On Friday, September 6th, 35 women, aged between 56 and 75, will be cycling through the Comox Valley on a three-day, 275 kilometer, journey from Campbell River to Victoria. After months of training, these valiant women will be taking part in the 13th annual Victoria Grandmothers for Africa Cycle Tour, riding in solidarity with the tireless African “gogos” who are raising their grandchildren, orphaned in the HIV and AIDS epidemic. To date, the Cycle Tours have raised $1million for the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign of the Stephen Lewis Foundation.
Two local women, Maxine Bowen and Sue Taylor, will be riding with the group. You can sponsor this amazing pair by visiting the Victoria Grandmothers for Africa website at www.victoriagrandmothersforafrica.
Along their journey, SLF- associated grandmother groups provide the cyclists with meals, snacks and plenty of encouragement. The local Glacier Grannies will be providing lunch for the cyclists on September 6th at an ocean-side property in Union Bay. We expect the cyclists to arrive at about 12 noon and all are invited to come and meet them, enjoy an alfresco lunch for $10, and cheer them on their way. If you plan to attend, please see our website, www.glaciergrannies.org
The challenge in much of Africa is that a whole generation of parents has died of HIV and AIDS and community structures have been badly compromised. In many cases it has been the grandparents — predominantly elderly, widowed women — who have stepped in to care for the orphaned children. But these women themselves have been traumatized by loss, and are lacking the physical, emotional and material resources they need to care for this multitude of children.
Families struggle with poverty and malnutrition. HIV-positive children are often ostracized and discriminated against, with little protection from abuse. Education is terminated, or difficult to access, and children’s hopes of living productive, self-supporting lives are dimmed. Gender-based discrimination greatly increases girls’ vulnerability to sexual exploitation and violence, as well as their risk of HIV and AIDS infection. Children struggle with all of the grief and loss they have endured.
HIV and AIDS treatment must be delivered as a part of much more encompassing, holistic programmes of support. Children’s nutritional and other material needs must be met, and they need to learn life skills and receive suitable counselling.
Caregivers need training to administer medication, parenting skills, education on nutrition, support to deal with their own grief, and means to obtain basic incomes for their families. Age appropriate interventions are needed for youth, especially in relation to their sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Community bonds need strengthening, and youth groups and caregivers groups play crucial roles in encouraging testing and adherence to treatment. Family and community connectedness are key to building resilience in HIV and AIDS affected and infected children and youth. It has already been observed that the orphaned children who succeed, and the HIV-positive children whose treatment is maintained into adulthood, are those who have come to see themselves as part of the solution, are in school, have access to counselling, and are active members of functioning families and communities.