The local chapter of the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign, an initiative of the Stephen Lewis Foundation, holds a Scrabble fundraiser here twice a year. The objective is to help grandmothers who are left to care for their grandchildren after their own children have died from HIV/AIDS.
“Because of the AIDS pandemic over there, there was a whole generation of people missing,” said Jill Whitaker, an event organizer. “The adults they are either very ill or they often have died from AIDS. There are still 5,000 people a day — a day — dying in sub-Saharan Africa.”
She said along with the responsibility of caring for grandchildren, and the weight of the grief of losing a child, the grandmothers often also deal with low incomes and issues with housing and health. Many of the grandmothers have banded together and formed support organizations, and it’s those groups that the Canadian groups help out.
Whitaker stressed that the Canadian group provides funds, but does not run things.
“It’s the African grandmothers that need the support, they look after their own needs. And when they need money, they’ll appeal to the Stephen Lewis Foundation, who checks out that this is a legitimate request,” she said.
“It’s not Canadians going in and, like in a lot of groups, Canadians or the foreign group will go in and say, ‘OK, we think you need a water supply, a school, a medical clinic, 10 goats, two cows and 50 chickens. OK, now you’ve got those, you’re fixed,’ and they leave. The requests come from Africa to supply their needs.”
She said a couple of years ago, for example, a group in Uganda requested funds for a van so they could get to a medical clinic.
This weekend, the local group will get the Scrabble boards out again to raise more funds. And it’s not just for grannies.
“You don’t have to be female, by the way, and you don’t have to be a grandmother,” Whitaker said. “You can be a grandother. You can be male. You can be young. You can be old.”
One of the fundraiser’s regular supporters is Lorraine Michael, who also happens to be an extremely competitive Scrabble player. She said she wins at least 80 per cent of the games she plays.
Saturday will be her fourth or fifth time taking part in the fundraiser.
“I really believe in what they’re doing. The whole issue of HIV/AIDS in Africa is completely lost on the international scene, and it is still a major, major issue,” she said. “And it’s not just the fact of the people who have it themselves, but the impact on families as parents die, so a devastation of communities. It’s the cause that really makes me want to help out.”
Grandmothers and grandothers who’d like to have a game to support the cause can join the group Saturday at The Lantern from 2-5 p.m. It costs $15 to participate.