| Dec 18, 2008

Dec 18/08 - African Grandmothers Group Hosts Speaker

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Feature Article - December 18, 2008 African Grandmothers group hosts guest speakerBy Julie Druker

Carol Southall and Julie Coultas

Grandmothers by the Lake, South and Central Frontenac’s chapter of the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign, hosted an evening last Thursday at the Trinity United Church in Verona with Stephen Lewis Foundation employee Julie Coultas.

This was the final stop of Coultas’ “great granny road trip”, her cross country tour of speaking engagements given to various grandmothers groups across the country about her recent trip to Africa earlier this year.

The Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign began in March 2006 by Stephen Lewis as a way to allow grassroots organizations to assist African grandmothers, who he describes as “the unsung heroes of the HIV/AIDS epidemic”. They have been left to raise the over 13 million African children who have been orphaned as a result of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa.

Coultas, who works for the Foundation as the Grandmother’s Campaign coordinator, traveled in February 2008 to three African countries, Uganda, South Africa and Swaziland to see first hand the projects that are being funded there.

Her presentation included photos, statistics and video footage from her trip demonstrating many of the successful “front line organizations that make tremendously effective use of comparatively small amounts of money”.

More than 100 projects in 15 different countries are currently being funded. Coultas explained how projects must meet a specific list of criteria to receive funding. They must be a registered community based organization, have a proven track record, possess a solid financial accounting system, include HIV/AIDS affected women as board members or leaders of their organization, and be non-discriminatory.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the most recent addition of African countries that is receiving funding from the campaign and support is being offered for the Panzi Hospital that performs surgeries on women who have been raped and tortured during the civil war that is ongoing there.

In general three groups have been targeted by the campaign for funding throughout Africa: women who are ill and struggling to survive, orphans and other AIDS affected children and grandmothers who almost single - handedly care for their orphaned grandchildren.

Other projects in these countries have included the purchasing and outfitting of vehicles and staff which provide immediate HIV/AIDS testing, counseling, medical treatments, food and clothing and other provisions for the grandmothers and the children in their care.

According to Coultas it is not uncommon to find grandmothers, who are often sick, struggling and very poor themselves, to be caring for anywhere between 5 and 15 children.

Carol Southall who started the Frontenac Grandmothers group in March 2008 received an email from Coultas and thought it would be a great idea to invite her to speak and present her first hand findings to the Frontenac group and other interested area residents.

Coultas’ presentation took an intimate look into the lives and plight of these African women and children. The videos presented from her trip demonstrated the incredible strength and humanity of these still very vulnerable but determined people in the throes of what many consider an impossible situation.

Her presentation also demonstrated that the funds are having a huge positive impact on their lives and the lives of the children under their care.

Equally important is the effect that Coultas' presentation is having on the Canadian contingent of grandmothers.

Pat Kelman of Sharbot Lake, a Grandmothers by the Lake member commented after the presentation, “I have a connection now that I never had before. It’s no longer a nebulous thing where they (the African grandmothers) are over there and we are over here. Now we have a human connection (in Coultas) and it’s a living thing now.”

Carol Southall said, “it’s such an important piece of work (this campaign) and Stephen Lewis has told the story so well. When I got this idea (to form a group), I didn’t have to do anything because the story has been told so well.”

Thanks to Coultas the Frontenac grandmothers group has been given a fresh, first hand boost to motivate them in their goal “to not rest until they (the African grandmothers) can rest.”

Anyone interested in joining the Grandmothers by the Lake or making a donation can call Carol Southall at 613-375-8883.

For more detailed information about the campaign please visit www.stephenlewisfoundation.org

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