Morning Star Staff
One person can make a difference — if that person is a member of a group like Grannies à Gogo which works tirelessly to provide support for grandmothers in South Africa.
South Africa has 3,700,000 orphans (UNICEF estimate), about half of these orphaned when their parents died of AIDS. Vernon-based Grannies à Gogo, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, raises funds that go directly to help the gogos (gogo means grandmother in Zulu) who are raising orphaned grandchildren. The funds go to a local organization in Sadie, near Kruger National Park, about 440 kilometres north-east of Johannesburg.
The idea started with Susan Fenner, who lived in South Africa from 2001 to 2005 when her former husband worked there.
“I saw the needs and I knew there must be something that could be done for these courageous grandmothers. They range in age from 50s to 90s and some have great-grandchildren to raise. They do the best they can with very little,” she said.
Fenner was familiar with the work of the Stephen Lewis Foundation with HIV/AIDS in Africa and the Great Grannie Revolution in Quebec which helps grandmothers in South Africa. She started talking to friends and friends of friends and found enthusiastic support. After 10 years, Grannies à Gogo has more than 200 members and has raised more than $134,000 to help 50 gogos and their families in the Sabie area, in the hills at about 4,000 feet with a population of about 30,000. Many people live in the inadequate township housing, left over from apartheid.
“These are remarkable women, in South Africa and in Canada,” said longtime member Anne Clarke. “We derive a lot of joy from our fundraising. We become more ourselves and develop our own potential because we can reach out and help those with difficulties and understand another culture.
“There is a Zulu saying unbuntu ngumuntu ngabantu, meaning a person is a person through other people.”
The fundraising includes cookbooks, calendars, the sale of crafts based on the skills of members, the presentation of travelogues by members who have visited Sabie and anything else they can think of, like the karaoke showing of Grease (’50s costumes encouraged) coming up in November. The group also sells things like beadwork and patchwork made by the African women.
The funds are dispersed directly in the Sabie community through Vicky Bryant and Myriam Bryant, volunteers retirees from Belgium. There are projects like community gardens and buying small freezers so families can preserve produce, health checks and social activities for the gogos, help with school needs like uniforms and supplies and gifts like boots and blankets as the weather can get cool. Sports equipment or a decent mattress can also be wonderful gifts.
Canadian members write letters to African partners (these are translated) and get letters back although some of the gogos have not had a chance for much education and letter writing is not part of their culture.
“We get regular reports but not personal details about families. I do know of one girl I helped years ago when she was in kindergarten and who has now finished school and is going to art college,” said Fenner, who with some other Grannies à Gogo members, has visited Sabie.
“We knew there were basic needs but we didn’t appreciate the generosity of spirit of the gogos and their spirit and generosity. They will take in children whose grandmothers can’t care for them, even, in one case, an orphan found by the roadside.
“Many of these women had previously been isolated because of the shame of AIDS but now they come together to help each other. They get together to make soup for those in need. Now there is a sense of new hope for the future as they no longer face their hardships alone.”
Clarke looked at Fennel and said, “I think I’m happier for being involved. Are you?”
Fenner replied, “Yes. Yes, I am.”
See www.granniesagogo.com for a video and more information.