Ten years ago, a few local women joined a movement to help women and children in Africa.
Known as the PAGO Grannies, this group of grandmothers and grand “others” was inspired by a visit from Stephen Lewis in November 2006 and has been raising funds and awareness ever since. The PAGO Grannies has grown in membership and enthusiasm as its members work toward a common goal.
The Stephen Lewis Foundation supports grandmothers in Africa who raise grandchildren after their own children succumb to HIV and AIDS. When Lewis spoke at the Alberni District Secondary School auditorium ten years ago, he was on a mission to create groups in communities all over Canada that would be inspired to do the same.
Maureen Brechin was in the audience that afternoon and was moved to action.
“He told us that his daughter, Alana Landsberg-Lewis, had a dream,” Brechin said.
“She wanted to see if Canadian grandmothers could be sparked to form a solidarity with Africa and create a movement. That led to the Grandmother to Grandmother campaign.”
At that time, there were only a few groups in Canada. One of them was located in Parksville and Qualicum and members were also in attendance at Lewis’ talk. After his speech, about 15 to 20 community members showed interest and the first meeting was held the next month, led by founding director, Jude Godin.
PAGO Grannies was formed (with GO representing the African word for grandmother) and Brechin quickly volunteered as co-director.
The fundraising began in earnest, with the first taking place at the Port Alberni Salmon Festival in 2007. Since then, the volunteers have been flipping burgers and serving fries from the Kiwanis bus and it has become their largest income generator.
Then they got into crafts.
“When John Mayba was organizing the World Craft Fair, he approached us and said, ‘Grandmothers are good bakers and makers of soup, right?’” Brechin said.
As well as having a table of crafts, they served up homemade goodies to everyone attending the fair, up until it ended last year. Workbees ensued and the grandmothers started setting up other craft tables at Christmastime and local Farmers’ Markets.
The group also holds an annual garage sale in the Spring and potluck and auction in the Summer. They have also prepared African lunches for teachers which they served in school staff rooms.
“We make an African stew and various condiments and the teachers pay us to come to them with the food,” said member Erica Schubart.
Several fundraisers, including Kazari jewelry sales have taken place at Char’s Landing, and the return of a popular concert is planned for October 28. Bev Zizzy, acoustic songwriter, will be performing for the second time as a fundraiser for the PA Grannies’ contribution to the Steven Lewis Foundation.
Open to both women and men, the group welcomes new members interested in supporting the cause.
“Funds for Africa are really drying up, especially on the international stage and grandmothers aren’t getting the support they need” Brechin said.
“The Steven Lewis Foundation uses grassroots movements to raise money and set up various centers for grandmothers so they can survive.”
For more information on the local group, contact Diane Dobson, president, at 250-724-1566 or email@example.com. The first meeting of the Fall will be on Monday, September 26.