomitable women and by directing all royalties from the sale of the book to African grandmothers raising children orphaned by AIDS.
Published on: April 14, 2017 | Last Updated: April 14, 2017 4:45 PM MDT
In a church basement in southeast Edmonton, dozens of grandmothers fold fabric, sort scarves and untangle yarn.
But this is no knitting circle — the group has raised more than $1 million for charity over the last decade. An upcoming fabric sale on April 22 is estimated to bring in more than $20,000.
“We’re a granny gang,” said Louise Barr, spokeswoman for Grandmothers of Alberta for a New Generation (GANG). “We’re a very creative bunch of women.”
Proceeds from the sale will go to the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign run by the Stephen Lewis Foundation. The funds are distributed to community-based groups in sub-Saharan Africa that support grandmothers who are charged with supporting young children affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
“There are now 240 grandmother groups across Canada who are doing what we’re doing, raising funds and awareness for these African grandmothers. As Stephen Lewis would say, they are the unsung heroes,” Barr said, noting that in 2010 she travelled to Swaziland with the project. “(What we raise) is only a drop in the bucket as to what these grandmothers in Africa need.”
The Edmonton group is comprised of women seniors — the oldest member is 95. “We’re not just grandmothers, but also grand-others, because there are lots of women in our group who don’t have children,” Barr said.
The fabric sale, now in its fifth year, has taken months of preparation. The group spends four hours per week sorting through fabric donations.
“It is a frenzy,” Barr said. “We will have 500 people who come through the door.”
The event will also include the sale of silk scarves, which the group began making from donated fabric two years ago. Scarf sales have brought in $25,000.
“We’ve done a cookbook that has been very successful, we’ve done fashion shows,” Barr said.
On April 22, most fabrics will be sold for one dollar per metre. Quilting fabric will cost five dollars per metre.
“To buy (quilting) fabric in a store, you’re looking at $20 a metre,” said Ev Carter, a member of GANG. “I make quilts for gifts … the sale offers really good buys.”
She said she’s looking for something special this year.
“Sometimes you just see a piece of fabric that inspires you and you’ll build off of that.”
The fabric sale will take place at Strathearn United Church at 8510 95 Ave. on April 22 from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
The location of the 2017 Gathering has been announced. It will be hosted in Red Deer by GrammaLink-Africa on September 15th and 16th. Mark your calendars. We are hoping many GANG members will make plans to attend. More information to follow. Here are some photos from the Grandmother Gathering 2016 in Edmonton.
Sheilagh and Margaret from the Camrose Grateful Grannies with Maude and Daniel, guests from Zimbabawe
Miriam, guest from Uganda, with Judy Dube, Grandmother Regional Liaison for Northern Alberta
A gift for Maude from GrammaLink Africa in Red Deer
The African Grandmothers applauded the support received from Canadian Grandmothers
Our guests spoke eloquently about the challenges they face.
Thanks to the generosity of the Old Strathcona Antique Mall, the GANG has a new venue. It’s called Grandmother’s Cupboard, and unlike Mother Hubbard’s which she was never able to fill, ours is bursting with antiques, collectibles and curios. We invite everyone to drop by the mall, 10323 78th Ave., and look at what we have to offer.
Since 2012, the Fabulous Fabric Frenzy has been an annual G.A.N.G event.* During that time thousands of metres of fabric and yarn have been made available to people in the Edmonton area for very low prices.
Although we readily share the amount of money raised at this event, we less frequently share stories of the more qualitative outcomes of this fundraising event: the lives it allows us to touch; the hopes it fosters; the global inclusiveness we sometimes unknowingly support.
Here are some of those stories, with names altered to shield individual identities:
Brian comes into the room where bags of yarn are set out on long tables. He’s stocky and freckle-faced. His spikey hair is died jet black. He wears studs in his ears and in each corner of his mouth.
Dianne, a GANG member asks, “Are you a knitter?”
“I guess,” he says. He glances sidelong at her. “I knit and crochet.”
“So you’re a real craftsperson,” she says. “Like me.”
He beams. “And like my grandmother. She taught me everything I know.” Dianne nods, acknowledging the importance of grandmothers in the world.
