Here’s number eight in our River Market Secret Santa series. (Numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. )
For many, the focus from everyday life turns towards the spirit of giving during the holiday season. This year River Market invited citizens from New Westminster to shop for gifts on River Market’s dollar. Many would say these citizens are actively engaged in making this wonderful city better each day. These individuals were tasked to hand pick each item which they thought would make a great gift and their only parameter was that they had $50 to spend. Once they were done their shopping, they would wrap the gift and deliver it to an organization of their choice in New West.
In this edition # 8 of the Secret Santa series, River Market asked Neal Michael to get his shop on. Neal lives here and has organized many events that bring community together such as Popluck, Pecha Kucha, Stop and Stare, etc. Neal chose to shop for the Spirit of the Children Society. “I feel like as an organization it’s overlooked and under recognized. I like that a lot of the programs are ones that strengthen family connections. As a teacher I am passionate about youth and they do a lot for the youth of Indigenous communities.”
They specifically asked for a gift card from Donald’s Market to go towards their Traditional Kitchen for Aboriginal Families and Youth and they always need fresh fruit and veggies and do some of their shopping at Donald’, so Neal picked up a selection of gift cards.
And if Neal is on your list of people to buy a Secret Santa gift for, check out Canteen and Supply. “We are foodies who love to cook and they have so many good things,” he says.
Most Canadians have heard about AIDS in Africa but few fully grasp the scope of the pandemic. Over the past 30 years, nearly 30 million people have died of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa leaving 17 million orphan children – that’s almost twice the number of children in all of Canada – most of them living with their grandmothers.
Grandmothers in Africa have stepped up to provide the care that their grandchildren need. In the face of their own unbearable grief, they bury their beloved children, cope with their own deteriorating health and begin to parent again with few resources. They know what to do; they just need the resources to do it.
That’s why, in 2006, the Stephen Lewis Foundation invited 100 African grandmothers to meet with 200 Canadian grandmothers in Toronto for the first-ever Grandmothers Gathering. The African grandmothers shared their stories of hardship and determination and made clear their needs and priorities for the future. Canadian grandmothers listened, learned and organized … and the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign was born. Since then it has grown to encompass more than 10,000 women in 250 groups across Canada. Royal City Gogos (Gogo is a Zulu word for grandmother) is a grandmother group based in New Westminster.
Since 2006, the Grandmothers Campaign in Canada has raised more than $25 million dollars. Ninety percent of the money is sent by the Stephen Lewis Foundation directly to their community-based partners who work with grandmothers in 15 sub-Saharan countries. The impact of ongoing support at community level can be felt in wellness in every way.
Here are three examples (none of the names used are their real names):
Jacqueline lost seven children to AIDS. For years, she lived alone with her six grandchildren, feeling the stigma and pain of her loss. Then a community-based organization in Durban persuaded her to come to grief counseling, and helped her feed and clothe her grandchildren. Now Maria volunteers at a local AIDS centre, refers people to the health clinic, and works at a neighbourhood crèche. She enjoys her work and has re-established her status (and her dignity) as a leader in her community. Wellness begins with meeting basic needs.
Suzanne works for a community-based project in Kenya that provides counseling to grief-stricken and isolated grandmothers who were in despair at the deaths of their children. With Suzanne’s support, many of these same grandmothers have gone on to form new grandmothers networks, reaching further into the community. As Suzanne reports, “First you stop their despair, then you help them find a reason to live. Once they’re on their feet again, they’ll develop among themselves a means to live better.” Wellness thrives with psychosocial support.
Thanda is a grandmother living with HIV, who lost countless family members to AIDS. Like many grandmothers in sub-Saharan Africa, Thanda realized something had to be done. With the help of a community-based organization in Swaziland, she started a feeding programme for orphaned and vulnerable children from her home. In addition, Thanda goes out into the community as a trained caregiver to visit terminally ill community members. Despite her grief, she does her best to bring nutritious food and healthcare to her family and her community. Wellness continues when community members work together.
