In April 2006, I became a great-grandmother for the first time. Having already eight grandchildren who call me “Nannie,” I thought the new little one could call me “GG.” In one of those odd convergences, in June 2006 I saw an interesting story in our local newspaper, about a courageous woman who intended climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money for the Stephen Lewis Foundation. Her name just happened to be Gigi. Thinking there had to be something there; I sent her an e-mail offering to climb with her. We met at her first fundraiser, a barbeque at her home, where I met the rest of her family, including her husband Michael. I knew I wanted to help her achieve her goal and at the same time to satisfy my continuing quest for unusual challenges.
For some years, I volunteered for Help-the-Aged (Canada) with the Adopt-a-Gran (AAG) Program. Having traveled to Kenya, as well as Jamaica, on behalf of this excellent organization, I had become keenly aware and increasingly troubled by the inequality that exists in our world. Women and children are at the forefront of this inequality and consequently, suffer untold misery every day of their lives. In my work with the Grans, I was humbled by the resiliency, the determination, the generosity, and the love and caring of the men and women I met. Many of them were struggling to look after their grandchildren orphaned because of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Fortunately, those sponsored through the AAG Program sometimes received extra help for the children.
The paths of my life resemble the biblical story, “A Coat of Many Colours.” I’ve worn many coats: waitress, secretary, dance instructor, photographer, journalist, farmer, children’s farm program operator, antiques dealer, real estate saleswoman, tearoom and B & B owner. Add to the list, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. All of these “coats” have given me joy as well as a lot of hard work. Going to Kenya for the first time to work with the elderly, destitute and often ill people, I knew that all my previous experiences would help me in what I was to encounter there.
In August 2006, I attended the “Grandmothers to Grandmothers Gathering,” hosted by the Stephen Lewis Foundation (SLF) in Toronto, which coincided with the HIV/AIDS conference there. The SLF brought one hundred grandmothers from many countries in Africa to meet, mingle, brainstorm, dance, laugh and cry with over two hundred Canadian grandmothers. This inspiring event was like a pebble in a pond, creating ever-enlarging circles here as well as in Africa. Through workshops, we learned much from one another. We wanted the African grannies to tell us what they needed and how we could help. We marched through downtown Toronto to the CBC, with banners, singing, chanting and hugging one another. As I looked back and all around me in that diverse crowd, I couldn’t help thinking that this was surely a “moment in time”…something that would go on being and doing and giving for a long time. To date it surely has.
As a young child my adoption by a generous and loving couple in their ‘60s, changed my life. Even at a young age, their values became my values. My mother worked tirelessly for those less fortunate. One of her tasks through her work with the Women’s Auxiliary, was helping to assemble bales of goods for needy people, particularly those in the Canadian North. I recall going with my Dad to the train station in Ottawa to ship the bales.
Many things contribute to my desire to help others. One is a selfish one, as I love to travel, but I also love a challenge. My writing and photography fits neatly into the equation as well. What’s left is a desire to do something meaningful and to help those less fortunate and in doing so, to learn more about the world around me.