It has been five years since eight grandmothers got together for a luncheon to discuss the idea of forming an Oceanside group to help grandmothers and their orphaned grandchildren in sub-Saharan Africa.
The idea was introduced by local residents Kathy Grand and Carol Lundine after attending a speech made by Stephen Lewis at the Port Theatre in Nanaimo in March, 2006. Lewis was the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa at the time and spoke about the plight of African grandmothers who were attempting to raise their grandchildren, orphaned by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Today there are an estimated 13 million orphans in Africa being raised by grandmothers. Lewis wanted to engage Canadian grandmothers to help these grandmothers in Africa, and Lundine and Grand were excited about the idea.
The women at the luncheon were unanimous in forming Oceanside Grandmothers to Grandmothers, in support of the Stephen Lewis Foundation, and did so later that fall. Their first meeting was held in September with 39 women in attendance, and their first garage sale that weekend raised $362 for the campaign.
The grandmothers now have 140 members and have raised around $160,000 for the campaign. Although they are proud of the group’s accomplishments, the founder’s sights are set on far bigger numbers.
“Carol and I have always had the dream that we’d raise a million dollars,” said Grand. “That’s still our dream and as long as we’re able to do so, we’ll do our best.”
The group started out planning large fundraisers with celebrity speakers but over the years events have evolved to smaller endeavors like craft-selling. These have proved to be invaluable for not only raising money but also for the women who make the products.
This was true for a beloved member of the group Janet Stuart, who died in January. Stuart worked as a volunteer teacher for two years in Botswana, Africa and later for two more as an education officer. She returned a third time to Africa, this time to Malawi, but fell ill and had to return home. While in Africa she fought for better conditions and better pay for her staff among other things, and upon returning home to Canada she worked with the Anti-Apartheid organization and arranged for countless shipments of books, sports equipment and clothing to be sent to Africa.
Stuart was one of the first members of Oceanside Grandmothers to Grandmothers and although she was suffering from health issues, she set to work making beautiful handmade angels for the cause. She gave the angels African names, each one that of young child who had died from HIV/AIDS.
She raised $21,000 with her angels — most of them sold at $7 each. Lundine said Stuart once told her that the Oceanside group gave her life new meaning and encouraged her to keep battling her illnesses.
“It was a win-win (situation) for us,” Grand agreed. “We gave her the support and opportunity she may have been needing at the time… and on the other side of that we won because she kept us on the straight and narrow.”
Grand and Lundine explained that Stuart often told stories of her time in Africa to the group at meetings, which fired up the members and kept them focused. Stuart pointed out that every little bit of money raised helps, recounting a story of saving a woman by paying just 46 cents for her hospital visit.
“She gave so much back to us not just in her fundraising but in her energy, her focus, her dedication, her wisdom, her commitment and not to mention her experience,” Grand said.
Lundine said this type of win-win situation has repeated itself over the years, with many elderly members feeling motivated to make crafts and reporting a sense of accomplishment for their contributions.
“It’s a spinoff and we think it’s almost as good as what we set out to do in the first place,” said Lundine.
Lundine said the group never turns down an idea for a project and members participate as little and as much as they want to. Angels are still being made today and other popular items sold at local events include tote bags, jewelry, cook books, cards and quilts.
After five years the group has not only raised money for a worthy cause, but they have created new friendships and brought inspiration and creativity back into the lives of many local residents. For more information on Oceanside Grandmothers to Grandmothers visit www.oceansideg2g.ca or if interested in joining the group call Kathy at 250-752-1296 or Carol at 250-752-1553.
A Summer Garden Party fundraiser will take place July 9.
This will be a luncheon with entertainment and door prizes held at 820 Terrian Way in San Pareil, from 11 to 3:30.
Tickets are at Cranky Dog Music in Parksville and the Shoe Inn in Qualicum Beach.
The Grandmothers can also be found selling their crafts at St. Mark’s Fair in Qualicum Beach on July 23 and at the Craig Street Market on August 2.