Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Great Granny Revolution

"One day an army of grey-haired old women may quietly take over the world." - Gloria Steinem.

We went to a benefit screening of The Great Granny Revolution last night. I can't say enough wonderful things about this documentary. It follows the start of the Wakefield Grannies and how they partnered up with a group of Gogos (grannies) who are raising their AIDS orphaned grandchildren in the South African township of Alexandria for moral support (and some financial support) and how the concept has spread through 15 affluent countries now and there are Granny to Granny programs all over the world now. Besides making me homesick (I know all the Wakefield Grannies and a lot of the other people in the film) it just impressed me to no end how these Gogos are parenting and how they are now leading policy changes all over Africa for the benefit of these children.

These women, who raised their families under the oppression of apartheid, are taking on parenting another generation in their 60's and 70's and 80's. Four of them came to Canada two years ago for an international AIDS conference hosted by the Stephen Lewis Foundation (you can give your air miles points to the foundation to support exchanges like this btw) and gave a workshop on how they needed to change their parenting techniques to stay with the times.

One of the Gogos had me in tears when she talked about feeling her silence, her shame about her daughter's HIV infection, killed her. That if she'd been vocal, God would not have taken her daughter from her. That Gogo? She has gone back to school and has become a social worker and is now working in the township on AIDS education. The best thing about the Granny to Granny programs is not the money, its the love and support that these remarkable women get from far away. The psychiatric nurse who runs the Gogo support group that the Wakefield Grannies partnered up with spoke in Wakefield about how sad it was that they had to go all that way to find such unconditional love and support. It isn't in their community where fear and superstitions run rampant, it isn't coming from their leaders and the policies they direct.

Angelique Kidjo spoke with passion about how the most important thing that people can do in the face of such a devastating pandemic is see that these are HUMAN BEINGS not numbers. If you focus on the numbers you feel powerless. If you focus on the people - even if your focus is sharing news about your families with just *one* other person - the joys, the sorrows, the celebration of new babies, the grief of losing one - you are making a difference.

It was an incredible film, about incredible women, ordinary women. So if you get a chance to go to a screening, do. The DVD is sold in support of the Grannies and is 30.00. You can purchase it from the Production Comany here -


Oma said...

I think a lot of Africans feel that the only help and generosity available comes from outside their own communities. That is really too bad because there are some wonderful things being done in Africa for HIV-AIDS affected people by African people. They don't have the money we have here but they are investing huge amounts of themselves in their country.

Mud Mama said...

That may be true, but the day to day reality they're talking about is being marked as dirty by their community because they are honest about raising children who are infected with HIV. Their day to day reality is a government that doesn't want to pay for antiviral medications. The day to day reality these women face is one that is full of silence and shame.

These Gogos are African people doing wonderful things for HIV-AIDS infected people.

The psychiatric nurse who spoke about having to come so far for unconditional love and support, she is one of those African people who is doing wonderful things for HIV-AIDS affected people.

Oma said...

I know ... and people like Justine Mutobera of SAIPEH in Kenya are also part of that front ... and also supported by Stephen Lewis.

But I had a young Kenyan lad tell me Africans were selfish and uncaring, whereas Canadians were generous. I had to tell him that most of the money raised for his school supplies and uniform was raised by Africans who had very little to give. Later, when a group of African graduates helped by a Canadian organization "adopted" him and sent him to school, he realized fully that Africans do care.

One of the things that African organizations are doing is promoting the concept that HIV-AIDS affected people are people and deserve as much respect and caring as anyone else in the society.

One of the things that Africans need to understand is that their own people are helping them.

There is a big educational effort needed. Many of these people are afraid because they are ignorant, and they are ignorant because education has been such a precious thing kept from the masses. Now that African givernments like the one in Kenya have decided to open education to everyone, we will see a difference.

I have seen the HIV-AIDS curriculum used in Kenya, and it promotes acceptance of people infected and affected by HIV-AIDS.

I am hopeful that it will happen all over Africa.

In 1995, Namibian teachers told me that AIDS was propaganda perpetrated by the western world to stop Africans from being true to themselves and their culture. Twelve years later I doubt whether you would hear such an assertion.

It takes time to educate people.

Mud Mama said...

Yes but mom, when you say "One of the things that Africans need to understand is that their own people are helping them" you are negating the experience of a well educated African woman who is working on the frontlines in mental health care - today - not in 1995. She is saying that the women she works with - these Gogos - are facing discrimination and oastacization in their community today. They are facing policymakers who won't follow through on programs to keep kids healthy - today. Right now, these women band together for support and they get it from other grandmothers in other countries through the G2G programs.

And this isn't about Kenya, this is in South Africa where the country already invests 20% of their tax dollars into education. Primary through post secondary education is not the same issue there, and people are still facing extremely harsh discrimination wrt AIDS.

The Gogo who has gone on to study social work was volunteering in the schools and was talking about how most parents will not get their kids tested and onto drug therapy because they don't want the stigma to affect their children.

The Gogos feel very much alone, and the moral support they are getting is coming from one another - and it is coming from G2G programs that give them *moral* support. THEY don't need AIDS awareness education, and the G2G program is not about money or education. Its about recognizing these Gogos as the heronines they are.

Oma said...

Of course they don't need AIDS awareness education ... but they may well become the ones who will help provide it. They are already teaching through example.

It is very hard to be at forefront of any kind of new belief system.

AIDS has been such a secret thing all over Africa and only when people open up the subject to discussion will it and the stigmas attached to it be overcome.