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Afrigrand tackles AIDS in Africa

The HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa is causing the deaths of nearly an entire generation of parents, leaving grandmothers or eldest children suddenly saddled with the physical and financial burden of caring for an entire family.

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by Alex Watkins (News Writer)
Email: cascade.news [at] ufv [dot] ca

The HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa is causing the deaths of nearly an entire generation of parents, leaving grandmothers or eldest children suddenly saddled with the physical and financial burden of caring for an entire family.

It is the sheer enormity of this problem that makes programs like the AfriGrand Caravan – which visited UFV on November 3rd as one of its 40 stops on a cross-Canada tour – so incredibly important.

The caravan is a program run by the Stephen Lewis foundation, initiated by the former politician in 2003 with the goal of turning the tide of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa, which causes the deaths of over two-million-people-per-year. According to the foundation’s website, it has funded over 300 grassroots projects in 15 countries, and has distributed and committed more than $39.7 million to these projects. The caravan began in St. John’s Newfoundland, and ended Wednesday, November 10th in Victoria.

The AfriGrand Caravan “is a response to [the] outpouring of concern, compassion and commitment of Canadians” in regards to the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa. It is a means for African grandmothers and granddaughters orphaned by AIDS to share stories from the frontlines.

The grandmother who spoke at UFV was Tsabile Simelane – known in her community as “Go Go Nde” – a 56-year-old Swazi citizen who is currently looking after 30 orphans in her community. Seven of these children live with her in her home.

Grandmothers like Tsabile are increasingly becoming responsible for child-rearing in Africa, as their daughters and sons die of AIDS leaving behind their grandchildren. At the age when they should be retiring, they find themselves once again beginning to raise a family.

Granddaughter Thandeka Motsa also joined the tour to share her story. She grew visibly distressed as she shared how she cared for her ailing mother, who eventually died of AIDS when Thandeka was only 12. Three days later, her father died in a tragic accident, and she was left to care for her three siblings. Due to the responsibilities of raising a family, Thandeka often missed school and eventually had to drop out because she could no longer afford to attend. She is currently putting her siblings through school by working as a hairdresser, but dreams of one day finishing her own education. She is now 19 years old.

Many young women in sub-Saharan Africa are forced into Thandeka’s position, as their parents die and leave them with no choice but to become the primary caretaker for their siblings.

In particular, the AfriGrand Caravan hopes to reach grandmothers and granddaughters in Canadian communities and inspire them to support the cause. Additionally, they hope to strengthen community support in the fight to turn the tide on the HIV/AIDS pandemic. According to the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s website, 76 per cent of all AIDS-related deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa.

It is also meant to challenge the persistent misinformation spread about the HIV/AIDS pandemic, such as the idea that the problem is too large to be solved, and the misconception that the African people are reliant on charity and are not actors for change in their own lives. The funding raised by the SLF goes directly to programs within African communities; money is put to use by people living among the pandemic, who have a profound understanding of what the communities’ most dire needs are and, therefore, how the funds would best be spent.

Communities like UFV were selected as stops based on their “potential to mobilize and broaden the SLF base of support” and also on the basis of geographical representation, as the program is limited in the number of cities it can visit.

The caravan was entirely funded by donations and relied on the generosity of communities to pay for transportation, housing and food for participants.

Those who wish to support the SLF can do so by joining an existing Grandmother’s Group in their community, which are associated with the SLF and “provide a forum for grandmothers (and their friends, partners and grandmothers-in-waiting) to share ideas, raise awareness, fundraise, advocate and act as ambassadors for their African counterparts.” They can also assist by starting a new one or by joining the foundation’s annual “A Dare to Remember” program to raise funds. Those who are interested can participate in the program either in groups or as individuals and vow to take on a dare if they manage to meet their fundraising goal; past dares have involved anything from polar bear swims to wearing wacky hairstyles to school for a week. More information is available at: http://www.adaretoremember.com/

Additionally, those wishing to make a financial donation directly to the foundation can do so on the SLF website at: http://www.stephenlewisfoundation.org/whatyoucando.htm

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