Their conversation was simple. They talked about being new grandmothers, about what was happening in their neighbourhood, and about the richness of their lives. They enjoyed each other’s company and decided to meet on a regular basis. Coffee and conversation were to be the main focus, but they also decided to explore how their small group might work to benefit others.
In time, the Stephen Lewis Foundation (SLF) and its Grandmothers to Grandmothers program came into their lives. This grassroots program was formed to raise funds to help care for women and orphans in Africa struggling to survive poverty, violence, and an AIDs epidemic. They especially wanted to assist the heroic grandmothers who buried their own children, and who were now raising their orphaned grandchildren with little or no support.
The coffee group became the Merville Grand Mothers, and their goal was to contribute what they could, even if only in a small way.
The North Island Quilters for Community Awareness offered the fledgling group a quilt to raffle as a fundraiser, but in British Columbia monies raised from a raffle could not be sent out of the province. "No problem,” the quilters said. "We’ll make a few individual pieces that you can auction.” They did their research on Africa, studied the issues, and learned about the lives of the African grandmothers. Gradually a ‘Who Will’ theme developed: Who will bathe the babies? Who will carry the water? Who will grind the maize? Who will keep the traditions alive? Who will remember?
It turns out that the quilters were artists. They surprised themselves by creating 39 incredibly beautiful pieces of textile art. An exhibit, titled Who will Plant the Seeds of Hope, travelled to six communities in the area. As a result, three new Grandmothers to Grandmothers groups were formed, including one in Campbell River. Those who attended were generous with their donations, and bought post cards, posters and a booklet showcasing the artwork. Stephen Lewis saw the exhibit in Courtenay and wrote, "This is the most thrilling and accomplished artistic undertaking in the history of the Foundation.”
Interest in the artwork and the Grandmothers to Grandmothers project continued to grow.
"Gradually we realized there was a possibility of our raising a considerable amount of money,” said Janet Fairbanks of the Merville Grand Mothers. "However, the success of the project in awareness building and fundraising was beyond our wildest dreams. And we are still selling cards and posters.”
At a hotly bid auction, individual pieces of art fetched up to an amazing $2,800. To date, the Merville Grand Mothers have contributed approximately $90,000 to the Stephen Lewis Foundation, with the help of the quilters, and sales from a booklet sold by the Glacier Grannies.
Can a small group of individuals make a difference in the world? The answer is a resounding ‘yes.’
I call it ‘love in action.’
For more information about the Merville Grand Mothers visit www.tidechange.ca
Lorraine Hart is a local writer, President of Discovery Toastmasters, a hospice volunteer, a member of Letz Sing, and an avid hiker. She has hosted two CRTV television series, Conversations with Hart and Passages.