“What are you working on now?” she asks.
“Well,” Brian says, now quite animated. “I’m in prayer shawl ministry at my church.” He explains the making and blessing of shawls that are given out to people in need of physical or emotional support. “And I knit for my family.”
“You have a very lucky family then.”
Brian turns and looks at the worker directly for the first time. “I’ll bet when you first saw me you didn’t think I was the crafty type. You thought I was . . .”
“Oh, I know a kindred spirit when I see one,” she says. “After all. I’m a grandmother, too.”
“I knit slippers, shawls and blankets for the Sisters of the Holy Cross, a relief organization in Haiti,” Melanie says. Gesturing at the two large black bags filled with yarn she’s selected, she adds, “I’ll have to live to be a hundred to use all of this up.”
Holly and Angela
“We’re marking the opening of a show by the Focus on Fibre Association by yarn bombing the seven trees out in front of Enterprise Square. (Yarn bombing, sometimes called yarn storming, guerilla knitting, urban or graffiti knitting originated as a means of personalizing impersonal public places through the use of knitting and crochet.) When we’re finished the trunks of the trees will be covered by colorful squares.”
“I’m knitting a huge granny square afghan to keep my legs warm when I’m sitting in the evening.”
Cynthia is very quiet, almost worshipful as she selects baby yarn in pastel shades. “I had a miscarriage,” she says, although she hardly looks old enough. “Now I knit for premature babies. It helps me to keep from thinking about what I’ve lost.”
Susan and Mike
Susan and Mike each have an armful of fabric, which they take to the stage at the end of the large fabric room. They sort through their selections, discussing which piece they can keep and which they will have to return. Grace, a GANG member approaches them to see if she can help. “We just have to be very careful how much we spend,” Susan tells her tearfully. “Mike and I have both lost our jobs and we don’t have anything to spare right now, but I can still sew for our daughters so they look their best at school.”
Grace considers this briefly. “All the fabric goes on sale for half price after 2 PM,” she says. “If you want to leave your bag with me and come back, I think that would be alright.”
“Oh, could you do that?” Susan says.
“Of course,” Grace tells her. She’s already moving their stash of fabric to the counting room.
“I’m looking for cotton to make drawstring bags for a charity I’m involved in called “Days for Girls.” She explains that it supplies girls in developing countries with menstrual supplies – eight tri-fold pads, soap, panties, a washcloth and moisture barrier shields. “When girls begin menstruation,” she says, “they often have to leave school because they lack the necessary materials. One girl out of every four leaves school in India, for example. Keeping girls in school helps to break the cycle of poverty.” Brenda says she’s amazed to find beautiful fabric available at such good prices.”
Missy is first in line to enter the building, having waited outside the building for over forty-five minutes. “I’ve come to the Frenzy for the past two years with my mother,” she says. “But she died during the winter. This time I brought her with me in spirit and promised her that we’d get here early so as not to miss anything.”
“I always come with a few friends. We have developed a system where we only take a third of what we’ve bought at the sale into the house and leave the rest in the garage. After a while we take another third in. That way our husbands don’t know that we’ve gone overboard again.”
* G.A.N.G. is an acronym for Grandmothers of Alberta for A New Generation. All profits of our fundraising activities go to the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmother to Grandmother Campaign to assist African Grandmothers raising AIDS-orphaned grandchildren.
The Eastside Grannies from Sherwood Park are featured in an Edmonton Journal article written by Gladys Teske, which highlights the Grandmother film showing on January 17 . You can read the article here.
The Stephen Lewis Foundation is delighted to share new videos from the second installment of the Ask Her Talks speaker series that recently took place in Edmonton, Winnipeg and Toronto. The grandmothers and grandothers who attended the Talks in each city were keen that we share them with you as soon as possible! The African women who spoke at the Ask Her Talks come directly from grassroots organizations in Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe. They are frontline workers, organizers and activists who are seized with the challenges of AIDS in the lives of their communities, day in and day out. In their Talks, each woman addresses the herculean efforts being made at community-level by tenacious grassroots organizations to hold governments accountable to those struggling with the virus, and to rebuild families and communities. From beginning to end, the insights, humour, chagrin, and tough analyses of the African women who spoke at the Ask Her Talks challenges us all to think differently about philanthropy, change, and power. Please enjoy the videos of the Ask Her Talks here and share them widely!
