By Darren Lum
Published July 14 2016
Love fueled grandmothers Mickey Bonham and Sue Reid to start the local chapter in the Highlands for the Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign 10 years ago to help grandmothers in Africa raise a generation of babies orphaned by the AIDS crisis in the 1990s.
Back in August 2006 the pair watched the television broadcast of the Grandmothers’ Gathering hosted by the Stephen Lewis Foundation in Toronto with great interest. This event included 100 grandmothers from Africa and 200 Canadian grandmothers who came together to address the challenges facing grandmothers in Africa who stepped in to raise the orphaned children.
“I thought to myself: what better place than Haliburton to start a grandmothers’ group? There’s so many older people up here” Bonham said.
The co-founders of the Haliburton Highlands Grannies greatly respected Lewis a Canadian and at the time the United Nations secretary-general’s special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa. They wanted to help and discussed the idea of a local chapter. It led to the first meeting for the Highlands Grannies around Reid’s dining table soon after the gathering. It included Cathy MacLean Donna Colby Sandy Valentine and Jesse Pflug. Before Haliburton started its chapter there were close to 50 chapters already formed.
The Grannies held a Christmas event with a variety of musical guests where they sold goods and refreshments at Pflug’s Stouffer Mill Bed and Breakfast Getaway. It not only raised $2000 but brought attention to the cause. Following that event the group grew by 25 new members.
“When Sue and I started it I was hoping for five years. I was aiming to lead for five years and hopefully make maybe $50000 and the fact that it has carried on – now we’re at 10 years. We’ve made $80000. I think that’s amazing. It’s wonderful” Bonham said. “Sometimes these things run their course.”
She said there has been $25 million raised in the last 10 years by 240 chapters in Canada.
Reid said for her it all started with wanting to be part of the solution. This desire remains at the heart of the steady growth for the group.
“When we started there were very few people but at this point there’s … 80 members. Obviously the interest is here” she said.
When the group started the numbers only warranted a kitchen table but now the group requires a hall if they all want to meet. Although there is a small core group who come to all the meetings there are many who help in other ways.
As a result of the efforts of the chapters in Canada through the Stephen Lewis Foundation the grandmothers in Africa have become more empowered over the years Bonham said.
“They’re really starting to speak out for themselves and try to get more help from their governments” she said.
The local chapter and all chapters send the money they raise to the Stephen Lewis Foundation which then uses the funds to support community organizations in 15 sub-Saharan countries in Africa. The organizations help to provide support groups children’s programming food programming and clinics.
“It makes me feel good that the foundation is being successful and also that these people are getting the help that they need” she said.
In recent years the organization’s core group of members have become busy with other causes. Although the Grannies make appearances at other organizations’ event they have kept the Grannies’ offerings to the three main events: the Fall Festival at the Abbey Gardens the Spring Tea and the provision of concession items at Haliburton International Film Festival.
AIDS no longer grabs as many headlines but the need is still there for the children and the grandmothers.
Bonham sees importance to the continued efforts of the group particularly since the babies that were cared for by the African grannies will be in their 20s in 10 years.
“So that carries us through so that we’ve managed to help a group of young African people to grow up through helping their grandmothers” she said. “We’ve helped them to grow up and hopefully grow up in a more positive way so that they have a better life.”
Unlike other chapters where interest is waning the local chapter continues to remain strong and has grown steadily over the years. It’s a trend Reid would like to see continue.
“We are hoping to continue the interest and with the demographic up here I would think there is a lot of grandmothers. We hope that it will continue to earn money for the Stephen Lewis Foundation” she said.
Membership isn’t exclusive to grandmothers she said. It includes anyone with a heart and as former spokesperson Jacqui Clarkson has said publicly the club includes grandmothers and “grandmothers.”
Reid emphasizes this point and welcomes everyone.
“Because we’re supporting grandmothers doesn’t mean you have to be a grandmother to be a member” she said adding the main component is caring. “I think this community is such a caring community. Witness the way everybody supported the [Minden] flood victims and right now the way a great number of people who are supporting the refugee family who is to come. I think this community has outreach on its mind.”