A trip to Africa by a couple of members of Oceanside Grandmothers to Grandmothers (G2G) was an eye opener and a reminder of why the local group is committed to fundraising for the Stephen Lewis Foundation (SLF).
The lcoal G2G group has been raising money locally since 2006 to benefit the SLF which supports community-level organizations that are turning the tide of HIV/AIDS in Africa by providing care and support to women, orphans, grandmothers and other people living with the deadly disease.
In Africa the AIDS epidemic continues to devastate communities and since the beginning of the epidemic 14.8 million children have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS.
More than 240 groups of Canadian grandmothers have raised over $10 million for the SLF providing African grandmothers with food, housing grants, school fees for their grandchildren and more.
Ann Tardiff and Carol Lundine are members of a local group of about 100 dedicated volunteers which has donated over $184,000 to the foundation.
The pair went to Kenya this spring where they saw with their own eyes the dire conditions that exist for many people living there.
Parksville is a long way from Africa and the trip to the sub-Saharan continent not only made them appreciate how lucky they are to live in a country like Canada, but also emphasized why their fundraising efforts to assist families suffering from the effects of AIDS in Africa must continue.
As many as 13 million children have been orphaned by AIDS in Africa. That startling statistic may be just a number but for Tardiff and Lundine it provides a call to action to help in any way possible the African grandmothers faced with burying their own adult children before being forced to step into the breach to care for the orphaned children left behind.
“We saw a school in a slum in Nairobi where 60 per cent of students are HIV positive and 90 per cent of their parents are,” stated Lundine, who added, “We couldn’t stop crying it was so heart wrenching having driven through the slum.”
The pair met a woman named Margaret who was the head mistress of the school. According to them, Margaret was fortunate to get an education and came back to the area where she was raised to pass on her knowledge to the area’s children. They said it was inspiring to see her as well as many grandmothers looking after the children but at the same time it saddened them.
“Just the thought of those kids living in squalor … going home to parents who are sick made us cry,” admitted Tardiff.
The two women drummed up a lot of attention from the locals while they were there and on their last day at the Kigio wildlife camp in Gilgil Kenya they had an incredible experience.
Some locals had made arrangements to come to the camp with some handmade jewellry because they knew there would be foreign tourists there. It was the day they were leaving and it had rained, so walking was treacherous.
Despite the mud and flooding a couple from a far away village showed up at the camp at seven in the morning.
“They had walked for kilometers to get to this camp carrying these little shopping bags of jewelry,” recalled Lundine.
“I felt we couldn’t leave without looking at it and giving them some compensation after they went to all this trouble,” admitted Tardiff.
The two had exquisite jewelry made out of recycled paper and Lundine and Tardiff quickly chose as many as they could.
“We had no intention of buying jewelry when we went on our trip but we felt we needed to support them,” said Tardiff.
Lundine and Tardiff plan to sell the jewelry at the St. Marks Fair in Qualicum Beach on July 28 and donate the proceeds to their charity.
“We thought people here would like them (the pieces) because they are so unique,” Tardiff acknowledged.
They will also be selling other distinctive jewelry hand-made by Africans at the Kazuri bead factory in Kenya.
The mission of Kazuri is to provide and sustain employment opportunities for disadvantaged members of Kenyan society.
Kazuri means small and beautiful in Swahili which describes each and every beautifully handmade ceramic bead that is shaped by hand by the women who work at the Kazuri workshop.
Buying Kazuri beads supports literally hundreds of disadvantaged Kenyan women, by providing employment and healthcare services for them and their families.
Tardiff said every single bead is hand-painted and while the factory helps sustain the women, it doesn’t exploit them.
“The women that work there are all health compromised. They don’t do the same job week after week … it is not tedious or repetitive … they rotate so if you are rolling the clay one week, the next week you will be on to the painting. Its a win- win for the African women. The Stephen Lewis foundation wouldn’t support it otherwise,” said Tardiff.
Lundine agreed and said the funds they raise for Africa aren’t being used to pay for costly administration fees.
“90 cents of each dollar goes directly to the grandmas on the ground. That is why we work so hard for this organization. The work the foundation does is remarkable.”