Grandmothers Seek Support, Caring for AIDS Children

Recently in Swaziland, the first-ever African Grandmothers Gathering convened 500 grandmothers from 14 African countries and 42 of their counterparts from Canada.

"This event is the beginning of a process for Africa to recognize grandmothers who have been valiantly coping with the HIV/AIDS pandemic for over two decades," said Siphiwe Hlophe, director of Swaziland Positive Living.

Hlophe said the idea was conceived in 2006 in Toronto with the help of the Stephen Lewis Foundation, named for Canada's former UN special envoy on HIV/AIDS in Africa. Ilana Landsberg-Lewis, the foundation's executive director, said a key tactic is to provide seed money to start businesses, allowing caregivers in AIDS-hit communities to become self-sufficient.

"That's what these grandmothers are asking for," said Landsberg-Lewis. "They are demanding for better policies that would support them in their communities."

The foundation is funding income-generating programs for grandmothers in several African nations. In Uganda, the non-governmental group St. Francis helps the grannies establish businesses and save their profits. It has assisted 120 women, most of whom are living with HIV/AIDS, since 2007.

The organization also helps grandmothers decide how to apportion their savings among necessities like food and school fees for their grandchildren.

In addition, conference delegates discussed HIV/AIDS coping strategies. Some voiced concern about escalating violence against grandmothers, including rape. "In other cases we hear that thugs attack and rob elderly women of the little that they have," said Ntombi Tfwala, the queen mother of Swaziland. "I take this opportunity to rebuke these evils that are making life uncomfortable for all of us."