And that’s not all. With sustained funding from the Grandmothers Campaign, African grandmothers are now recognized as agents of change – getting elected to represent grandmothers on property disputes, lobbying the government for better pensions and child support, working to end gender-based violence. Wellness enables empowerment.
After decades of living at the epicentre of the AIDS pandemic, African grandmothers have developed the resilience and expertise to overcome stigma, protect their grandchildren, bring hope to their communities and advocate for change. They are the backbone of the healthcare system, the lynchpins of their communities, and the guardians of their country’s future.
The Royal City Gogos’ are privileged to stand in solidarity with the grandmothers of Africa and the wellness work they undertake every day.
You can help African grandmothers by supporting events in your community. Royal City Gogos is hosting Artisan Crafts for Africa on Friday November 4, 4pm to 8pm and Saturday November 5, 10am – 4pm at Unifor Hall, 326 Twelfth Street, New Westminster.
For more about Royal City Gogos head here. For the Lower Mainland group head here. And to learn more about the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign see www.grandmotherscampaign.org.
A drug-addicted single mother of a 10-year-old girl trying and failing to hold her life together. A father of two, the sole breadwinner in the family, laid off from his job and desperate for work. Families like these struggle to scrape together money for groceries, let alone presents. As evidenced by the long lines at Metro Vancouver’s largest food bank here in New Westminster, many local families need help. They need you and me to step forward and offer it.
The families described above are real New Westminster families helped by the Adopt-A-Family program coordinated by Fraserside Community Services Society, which pairs low-income families with sponsors who step forward to give them a Christmas. Sponsors typically spend between $200-500 (depending on the size of the family) on groceries and toys for the kids. Unlike other programs, sponsors don’t just donate money but are paired with individual families and have the option to personally select the gifts and groceries for the families they adopt. The first 100 families to apply are guaranteed a spot in the program, and after that they go on a wait list. The more donors who step up to play Santa, the more families get helped.
The effects on the families is significant. The father who lost his job left their Christmas decorations up until February because seeing other families step forward to take care of them in their time of need made Christmas so wonderful that they didn’t want it to end. The drug-addicted mom didn’t say thank you to the family who helped her, but when she closed the door behind them, she sat on the stairs and cried, as she suddenly realized that these complete strangers were taking better care of her daughter than she had been able to do. Five years later, sober and employed, that woman joined Fraserside as a volunteer for the program. According to Fraserside program director Diane Cairns, many people who have been ‘adopted’ later return as sponsors or volunteers.
As I mentioned, the Adopt-A-Family program pairs donors with families based either on how much the donor wants to spend or the ages of the children they want to sponsor (many donors participate as a family and have their own children select the gifts for the kids they ‘adopt’). Fraserside asks donors to spend $150-200 on groceries for each family, plus $50-75 in toys and clothing for each child. Donors can be as hands-on as they wish: they can personally shop for and deliver gifts or give Fraserside money and let their volunteers make the purchases and delivery.
The adoptees are all low-income families living in New Westminster, and almost all are first-time participants in the program, as priority is given to new participants. Last year 134 local families (about 600 people) benefited from the program, and sponsors came from 17 different communities in the Lower Mainland. Donors are asked to deliver their gifts either to the families directly or to Fraserside to distribute on their behalf by December 18. If you’d like to participate, you can find information on the program and the application form online.
People struggle all year round of course, but at Christmastime it seems especially sad. I am not a Christian, but I find my own meaning in Christmas traditions and I am inspired by the Christmas story. Religious people have their own deep significance for the holiday of course, but I see it as a beacon of hope in cold, dark times. It is a reminder that even when your nose is ‘froze and you can’t see your own feet, you can trust that light and warmth will return to the world. If you’re looking for a way to offer a little hope to a family facing dark times, consider adopting a family in need this Christmas.