The ASK HER talk held in Edmonton on November 23, was a unique opportunity to hear first hand from African women directly involved in supporting and building communities affected by HIV and AIDS. Despite wintry winds and snow, people from Edmonton and area came out to listen and to learn about current conditions in Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Kenya and South Africa.
GANG members enjoyed an informal meal with our African sisters on November 24, and were moved and inspired by their passion and commitment to the people in their communities.
A delicious meal was shared by GANG members, SLF staff and our African sisters.
Hope Chigudu, Zimbabwe Women’s Resource Centre and Judy Dube, GANG member
Wendy Legaarden and Joyce Madsen from The GANG’s Education Committee
Vuyiseka Dubula, Peres Abeka and Dorothy Onyango, three of the speakers at the ASK HER talks.
The group of African guests, GANG members and SLF staff pose for a photo.
The GANG is pleased to partner with the Stephen Lewis Foundation to present the Edmonton ASK HER talks, featuring grassroots leaders and HIV-positive activists from Kenya, Ethiopia, Zimbabawe, and South Africa, speaking about philanthropy, change and power in the context of women’s rights and HIV & AIDS. Visit askhertalks.com for more information.
“I want to do more to help the Grandmothers and Orphans of Sub-Saharan Africa.” So stated Hayley Volk, a fourth grade student at Johnny Bright School in Edmonton. Hayley’s class had created “robots” out of waste material, creatively and with individual input. They raised about $500 for the Stephen Lewis Foundation by selling their robots. They were all proud of their work and involvement. So was Hayley, but she wanted to do more.
With the encouragement of GANG member Vivian Pich along with her teacher, Hayley devised her own new project. Her mother helped her select attractive beads to create bracelets and necklaces, and then Hayely and her classmate Evan sold this jewelery themselves at a GANG garage sale. What an enterprising, committed young student! Her spirit and caring inspired us all.
Ida Mukaka, field representative from the Stephen Lewis Foundation, made her inaugural trip to Edmonton April 26 to spread the word about what is happening with some of the projects funded by the Foundation in sub-Saharan Africa. Ida is a compelling speaker; she speaks from the heart and everyone in the audience was captivated and moved by the stories she had to tell.
You can see more photos from Ida’s presentation in our Photo Gallery.
Chat With Ida- by Judy Dube, Northern Alberta Liaison, SLF
40 grandmothers from 5 different Northern Alberta Grandmother Groups gathered Sunday afternoon April 27 for a “Chat With Ida”. Ida Mukuka, from Zambia, is a Field Representative with the Stephen Lewis Foundation (SLF). Through her work, she visits SLF funded projects throughout sub-Saharan Africa offering support and direction. The GANG was pleased to host Chat With Ida on her recent Canadian visit.
Through a series of photos and many stories, Ida shared how SLF funding is making a profound difference in the lives of African grandmothers, their grandchildren and their communities.
One such photo story focused on children who were receiving lunches funded through a SLF project while attending their local school. Ida shared that when this lunch program first began, the children rushed to the food grabbing handful yet eating very little as they stashing the food away. Over time the children realized there would be enough food for everyone and their behaviour shifted. This resulted in more organized distributing of food, food being eaten, and spontaneous sharing of food among the children; the school attendance increased as did the children’s learning. One photo showed many smiling children holding food packages they were taking home for their Grandmothers. Positive change was evident.
We saw many pictures of grandmothers who were busily involved in SLF funded projects. Ida emphatically shared that their smiling faces were an indication that these heroic women’s lives had improved; they were less stressed and coping better as they had food and housing for their families … and now many of their grandchildren were attending school regularly.
Judy Hayman, GANG chair, thanked Ida for sharing with such passion and humor how our local grandmother groups were making an impact. One grandmother shared as she was leaving “Thanks to Ida I am going home to work even harder!”