By Eric Elliott
What started out as a small group of people gathering in a kitchen 10 years ago has swelled into a movement of 50 grandmothers under the name of the Valley GoGo Sisters fighting in solidarity against HIV.
Supported by the Stephen Lewis Foundation that works with community-based organizations to turn the tide of HIV and AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, the Valley GoGo Sisters have been operating since their first meeting on October 30th, 2006.
The Valley GoGo Sisters have been working throughout the Columbia Valley since, Fundraising to help African grandmothers care for the millions of children who are orphaned by AIDS, sometimes as many as 10 to 15 per household. Since 2003, the Stephen Lewis Foundation has raised $89 million to support over 1,400 initiatives with over 300 community-based organizations in 15 countries.
Here in the Columbia Valley, the Valley GoGo Sisters have fundraised $93,000 as of December 2015. Sherry Dewey, chair of the Sisters, said that most of the fundraising that the group does comes through events such as bake and jewelry sales as well as events such as their St. Patricks Day Tea. Ms. Dewey has been the acting chair of the group for four years now, joining in 2007 after hearing Stephen Lewis speak on the radio, at which point she decided to get involved locally. She said it has been a rewarding experience being a part of the Valley GoGo Sisters.
Its pretty special to think that weve still stayed involved and stayed as a tight-knit group that are still really concerned about these grandmothers
and the HIV epidemic and its really important to us, she said. I think it just gives us a really good strong feeling of solidarity.
She said one of the things that she enjoys about the Grandmothers Campaign is their emphasis on working with grassroots organizations to provide grandmothers and the children in their care with supports for specific projects rather than just free handouts.
Theyre really good at getting a lot of the local grandmothers really active and engaged, she said. In the old days, we used to think of it as pity for them, but now were there to support them because there are some super strong resilient people.
According to the UNAIDS, there are approximately 36.7 million people worldwide who are currently living with HIV/AIDS with 1.8 million of those being children primarily from the low-to middle-income countries of Sub-Saharan Africa. Despite the grim numbers, Ms. Dewey said she has seen change thanks to the organizations work over the last decade.
We have definitely seen change because we have seen these grandmothers getting funding and education on anti-retroviral drugs, she said. We heard a story about a woman, she became involved right in the beginning and her daughter is now a lawyer and shes fighting for the cause over there and without the help of Stephen Lewis she wouldnt have been able to do that.
Its stories like these that motivate her and the other Sisters to continue their fight to help grandmothers across the world.
Its very touching and it just lights a spark under you to make you want to do more because its a great success story, she said.
To mark their successful decade, the Sisters recently celebrated with a private potluck dinner, and planning is already underway for a big event they have scheduled for next year that will be held in the new Columbia Valley Centre after its completed.