Grandma, what big dreams you have

Grandma, what big dreams you have

Grandparenthood. It’s probably the most cherished of all the categories of relationship that the people we experience in our lives can fall under.

Mother, father? Fine, but for every several good cops in the archetype, there’s a bad lieutenant, turning home into a living autopsy of family dysfunction.

Grandmothers, by contrast it seems, can do no wrong.

There must be bad grandmothers, but they don’t figure much in our culture. When they do, as in “Little Red Riding Hood,” they turn out to be wolves in disguise, not real grannies.

So, advanced warning, the following is not going to alter that image. Theresa Randle of Caledonia was a grandmother 10 years ago when she was “looking for something in my life.”

Raised with an ethic of service to others, a teacher by profession, she found herself in the middle of her adulthood, feeling a nagging need to throw it into another gear, a cause to infuse individual experience with larger meaning.

Then she heard Stephen Lewis speak. Stephen Lewis, the great Canadian humanitarian, diplomat (special UN envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa), namesake of the Stephen Lewis Foundation (founded by his daughter Ilana Landsberg-Lewis) and zealous advocate for world action in the fight against AIDS in Africa.

“It was a lights-on moment,” she says. “I was so impressed.”

She had been wary, in her search, of anything that smacked of being paternalistic.

With the SLF, she says, she knew the approach would be “holistic, compassionate and focused on the dignity” of those who would direct the help because they understood the need best, because it was their need.

One of the greatest and earliest initiatives of the Stephen Lewis Foundation was the Grandmothers To Grandmothers campaign. The program links grandmothers in Canada with grandmothers in Africa, where the AIDS crisis has left enormous gaps in the young adult population.

The grandmothers form into groups and create projects, such as virtual walks to Uganda and flower sales, to raise money for works and programs in Africa, determined by the Africans themselves, to address aspects of the crisis, such as nutrition and education for children orphaned by parents with HIV.

G2G is now 10 years old — there are about 250 Grandmothers groups across Canada, which have raised $22 million — and the anniversary is being commemorated this month.

Theresa knew, when the SLF started G2G, that it was the program for her. She and several others like Anne Philpot helped make Hamilton one of G2G’s pioneering cities.

There are at least three groups in Hamilton and Burlington; Grandmothers of Steel, Blooms for Africa and Grandmothers of Hope.

“I was at one of the early meetings and put my hand up and next thing I knew I was secretary. I love the grassroots approach of it,” says Theresa, who now has six grandchildren.

Theresa became the Ontario liaison for Grandmothers, a role she held until recently when she stepped down to take on another role — outreach to younger women to replenish memberships as the grandmother age.

Always foremost in the campaign will be the “idea” of the grandmother, a source and symbol of loving strength and caring, a powerful link between generations, an idea never and nowhere so important as in Africa where far too often grandmothers are left to raise children because of the toll of AIDS on the normal complement of young adults in the community.

Grandmothers have become the backbone of much of African society.

Hamilton, because of its central history with the Grandmothers and central location, was chosen as the site for Saturday’s A Decade of Friendship commemorative event, featuring keynote speaker Ilana Landsberg-Lewis.

NEWS Mar 04, 2016 by Jeff Mahoney Hamilton Spectator

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