In March 2006, the Stephen Lewis Foundation launched the Grandmothers to Grandmothers (Gogos) campaign to raise awareness and money for grandmothers in Africa raising their orphaned grandchildren. Sixty-four-year-old Janine Reid became involved after her own mother heard a speaker from the group.
“I have heard Stephen Lewis speak before and found him to be a riveting speaker,” says Janine. “I thought there must be something I could do to help, but I put it from my mind until my mother heard someone from the grandmothers’ campaign speak. She mentioned it to me, and told me she thought I would enjoy getting involved.”
Janine has always been committed to making a difference in the world, so volunteering for this worthy cause was an easy decision for her to make.
Born in New Westminster and raised in Burnaby, Janine joined with 2,500 other young people in the autumn of 1965 to become the first students to attend classes at the new Simon Fraser University. She earned her teaching certificate and took the Professional Development Program before taking a position in the Lower Mainland, along with her husband Cam, who was also a teacher and graduated from the same program.
“My husband and I were young and full of idealism, and we applied to every school district in the province that had a two-room school,” recalls Janine. “We got hired to teach at a small community outside of Vanderhoof, each of us teaching half of the students in grades one to six. We stayed there for two years.”
For the next two years, Janine and Cam worked for CUSO as teachers in a rural community in Jamaica. When they returned to Vancouver, they brought home more than the experience. They returned with an adopted 14-year-old Jamaican boy named Lennox, whom they raised and educated in Canada.
Janine finished her degree, taught in Vancouver and then the couple moved to Port Moody to raise their family. In addition to their adopted son, they welcomed a daughter and a son three years apart.
At 57, Janine retired from teaching, though she continued working as a consultant for the next several years.
“Towards the end of my teaching career, I co-authored two resource books for teachers,” she says. “So, following retirement, I had six years of being self-employed as a consultant working for various school districts. When I heard about the grandmothers’ campaign, it was my background in teaching and my high regard for children that drew me to it.”
In 2008, Janine joined a group in Coquitlam, one of the member organizations of the Greater Vancouver Region of Gogos. The word Gogo means grandmother in Zulu, though it is not used by every chapter of the grandmothers’ campaign. Each of the groups is autonomous and this allows the organization to be flexible and versatile.
“Most of the groups meet once a month,” says Janine. “Our group is up to about 50 members, so we meet in a library. Some groups meet in church halls and others in [a member’s] home. There are more than 20 groups in our region, all the way from Powell River to Mission.”
Altogether, there are more than 5,000 members spread amongst approximately 240 groups across Canada.
“When the Stephen Lewis Foundation was asked if they could help with the caregivers of children in Africa, the Foundation realized the caregivers were grandmothers. This Foundation may be the only one in the world raising funds for this group.”
Great things can spring from tiny seeds, and this organization is a perfect example. From its beginning on the eve of International Women’s Day in 2006, the group continues to make remarkable achievements.
“We formed when the Foundation invited 100 grandmothers from Africa and 200 self-funded grandmothers from Canada to attend a gathering in Toronto,” says Janine. “The African women shared their stories and the Canadian grandmothers heard them and vowed, ‘We will not rest until they can rest.’ At the end of the gathering, the Canadian women went back to their homes across the country to spread the word. In five years, we have raised more than 13 million dollars, and because it is volunteer-driven, a huge proportion of the money raised goes directly to those who need it the most.”
Last year, Janine was chosen by the Foundation to be one of 42 Canadian delegates to attend a gathering in Swaziland. There, they brought together 500 grandmothers from 14 sub-Saharan countries to share their experiences and issues of concern.
“It is so valuable for these women to come out of their countries and realize others have the same concerns,” says Janine. “We marched together – 1,000 strong – to ask that their rights for freedom from violence, and pensions to help raise the orphaned children be recognized. The gathering lasted three days, but the entire trip took two weeks. It was a whirlwind! It was a rare and historic event, and I was privileged to take part in it. My eyes were opened. Because of my experience in Jamaica, I had some understanding of poverty, but the scope of the AIDS pandemic is truly catastrophic.”
The Gogos are officially friends of the Foundation, and raise funds for the Foundation to use on their various projects in sub-Saharan Africa. Each group decides on its own focus. Some make crafts to sell, some work for a big annual project, and some do a combination of both, depending on the talents and interests of the members. While doing this important work for people halfway around the world, the group realizes their members have lives of their own.
“We recognize that women at our time of life have many responsibilities,” says Janine. “Many of our members care for elderly parents and grandchildren. We may have health issues of our own. Some of us are still working. For these reasons, we expect an ebb and flow in our members’ ability to participate fully in our work. People come and go, and give when they have the time and resources to do so. For this reason, we have two people chosen for each job.”
The Gogos have made a significant impact on the lives of women on both sides of the Atlantic, and Janine is no exception.
“I was pleased to join the group,” she says. “What I love most is the sense of sisterhood and solidarity. We are like-minded and care about the cause. Differences of opinion can be divisive but, in this group, we all focus on the goal. It is important to remember that while we work hard in Canada from this place of abundance, it is the African grandmothers who are shouldering the burden of care for a generation of orphans. They have no time to mourn the loss of their beloved sons and daughters; they must begin to parent again. We simply provide the resources to support their initiatives. They have the creativity and determination to rebuild lives and restore hope. They are the true heroes of the continent and are turning the tide of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.”
For more information or to find a local Gogos group, visit www.greatervancouvergogos.org
DECEMBER 2011 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER & LOWER MAINLAND
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