Townships grandmother back from Africa

Photo courtesy of Kibuuka Mukisa Oscar
By: 
Gordon Lambie
Staff Writer

On the first of October, Sutton resident Jane Patrick left Canada on a journey to the heart of Africa. In the community of Entebbe, nestled just above the equator, the Townships granny joined 21 other grandmothers from Canada and the United Kingdom in offering their support to more than 450 Ugandan Grandmothers who had gathered for the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Ugandan Grandmothers’ Gathering.

“It wasn’t a trip at all, it was a mission,” Patrick said, explaining that she now sees her personal journey as just one small part of the ongoing efforts of the Stephen Lewis Foundation to ease the suffering of those living with AIDS and HIV in Africa. “It was an amazing, amazing experience that is hard to describe in one sentence.”

Though the Townshipper said that she left with the plan to write about her experiences in the moment on her blog, http://janehamiltons.blogspot.ca/, the reality of the situation is that she’s only catching up with that writing now because the gathering itself was just too busy. For the first few days of her time in the country, Patrick said that the foreign grandmothers were simply settling in and being briefed on the situation they found themselves in, but before long the conference was underway and each day became a series of speakers, presentations, conversations, and social actions.

“There’s a shift in what’s going on,” Patrick said. “We’ve been involved for ten years now, and we’re beginning to see the results.”

The Sutton resident said that the focus of the Stephen Lewis Foundation has been focused on helping African Grandmothers help themselves in an era when, as a result of the AIDS pandemic, an entire generation of children is growing up without parents. Though she said that the work is far from finished, Patrick shared that she felt a real sense of progress and hope in the Ugandan “Jajas”- the local word for grandmothers.

“For every one who was there, there were thousands more out in the villages who need help,” the grandmother added, saying that there was no shortage of challenging stories shared in both the presentations and the more informal conversations that took place around tables at mealtimes or outside during tea breaks. Though Patrick described the atmosphere as conversational and relaxed, she pointed out that the Canadian Grannies were discouraged from making any permanent friendships with the African women they met.

“We can help them better as a group,” Patrick said, “the Stephen Lewis Foundation believes in them helping themselves. We support them in that with whatever they need, but on a one to one basis that doesn’t work so well.”

In their capacity as observers and supporters, the grannies engaged in a public march across the city, carrying banners and signs, and visited local community organizations.

Built up by her experiences in Uganda, Patrick said that the most important thing for her to do now is simply to continue doing the work she was already committed to. Having returned on October 12, the grandmother has been working over the last month and a half to try to decide the best way to share her experiences with the people and communities around her.

“Our role here in Canada is to raise money and to raise awareness, and our little group is doing that, but we could be doing more of the awareness thing,” the Grandmother shared. “I’ve found in talking to people recently that many people have never even heard of Stephen Lewis, so we need to start right down at the bottom with the basics and get that information out.”

Asked what would be the best way forward back here in Canada, Patrick said that she wants to see more grandmother groups organized, particularly in the francophone community.

“Here in Quebec we’re just a very few grandmothers,” Patrick said. “We need to get (the francophones) started.”

Aside from that, though, she shared that the Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign is suffering from some issues of donor exhaustion. After ten years of competing with other charities, Patrick said, the groups need to redouble their efforts to gather support because some of the people upon whom they have relied are no longer able to contribute as they have in the past for one reason or another.

As has been the case in past Stephen Lewis Foundation gatherings, the work of the Ugandan Grandmother’s Gathering culminated in the creation of a collective statement. The Ugandan statement underlines the feelings and the needs expressed by Patrick quite clearly in its closing paragraph; “We are not young, but we are strong. We want the world to know how much we have achieved and how much we have overcome. We have breath to sing and energy to dance. We are moving forward! Join us!”

Anyone wanting to know more about the Townships Grandmothers can reach Patrick either by phone (450-538-5294) or e-mail (janeham412@gmail.com).

Category: