The Stephen Lewis Foundation was a concept first proposed by Stephen Lewis in an interview published in one of Canada’s leading newspapers, the Toronto Globe and Mail on January 4, 2003. As United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa since June 2001, he was sick at heart over the crisis of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. In response to Lewis’ Globe interview, donations poured in to him from across the nation. By that June, the foundation’s first cheques were already being mailed out for frontline projects to combat the pandemic.
Since its inception – with Stephen Lewis traveling and speaking on its behalf and daughter Ilana Landsberg-Lewis as its director – the foundation has raised over $100 million, and funded over 700 grassroots projects of 300 community-based organizations in 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
Stephen Lewis continued on as UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS until the end of 2006. His impressive career in his various UN positions had lasted over two decades – since 1984. Lewis has since held numerous key AIDS-related leadership positions with the Clinton Health Access Initiative, the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, and the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, among others.
The “Grandmothers to Grandmothers” Campaign was launched in March of 2006, by the Stephen Lewis Foundation to inspire grandmothers in Canada to help African grandmothers caring for children orphaned by AIDS. That August, 100 grandmothers from sub-Saharan Africa traveled to George Brown College at the University of Toronto to share their experiences with 200 grandmothers from Canada. Within months, over 40 grassroots groups of Canadian grandmothers formed to raise funds for our African sisters.
Over ten million heroic African grandmothers face overwhelming challenges to raise children orphaned by AIDS. Their efforts are key to fighting the decimation of future generations. These very pivotal women impact not just their AIDS-orphaned relations but also their AIDS-ravaged communities and indeed their nations. Heather Keith, from Sherbrooke, QC aptly observes on the SLF website, “These women are holding together the continent.”
After a decade, about 300 of these grassroots ‘granny groups’ – very large and as small as a single member – are raising funds in support of our sisters in sub-Saharan Africa.
The Campaign goals are to:
- Raise funds to meet the needs of African grandmothers and the children in their care
- Raise awareness in Canada about the expertise and leadership of Africa’s grandmothers, respect and their struggle to secure a hopeful and healthy future for generations of children orphaned or made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS
- Build solidarity among African and Canadian grandmothers in order to motivate and sustain the vital work being done to turn the tide of AIDS in Africa.
The Campaign motto is: We will not rest until they can rest.
Grannies making Waves began June, 2013. Living in a community with one of the pioneering and very active granny groups, I was impressed but far too disabled to participate in their events.
That evening in 2013, I went to a special event at the location where the big, active group in my city meets monthly. Mercy Childi, of Ripples International, Kenya had c0me to tell of her challenging work in Africa. In her country, where 48% of men were HIV/AIDS positive, many honestly thought sex with a virgin could cure AIDS. Mercy was sheltering sexually abused women and girls as young as eight.
Determined to help somehow. I rushed up and told Mercy if our sisters in Africa can combat AIDS on so many fronts, amid such appalling trials, surely Canadians disabled like me can overcome our challenges and unleash our energy and talents to help them tackle theirs which are so much more daunting. I told Mercy I would found the first granny group specifically geared to consist of and be led by men and women with disabling conditions that prevented their actively participating in a regular group.
Over the next months, I scouted barrier-free meeting locations, explored options for translation of meetings’ proceedings into American Sign Language, did a survey of local groups whose members might embrace this opportunity to contribute in time of crisis and chose a tentative name for use on initial publicizing of the first four meetings. For me the name Grannies Making Waves said: the intention of this group is to make an impact. It echoed the geography of Barrie, Ontario, Canada which hugs Kempenfelt Bay on Lake Simcoe. And it exemplified the fact that the waves that we disabled residents of Barrie would make were to ultimately have a helpful impact the lives of our sisters across the Atlantic Ocean.
Although the group first met in the fall of 2013 with our city’s mayor, a representative of a group of military veterans and members of the local granny group kindly attending, and the CNIB, stroke recovery groups and others invited, it is still — as of the fall of 2015 — tied with a number of others as Canada’s smallest granny group.
A Valentine for Africa 2014 was planned to be the group’s annual educational and fundraising event and — due to my own disabling conditions — is planned to finally be held for the first several times, at various locations, in February of 2016. A Bracelet for Africa is this group’s ongoing fundraiser; hand-beaded red bracelets are given away to anyone who makes a donation in any amount to the Grandmothers Campaign.
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Linnie Peterson of Grannies Making Waves
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