At the beginning it was seeds and sewing machines, Jeanette Froese recalls.
For the last dozen years Froese has been organizing, speaking, travelling and raising funds on behalf of the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign, a charitable group attempting to assuage the AIDS epidemic in Africa by funding education, sanitation and health-care projects through the Stephen Lewis Foundation.
When she first joined the organization, the priorities were to grow vegetables and sew school uniforms for children, Froese says.
“It’s gone way past that,” she notes.
Now, instead of the organization telling Africa’s grandmothers what they need, it’s the grandmothers telling the organization what they need, Froese explains.
“Instead of asking for handouts they’re asking for better pensions, for more say,” she says. “Very slowly, it’s changing.”
Froese, a Parkgate resident and grandmother of five, says she frequently marvels at the strength of Africa’s grandmothers, many of whom are raising orphaned children in the wake of the AIDS crisis.
Froese made a trip to Africa in 2016 to observe first-hand the work undertaken by the grandmothers. In Zambia, she witnessed a community group providing clothes, shoes and books for schoolchildren. She saw the students eat their lunch – the only meal of the day for some of the kids – of cornmeal and beans.
“It’s changing their lives,” she says.
Froese resents the pity with which some observers discuss the grandmothers.
“These are not poor people. These are wonderfully resilient, strong women,” she says.
She recalls meeting Ida Nambeya-Mukuka, who began working with the foundation after losing her husband and brother. Mukuka continues to serve as a speaker for the organization, sharing her story and discussing the needs of the millions of children being in the midst of personal tragedy and continent-wide crisis.
She’s an amazing woman, Froese says, but not exactly unusual, either.
“And she’s just typical of some of the people we met in Africa.”
The rates of HIV and AIDS is still extremely high. As of 2016, more than 25-million Africans were living with HIV, the vast majority in sub-Saharan Africa.
However, antiretroviral drugs have dramatically improved the quality of life for many young people. Froese says.
She’s also noted the grandmothers having a trickle-down effect in terms of activism.
“Young men are starting to get involved in the organization and that is terrific,” she says.
And today, the projects being funded through the Stephen Lewis foundation include health organizations, psychologists and counsellors for bereaved children, as well as drug prevention programs.
In order to provide more help, the Capilano Grandmothers to Grandmothers are hosting a bridge luncheon and silent auction Wednesday, Oct. 17 at 5750 Eagle Harbour Rd. in West Vancouver.
A few of the items set to be auctioned include art work, a talking stick, as well as discount packages from It’s Time! fitness, Escape Travel, and the Northlands Golf Course, Froese says.
Tickets are available in blocks of four for $120.
The North Shore grandmothers are hoping to raise $6,000 through the event, Froese says.
While there are challenges to annual fundraising drives, Froese says the group’s reputation seems to precede it these days.
“People always seem to know what we do,” she says.
The grandmothers in Africa are continuing to do the heavy lifting, and they do it with grace, Froese says.
“In spite of all their hardships they could always find time to dance and laugh.”
And while progress is slow, it’s important to keep working, Froese says.
Discussing her trip in 2016, Froese explains that she got involved for a simple reason: “Because I’m a grandmother.”
It’s her duty to help, she says.
“Those of us who live in Canada really won the lottery and it’s up to us to do something to help others.”
To find out more or to purchase tickets call Merilee Bensted at 604-929-7688 or Wendy Roy at 604-980-8418.