Canadians Making a Difference in the World
When Nina Minde accompanied her husband, Klaus, to South Africa on his university sabbatical, she “hoped I might be able to make myself useful, if I’m lucky.’’
Volunteering at a children’s mental health clinic in the township of Alexandra, Nina was shocked to discover the extent of the ravages of HIV/AIDS. More and more children attending the clinic were being brought by their grandmothers because their parents were dead or dying from AIDS.
According to UNAIDS, one out of five, or 5.3 million, South Africans is infected with HIV, the largest number of individuals living with the virus in a single country. More than half are women.
“Being a grandmother myself, I volunteered to run a support group with the clinic’s head nurse, Rose Letwaba,” says Nina. “Three grannies came to our first meeting. They told us their stories. We listened, and everybody cried a lot. The next week, two more grannies came. When there were ten, we couldn’t fit any more chairs into Rose’s office, so that was the group.”
The grannies told Nina and Rose they needed help in getting over the loss of their daughters and in raising their grandchildren to be ‘‘normal.’’ They called themselves the “Grannies of Sorrow” because instead of enjoying their senior years, they were struggling to raise children who were often sad and angry. Many of these women had also been plunged back into poverty.
“As we kept meeting, the women became more confident in their own abilities and more joyful,” says Nina. “They started to think about how to sustain themselves, and began to learn how to sew and garden. They blossomed. She adds, ‘‘It’s grown beyond our expectations.” Now able to speak publicly about their ordeals, the grannies have made it a priority to regularly talk to schoolchildren about HIV/AIDS prevention.
Today, the group has more than forty members. Through the Stephen Lewis Foundation, they have received funding for projects to increase their incomes and share the Granny Group concept. They have also received financial and moral support from three ‘‘sister’’ granny groups in Montréal and Wakefield, Que.; and Kamloops, B.C. And they have changed their name to the “Go-Go Grannies.”