In an AIDS-ravaged truck-stop town outside Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Winnipeg's Deb Radi met moms and grandmas whom her group is helping to survive and thrive while raising kids orphaned by the disease.

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This article was published 8/5/2015 (2449 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In an AIDS-ravaged truck-stop town outside Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Winnipeg's Deb Radi met moms and grandmas whom her group is helping to survive and thrive while raising kids orphaned by the disease.

 

One Ethiopian woman's house burned down and she borrowed money to invest in a cow. The money she made from the cow enabled her to rebuild her home and repay the loan. She borrowed more money to set up a distillery and now has a thriving business making and selling alcohol.

That success was offset by the death of her daughter to AIDS, said Radi, who visited the woman's town with the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

Next, the Ethiopian woman suffered the indignity of townspeople attending her daughter's wake only to see if it was true AIDS turns people into monsters, said Radi, who has two grown daughters.

'It was a profound experience to meet with women, talk about their experiences and break down those barriers'‐ Winnipegger Deb Radi, who belongs to Grands'n'More, which raises money for the Stephen Lewis Foundation

"There were devastating times of her life but she became a powerful person in the community," said Radi, who paid her own way to Africa to see the Canadian charity in action.

It is funding projects such as Developing Families Together, which provided a micro-loan and encouragement to the mother in Ethiopia. The foundation is helping women in 15 countries hit hardest by AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa.

"It was a profound experience to meet with women, talk about their experiences and break down those barriers," said Radi, who belongs to the Winnipeg group Grands'n'More, which raises money for the foundation.

"We won't rest until they can rest," said Laurel Garvie, a grandmother and member of Grands'n'More, one of more than 240 groups of grandmothers and "grand-others" across Canada raising funds for the foundation.

Since it began in 2007, the Winnipeg group has collected more than $300,000 for the charity that's helping grandmothers in Africa raise some of the estimated 17 million children orphaned by an AIDS pandemic.

"Every little bit goes a long way in the life of a grandmother," said Enid Butler, who helped start the Winnipeg group eight years ago. The retiree was listening to the radio in 2006 when Lewis, who was the UN special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, invited 200 Canadian women to meet in Toronto with some of the African grandmothers helped by his foundation.

"It resonated with me," said Butler, who answered the call.

The visiting African women she met were struggling to raise their grandchildren on their own without supports such as the child tax credit, education and health care Canadians take for granted.

She heard the women talk about having to walk great distances -- some had no shoes -- to support their grandkids. They worried about their grandkids during their trip to Canada and were overwhelmed by this country's abundance.

"One woman couldn't face the amount of food that's available here," Butler said.

The grandmother of three returned to Winnipeg determined to help her counterparts in Africa through grassroots organizations there.

The next year, the Winnipeg group Grands'n'More was founded to include men and women and people without grandkids who wanted to help.

They now have about 200 members, Butler said.

They sell handmade scarves, aprons and handbags, have potluck suppers and an annual walkathon. In September, they hold a giant "art from the attic" sale that's already collected about 500 pieces.

Showing solidarity with women struggling in faraway places such as Zambia is important, Garvie said.

She worked with Planned Parenthood in the 1980s when AIDS started taking its toll in North America. Now she's helping women in Africa prevent the spread of the disease and raise children whose parents it has killed.

She's one of the Grands'n'More members who've made and sold $165,000 worth of handbags for the cause.

The volunteers, including women at three Hutterite colonies, make them out of durable pet mesh and fabric, recycled leather jackets and material they find at second-hand stores. They range in price from $2 to $40, said Garvie who's spoken at "bag party" fundraisers where guests learn about the plight of AIDS orphans in Africa and what they can do to help the grannies help them.

"They're not alone, Garvie said.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.