Grandmothers saving lives in Ethiopia

A special event was hosted at the Swift Current Library by the Grandmothers and Grandothers Group on October 25 to help launch the book Powered by Love: A Grandmothers Movement to End AIDS in Africa.

Two grandmothers from Ethiopia were in Swift Current on October 25 to share a powerful message of how they are striving to overcome the stigma and social isolation of AIDS/HIV in order to help make a difference for orphaned children across their country.

A special event was hosted at the Swift Current Library by the Grandmothers and Grandothers Group to help launch the book Powered by Love: A Grandmothers Movement to End AIDS in Africa. Author Joanna Henry was in Swift Current for the launch, along with grandmothers Meaza Asfaw Dubie and Asnakech Mekbib Fantaye from Ethiopia, who are both involved with an HIV positive women support organization.

The two women spoke of the hardships they endured in the aftermath of the AIDS pandemic which swept through Africa in the early 2000s. Grandmothers across Ethiopia started off as palliative care givers, simply helping people, including their own children, die with dignity after being stricken with AIDS. They then had to take in their own traumatized grandchildren, and find a way to forge forward. And while the arrival of antiretroviral therapy changed many things, there are still many hurdles facing the grandmothers and their efforts.

Powered by Love author Joanna Henry, Director of Learning and Resource Development at the Stephen Lewis Foundation, said this story deserved to be told.

“There is something precious about this moment in history, when older women stood up and created something different and created a movement and said it can be done differently, it can be based on relationship. We actually can undo the toxic donor/beneficiary power struggles where those who have the resources, or at least know how to mobilize the resources, do not have the answers or the expertise necessarily to how these resources get used. That’s so logical, but it flies in the face of every single international development relationship out there, minus yours.”

The Stephen Lewis Foundation has raised more than $25 million through the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign, but other international efforts are not properly addressing the need to support grassroots organization working on the frontline of the AIDS pandemic.

“This incredibly complex human problem that the world just loves to throw a simplistic answer at it. ‘So now we have the drugs, all we need to do is give the drugs. The problem’s solved. A medical solution, and now we’re done.’ But this isn’t a medical problem, this is a social problem. And the grandmothers will tell you over and over again, that drugs don’t deliver themselves, people do not get tested if there’s a stigma that’s rampant, and you have to stay on the drugs forever. You have to have full bellies, you have to have access to transportation to the clinics.”

Colleen MacBean, who was the driving force behind a Grandmothers fundraising group starting in Swift Current, pointed out she was originally inspired to support the initiative after attending a gathering in Toronto in 2006.

“That was a most humbling experience, to sit in the company of those amazing women who had come from Africa who were raising, one, two, four, 10, 12 grandchildren. And faced every day with the problems of income security, struggling with access to education for their children, food provision, health issues. Just all these absolutely overwhelming problems. And yet I never heard one woman talk about ‘poor me’. It was always about how can I provide for these children who have been struck by the tragedy of the loss of their parents. The grandmothers had been struck by the tragedy of losing their sons and daughters. It was an absolutely incredible experience.”

Additional information on the movement is available by visiting