Oceanside Grandmothers to Grandmothers was launched right from the beginning of the Grandmothers Campaign in 2006. Below, the original founders tell their story of how the group got started.
How Our Group Got Started
by Kathy Grand and Carol Lundine
As new friends, we had recently discovered that both of us were fans of Stephen Lewis. Each of us knew of his involvement in the Canadian political arena and admired his success as Canadian Ambassador to the UN during the Mulroney years. We shared the personal experience of having listened to one of his eloquent speeches and a curiosity about his continuing life of public service. At that time, Mr. Lewis was the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa. So, one evening in March 2006, we traveled together to an event at the Port Theatre in Nanaimo: Stephen Lewis was speaking.
Stephen Lewis: African grandmothers are the “heroes of the continent”.
Surprisingly, Stephen Lewis did not speak about his life. He spoke with characteristic passion about the lives of blacks living in sub-Saharan Africa in the midst of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Most particularly, he focused on the plight of grandmothers in that part of the world, women he referred to as the “heroes of the continent”, who were eking out an existence without support while attempting to raise orphaned grandchildren and others left in the wake of the devastation of AIDS. He painted a compelling verbal picture of what he was witnessing in Africa. He further described his frustration with the international community producing “documents and declarations” rather than any committed action dedicated to end the pandemic. It had prompted him to create a Foundation and then turn to “generous Canadians” for help.
Mr. Lewis outlined a plan to initiate a special campaign that would engage Canadian grandmothers to be in solidarity with their African sisters. He proposed that groups of grandmothers across Canada would work to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS in Africa and raise funds to help ease their pain. He announced that the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign would be initiated at a special news conference in Toronto on International Women’s Day, May 2006.
“We were hooked.”
We were hooked! We looked at one another and declared, almost simultaneously, that this was something we could do. We left the Port Theatre that evening, after having Mr. Lewis sign a copy of his book, Race Against Time, with a shared commitment to become involved in the campaign.
A month later, we hosted a lunch for six of our neighbours and friends to recount our experience, gauge their reaction to the possibility of forming a group of grandmothers in the Oceanside area and seek their input regarding the implications of taking up this challenge – while ensuring that we had fun! Our guests were in unanimous support of the idea, but advised us to wait until gardening season was over before we began any earnest efforts to recruit others.
“We have never looked back.”
In September 2006, we advertised our first “official” gathering of grandmothers in support of the Stephen Lewis Foundation Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign. We encourage the women attending to bring along used books for a garage sale planned for that weekend (and raised our first $362 for the Campaign).
We invited Donna Anthony, leader of an established group of grandmothers in Nanaimo, to speak to us about the Grandmothers Gathering that preceded the International Conference on HIV/AIDS held the previous month in Toronto. The Gathering, organized by the Stephen Lewis Foundation, had received extensive media coverage and propelled the images of African and Canadian grandmothers working, singing, dancing and marching in solidarity during the three-day event. Donna’s personal account fuelled an interest and enthusiasm among 39 grandmothers who had gathered that day…and we have never looked back.
Our first big event
Our first big event was held in October 2006. We hired a performer (Johnny Vallis), rented a hall and put together a Silent Auction. We also sold one of our first crafts, AIDS angels created by Jan Stuart. We walked away with $7500.
In November 2006, Stephen Lewis was speaking in Port Alberni and we were invited to present our cheque to him personally. A large contingent of Oceanside Grandmothers attended. For both of us it was a major highlight.
Since then, due to the efforts of a wonderful group of women, we have raised thousands of dollars for the Stephen Lewis Foundation. We look forward to continuing this important and worthwhile work.
The Oceanside Grandmothers to Grandmothers
Officially, we have named our group the Oceanside Grandmothers to Grandmothers. Our name represents the area located on the sheltered east side of Vancouver Island where we live. Oceanside includes the city of Parksville, the village of Qualicum Beach, and several seaside communities extending from Nanaimo to Fanny Bay. Our membership is made up primarily of grandmothers, be we include a few “grand-others” as well. Members range in age from 50 to 90 years of age and represent working women, retired professionals, and active homemakers from all walks of life.