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Our Fredericton group, Grandmothers Helping Grandmothers, is one of about 240 independent groups across Canada and beyond who raise money for the Stephen Lewis Foundation. The SLF provides support in many forms to some of the millions of grandmothers in Africa who are raising grandchildren orphaned by HIV/AIDS. In addition to fundraising, creating awareness and advocacy are also part of our mandate. We are slightly different from most groups as we also support a small Ottawa based NGO (Non­governmental Organization), Help Lesotho, which also has a grandmothers' support program.

These African grandmothers have seemingly boundless love, commitment and resilience. However, this is not to say they do not suffer. Their day to day living is arduous beyond words. Many care for more than their own grandchildren (sometimes as many as twenty or more); almost all have serious untreated health problems; some have grandchildren who are HIV positive and all are very poor. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of their lives, however, is that they are grieving the deaths of their own adult children from AIDS. Some have lost many children and some are great grandmothers who have lost two generations of their families.

All this is occurring against a backdrop where there is still much ignorance, denial and many myths associated with HIV/AIDS. As a result many grandmothers are shunned even by their churches. One grandmother in Lesotho recounted that she personally can endure this but her heart breaks to see her grandchildren rejected and isolated in school and in their village. In addition, the social and political empowerment of women generally remains a distant dream in much of Africa, so these brave women receive little support or recognition for the contribution they are making.

Our initiative to support these women dates back to the fall of 2006. Our initial meeting in October of that year consisted of four women. In the first few months the group grew steadily. In December of that year we teamed with a local wreath maker to launch our first fundraiser. Despite some initial glitches this was very successful and we sold over eight hundred Christmas wreaths. This venture has continued to grow and has become a "signature" event for our group. It also generates increased awareness of our cause and new members for our group. Other fundraisers have included a giant yard sale, a summer garden party; a "Dine for Africa" meal at a local restaurant; Luncheon Bridge events; fundraising dances; fish and chips dinner at the market; cook book sales; craft sales and the sale of jewelry and pins made by women in Lesotho.

We also have an annual November pot luck dinner for our ninety plus members which is purely social and provides an opportunity to get to know one another better. Indeed, one very positive outcome for all of us has been the opportunity to know, or in some cases, know better a wonderful group of generous, capable and creative women. It should be noted too, that being a grandmother is not a membership requirement. A number of our members are not at this stage of their lives.

Some members of our group have also been active on the awareness front. We have addressed numerous social groups, clubs, schools, churches and other organizations. Of course public speaking does not suit everyone but we do have a core of committed speakers, including some who did not previously know they had this talent.

Advocacy is a new venture for us in which we are just getting involved. However, we recognize the importance of holding the federal government responsible to fully honor its commitments to end extreme poverty internationally as well as keep its promises to assist in making antiretroviral drugs available in Africa. This alone has the potential to make an enormous difference in the world, far more than the efforts of any individual group.

Our organization is still evolving. Undoubtedly there will be challenges ahead. One obvious one is maintaining interest and support for a cause that is distant in both geography and experience. Africa seems far away and HIV/AIDS is not in the forefront of local concerns. However, the pandemic is projected to be with us for at least several more decades and we are determined to stay the course.

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