Grannies à Gogo: the Vernon – South Africa Connection is a group of women based in Vernon, British Columbia, Canada dedicated to providing support to a group of women in Sabie, South Africa who are raising their AIDS-orphaned grandchildren. Gogo is the Zulu word for grandmother, so our name translates as “Grandmothers to Grandmothers.”
We are a volunteer and independent group which is a ‘sister’ project with Sitabogogo (Zulu for “Help a Grandmother”) in Sabie, South Africa. These African women suffered the oppression of apartheid during their formative years, they fought to gain democracy during their adult prime and now, instead of relaxing in their senior years, are parenting their orphaned grandchildren. There are an estimated 2,500,000 orphans in South Africa alone.
Our volunteer contacts ‘in the field’ administering the project are Vicky and Myriam Bryant. All net proceeds from our fundraising go directly to the African grandparents, to improve their lives and those of their orphaned grandchildren.
From 2001 to 2005 Susan Fenner, Past Chairperson and founding member, lived in the small rural community of Sabie and was actively involved in volunteer work in the surrounding black townships. She became aware of the numerous funerals every week end, of the gogos burying their adult children due to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and now having to raise their orphaned grandchildren.
Many of the gogos must care for their dying adult children at home while the grandchildren look on in fear. Unfortunately, some care givers become infected with HIV themselves because they don’t know the correct precautions to take. Many are struggling just to provide food and to keep their extended family sheltered. Chronic poverty has increased by 30%. In most cases, this stems from the death of the working member of the family; the situation is compounded by the expense of health care and funerals.”
When Susan moved back to Canada she heard of the work done by the Stephen Lewis Foundation and felt that Sabie was a project just waiting to happen. However, although their goals were similar, she wanted to forge a personal connection with the gogos of Sabie which the SLF does not do. So in January 2007, on one of Susan’s visits back to Sabie, she presented her idea to Ginny Cormack, an Anglican Priest she had known previously. Ginny agreed to become the volunteer administrator.
Ruth Magagula was the coordinator and liaison with the gogos for 2007-2009. She was succeeded by Milly Chiloane for 2009-2011. Their jobs were to identify the most vulnerable gogos, address their most urgent needs such as food, medical attention, and to organize activities and workshops for them.
Susan Fenner explains, “A grandmother in South Africa does not serve the same function as a grandmother in Canada, where we are more like an embellishment to the family. While we Canadian grandmothers are taking the time to do activities we’ve always wanted to get around to, the gogos of South Africa are once again taking on full parental responsibilities. In fact, with more than two and half million orphans in South Africa alone, the gogos are unquestionably the glue holding that nation together.”
When Susan presented the idea to some Vernon friends in March 2007 the group quickly mushroomed. Many citizens in Vernon apparently want very much to help address the imbalance of riches in the world, and simply needed an immediate and trusted contact to do it. Grannies à Gogo: the Vernon – South Africa Connection had their official launch in June 2007 with the screening of Rooney Productions’ documentary film, The Great Granny Revolution.
Grannies à Gogo is made up of a Steering Committee and an associated Grannies à Gogo membership.
The Steering Committee is comprised of eighteen committed women who meet monthly to set the vision and goals for the group, to involve all Grannies à Gogo as widely as possible and to ensure that all funds are sent directly to Africa. Elections are held annually in March.
The 2016-2017 positions on the Steering Committee are:
Chairperson: Beverley Barling
1st Vice Chair: Mary Stebbins
2nd Vice Chair: Anne Clarke (interim)
Treasurer: Carol Schroeder/Marilyn Wardlow
Recording Secretary: Rhondda Ransom
Past Chair: Sigrid-Ann Thors
Corresponding Secretary: Josie Brown
African Liaison: Sue Ulmer
Public Relations: Susan Fenner
E-mail Manager: Lynn Hadfield
Letter Writers Coordinator: Barb Melanson
Web Page: Lynn Hadfield
Handicraft Coordinator: Sue Harnett, Anne Clarke
Craft Inventory: Janis Lauman, Kathy deGrace
Historian: Sue Ulmer
Dream Catcher: Janis Lauman
Sock-it-Away: Mary Stebbins
Book Exchange: Sherlyn Stewart
Nature’s Fair Receipts: Sherlyn Stewart
Directors at Large: Gail Short
Grannies à Gogo Members now number more than 200 women who indicate one or more ways they wish to be involved:
1. Working on fund-raising committees (a separate committee for each event)
2. Working on public relations (poster-making/distribution, contacting media)
3. Writing letters to an African Gogo
4. Joining the Steering Committee when positions become available
5. Making periodic cash donations.
6. Contributing time and work to fund-raising but not being on a committee.
Our intention is to have at least two social events each year for all members of Grannies à Gogo. These will be times to get to know each other, to celebrate our achievements and to share letters and stories. We are non-partisan and non-denominational.
Gloria Steinem’s quote at the beginning of the film The Great Granny Revolution went like this:
“One day an army of grey-haired old women may quietly take over the world.”
We’re about to do our part! If you wish to join please email firstname.lastname@example.org