In sub-Sahara Africa, orphans are raised by aging grandmothers — a prevalent generation gap caused by the widespread effect of AIDS.
Red Deer grandmother Chris Hume bore witness to the aftermath that this deadly disease has on families in these impoverished nations during her trip to Africa from March 1 to 17.
As a member of Gramma-Link Africa, Hume travelled with 21 other grandmothers from across Canada to Ethiopia and South Africa or Rwanda as part of the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign.
While she was no stranger to the conditions she saw, Hume said witnessing the rundown parts of Africa was still tough.
“I myself had been in developing countries previous and so I knew what to expect, but it still broke my heart,” she said.
For three weeks, the Canadian grandmothers heard of the struggles and successes of the African grandmothers.
This allowed them to develop a genuine understanding of the issues they will be raising awareness and funds for over the course of a year.
One story Hume relayed was of Ethiopian grandmother Etabazahu who had lost a loved one to AIDS — a tragedy hard for Etabazahu to cope with.
“She said after her daughter had died she felt like she was floating. She didn’t know what to do with herself,” Hume explained.
After her daughter passed away, Etabazahu became the sole provider for her daughter’s three children. The youngest was six years old.
Etabazahu had limited funds to take care of her grandchildren.
Much like Etabazahu, often grandmothers in sub-Sahara Africa don’t have adequate skills to earn enough money to pay for food, school fees and clothing for their grandchildren.
Through the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign, however, Etabazahu was able to receive counselling and business development training to help her become self-sufficient.
Another grandmother Hume met during her stay in Durban, South Africa, was a nurse living with HIV, Zodwa Ndlovu.
Ndlovu founded an outreach program, Siyaphambili, to support those living with HIV or AIDS, while helping their families cope.
Siyaphambili, which means going forward, came to fruition after Ndlovu lost her son and daughter to AIDS.
According to Hume, there is a huge stigma surrounding those who carry the virus. So often nurses must keep the diagnosis confidential while many of those affected harbour the great secret until they die.
This rang true when it came to both Ndlovu’s children.
Her son torched himself, leaving behind a note that explained why he killed himself — a tragedy Hume said Ndlovu wished she could have helped him overcome.
“He committed suicide because he didn’t want to put her through it, but she said, ‘If only he realized I could have helped him.’ ”
Now, Ndlovu helps other people in her community by feeding 49 orphans weekly and running educational workshops.
In the wake of her journey she hopes to inspire people to speak up and realize that there is support out there for those that carry the virus.
While Hume was moved by the trials grandmothers like Etabazahu and Ndlovu have overcome, she said their stories still harboured sadness.
“It was wonderful seeing their faces when they were telling of their successes but there was a lot of sadness — sadness from losing someone to AIDS,” she said.
Hume also had the opportunity to learn about other charitable organizations such as the Dlalanathi Project or the Developing Families Together that educate people on the cause and effect of HIV or AIDS. These organizations also help those affected by the disease.
Hume said it sounds like a cliché to say the trip was life changing, but for her it was exactly that.
In the wake of poverty and sadness, the grandmothers she met were still kind, happy and giving, she said.
“They had the ability to show the joy of living, giving and celebrating with each other, and with us,” she explained. “Even though they had little, they were eager to share with us.”
Those interested in knowing more about Gramma-Link Africa or finding out about future presentations can contact Hume at 403-347-2776.
By INONGE CHIMWASO