African poverty and HIV AIDS is the burden grandmothers must now bear

AIDS orphan carerAfrican poverty together with the mounting toll of HIV AIDS in South Africa and Zimbabwe has created another terrible legacy, the burden borne by AIDS grannies as they bury their children and are left to look after their grandchildren.


HIV AIDS statistics in southern Africa present a remorseless picture of infection and death. It is for the survivors too, those many million grand parents and their orphaned grand children that our hearts must ache.

They live with unimaginable sadness and grief, much magnified by the increased poverty they endure as the sole breadwinners for those they look after.

This is most poignantly described by Stephen Lewis, Chairman of the Stephen Lewis Foundation, below.

AIDS Orphan grandmother

Jamey, the young disabled eight year old, who received knit-a-square's first blanket is cared for by his 70 year old grandmother, Selina, who cannot afford the school fees at the special needs school in Soweto, or the transport to get him there every day. He must sit at home every day while his friends go to school. They live in a very small house and rely on food runs to eat.


Elsie is the sole guardian of four people, three of whom are orphans, girls, Nthabiseng 15, Maletsema 13 and Letlotlo, a 12 year old boy. She also cares for is a 35 year old man with epilepsy. She buys food using the government grant she receives for the three orphans which is, in total, R480 per month (US$56, 42 euros, AUS$77).

Tshepiso, above, is a 6 year old special needs child who is looked after by her guardian, Mary. Mary has a special needs son of her own, Sello. She is unemployed and relies too on weekly donations of food.

Kamegelo and Lucas, live with their grandmother as their mother is critically ill with HIV AIDS and unable to look after them.

Mpho is special needs young teenage orphan looked after by her grandmother, Lina.

Lerato and Tebago, twins, were abandoned shortly after their birth. They live with their unemployed grandmother.

And so the list goes on.The blankets and the warmth you provide for these children and their carers, will also relieve some of the burden of both their and the churches limited resources to supply the other staples of life.

Please consider this as you knit and crochet your squares. Many of the AIDS grannies will be warmed too by the blankets you are helping to make.

Let me introduce you to the incredible work done by the Stephen Lewis Foundation, in particular, their Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign.

crying AIDS Orphan Stephen Lewis was formerly the UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa and is currently the chair of the board of the Stephen Lewis Foundation in Canada, whose mandate focuses on women, orphans, grandmothers and people living with HIV and AIDS. He is a powerful advocate for women.

I was researching the work of this remarkable organisation and read an excerpt from a speech he made in 2005.

Although it is written about a child and grandmother in Kenya, it so poignantly and powerfully illustrates what the women and children throughout Africa are suffering. The story of this little girl and her grandmother will make you weep.

Excerpt from a speech made by Stephen Lewis in his role as UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, at the Opening of the 3rd International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenenis and Treatment, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, July 2005.

"I must raise and end with the orphans. The proliferation of orphans has become a deluge; it’s absolutely overwhelming in country after country. Governments are beside themselves: no one has any firm grip on how to handle these millions of frantic children. Extended families and communities struggle to absorb them; grandmothers bury their own children and then try somehow to cope with hordes of grandchildren; child-headed households are an ever-growing phenomenon on the landscape of Africa: it is a nightmare.

Earlier this month, I was in Kenya, in a slum on the outskirts of Nairobi, visiting a group of women living with AIDS, tending to large numbers of orphan children. As is always the case with a visitor, there was a little performance. In this instance, a handful of children came forward to sing a song of their own composition. It began with the words “see us, the children carrying our parents in their coffins to the grave”, and it ended with the words “Help, Help Help”. And then from the crowd, there emerged a young girl of ten who, with the help of a translator, related the story of the death of her mother.

I have heard many such stories from many such children. But I have rarely been left in such emotional disarray. It became clear that the mother had died only a few days before, and this little morsel of a girl, as she talked of her mother’s trips in and out of hospital, and then the last weeks at home, wept copiously, uncontrollably; but it was a weeping as if the depths of the sea had been plumbed; the tears didn’t just flow, they gushed, they soaked her sweater and ran down her skirt, and for a moment in time, it was as if this one young girl became the pandemic incarnate.

Many of you, especially Canadians, have mentioned Stephen Lewis and his work with the grandmothers of Africa, most recently Jane, who is promoting this event in support of the foundation's work. I hope if you live near by you will attend.

Rhubarb Rally
June 7, 2009, Bethel Lutheran Church, 298 Lutheran Drive Sherwood Park, Alberta

"Most of us in the Eastside GANG (Grandmothers of Albert for a New Generation) feel that the only thing that separates us from those elderly women in Africa is simply an accident of birth. If we had been born in Africa rather than Canada some 65 (plus) years ago, the life story of the African grandmothers would be our own. We also believe that once our community knows about the pain and hardship caused by the AIDS pandemic in Africa, and how the heroic African grandmothers are the only ones holding devastated families and communities together, they will want to help out.

Our Rhubarb Rally in Sherwood Park, Alberta on June 7th will help to make hundreds of people aware of that situation."

The African grannies are renowned for using whatever materials are available, and putting them to the best practical use. We thought that we would like to emulate their resourcefulness by using what is abundant and plentiful in our own region in spring: rhubarb.

We ordered two books from Ontario which have literally hundreds of recipes in them, and because we wanted to give everyone a novel rhubarb “experience”, we chose a variety of unusual items which we will serve at a public gathering in support of the African grandmothers. The recipes for every item offered at this event will be available for our guests to take home at the end of the day.

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