Red Deer’s Shirley Challoner started GrammaLink-Africa nine years ago to help women in Africa taking care of their grandchildren whose parents died from HIV or AIDS.
It all began when Challoner attended a Stephen Lewis event and book signing at Olds College in 2006. The foundation launched its Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign that year to encourage Canadian grandmothers to support African grandmothers.
“(Stephen Lewis) was signing a book for me and he looked up and saw my grey hair and said, ‘So when are you starting a group in Red Deer?’ It took me two years, but I did,” she said.
The Red Deer group, of which Challoner is co-chair, has raised almost $200,000 since it was founded in 2008. In 11 years the Grandmothers to Grandmothers have campaigned, which has about 240 groups across Canada, has raised $25 million.
“We wanted to be a part of something that would support and be in solidarity with these women in Africa.
“It’s about raising awareness as well. I think the HIV and AIDS pandemic has sort of gone off the radar and that’s not the case. It’s still very much impacting (Africa’s) whole society,” said Challoner.
The group will host Moving Forward With Strength for all other Grandmother to Grandmother groups in Alberta Friday and Saturday. Sixteen Alberta groups will be in Red Deer for the event at Gaetz Memorial United Church (4758 Ross St.).
“It’s an honour and a humbling experience for me,” said Challoner.
GrammaLink-Africa was given the opportunity to host a provincial meeting eight or nine years ago as well, but this event will be far bigger, Challoner said.
“It’s a much larger group of women this time around – Edmonton and Calgary have huge numbers of people involved,” she said.
Challoner said the group has grown in size since 2008.
“Seeing the excitement and passion of some of the women involved gives me a great thrill.”
Doors are open to the public Friday at 7 p.m. when Tara Ward, Alberta director of legislative services, will discuss her history as a human rights and social justice activist with women’s groups in Central America.
The event continues Saturday; however, registration for the day is closed. Keynote speaker Ida Nambeya Mukuka, Gramdmother to Grandmother Campaign senior advisor, will share stories from her work with the foundation that day.
More information on GrammaLink-Africa can be found at www.grammalink.org.