Matriarchs on the march for African grandmothers

The Valley GoGo Sisters’ run and walk will take place on Saturday, June 22nd.

The local matriarchs of the Valley GoGo Sisters are walking together to support African grandmothers in caring for their grandchildren.

Affiliated with the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmother’s Campaign, the local group began in 2006 to help African grandmothers who lost their children to HIV and AIDs and were left raising large families of orphaned grandchildren.

Luana Gillies, the treasurer with the Valley GoGo Sisters and a grandmother of six, said: “Africa has lost that middle generation of parents to AIDs, and grandmothers have stepped in to look after orphans… I can’t imagine at my age having a household of even up to 10 to 15 grandchildren.”

The Valley GoGo Sisters has raised $110,000 in the 13 years since the group started up, she said, and the national campaign has collected nearly $25 million.

Those funds are distributed according to what the African grandmothers themselves say they need. Rather than having foreigners develop programs, the grandmothers organize themselves and apply for support for everything from “feeding kids and getting them to school” to counselling support, medical care, after-school programs and income-generating programs so the grandmothers can provide for their families.

Ms. Gillies said she is sometimes asked why the group is passionate about helping people who are so far away. Her response is that their hearts are big enough to care for both those here at home and those around the world.

“It’s not an either/or sort of thing,” she said. “I feel like I have a moral obligation as a global citizen, and all of us in the GoGos are still involved in local issues too.”

As a grandmother, she said “it’s easy to feel compassionate” for those distant matriarchs doing their best to raise their darlings.

“The love between grandmothers and grandchildren isn’t any different there than here,” she said, adding that she is awed by these grandmothers who are an ocean away.

“They have strengthened their communities because they have shown that kind of courage and resilience to look around and see what’s needed and just to tackle the issues,” she said. “They’re not little grandmas sitting at home waiting for somebody to look after them, that’s for sure. They’re really powerful women.”

Stride to Turn the Tide

The Valley GoGo Sisters’ run and walk, which is part of a national string of Stride to Turn the Tide events, will begin at J. Alfred Laird Elementary School on Saturday, June 22nd.

Registration will open at 9:30 a.m., with the action kicking off at 10 a.m. Participants are welcome to tackle any distance up to 10 kilometres in the self-timed event.

“The reason that I think that the walk makes so much sense and we talk about walking in solidarity with African grandmas is that they walk so much every day. They walk to get water. They walk to pick up their grandchildren. They walk to the fields to farm,” Ms. Gillies said.

There is no registration fee or obligation to donate, although contributions are welcomed gratefully.

For more information, visit the event webpage at

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