Stephen Lewis Foundation Speaks to Executive Council

April 8, 2013

Today MoveUP Executive Council heard a presentation from the Stephen Lewis Foundation about their work in Africa and their upcoming African Grandmothers Tribunal in Vancouver this fall.

Joe Cressy talked about how the Foundation formed in 2003 after Stephen Lewis’ experience as the UN HIV/AIDS Envoy in Africa.

“We decided we wanted to fund directly to the grassroots, to the community level, and we wanted to get the funding there quickly,” said Cressy.

The Stephen Lewis Foundation funds local, community-based organizations, with a particular focus on women, especially grandmothers who are taking care of grandchildren after their parents have died of AIDS.

“It is grandmothers who are raising five, 10, 15 orphans at a time because a generation has been decimated,” Cressy said, noting there are approximately 14 million orphans living in Africa.

The challenges are daunting and there is a need for urgency, with more than 35 million people infected worldwide, most in Sub-Saharan Africa. The push for “austerity” in many Western nations has meant cuts to funding for international aid. And while effective HIV/AIDS drugs do exist they are not widely available. But the Foundation sees reason for hope:

“Grandmothers are a force for change,” said Cressy, “They are moving from talking about basic needs to basic rights.”

There are more than 250 grandmothers (Gogos) groups across Canada that have formed to support the Stephen Lewis Foundation. Carol Wylie of the Royal City Gogos talked about some of the work they do, including awareness work, engaging in partnerships with local businesses and non-profits, donating their own funds, and holding fundraising events. She said she and many other Canadian grandmothers have been inspired to act by the contrast between the privileges they enjoy compared to the situation African grandmothers face, including lack of access to health care, elder violence, and property theft.

Many of these issues will be addressed at the African Grandmothers Tribunal, which will give six grandmothers from six different African countries a chance to share their experience with 1300 people at the Chan Centre in Vancouver. Attendees will be asked to bear witness,  celebrate their courage and help advocate for the recommendations that will be made.

Cressy closed by asking MoveUP to support the event, noting that the Stephen Lewis Foundation has always had a strong relationship with unions:

“Some of our biggest supporters from day one have been the labour movement…As supporters, as activists, as donors it has been the trade union movement that has stood side by side with our foundation,” Cressy said.

Another way MoveUP members can help is by donating your Aeroplan miles to the Foundation. If you donate on Tuesday, April 9, Aeroplan will match all the miles received. Find more information here.