Omas Siskona

If my family lived in sub-Saharan Africa, the chances are pretty good that there would be fewer of us than there are living here in Southwestern Ontario.

In fact, not only would we have fewer family members, but the family configuration would be almost unrecognizable in our society.

Because if we did live in sub-Saharan Africa, my mother would probably be raising my two children…and that’s if both were still alive, which is unlikely because, of the 13 million AIDS orphans in those countries alone, half die before the age of two.

As for me, the reason my mom would be raising my kids is that practically my entire generation in African countries like Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe has died in the AIDS pandemic.

But, as luck would have it, mine are healthy and thriving Canadian children who have just about everything they could ever ask for, and most certainly, everything they “need.” Again, this is not the case for children in many African countries. Before AIDS orphans can thrive, they need to survive.

The “Grandmothers to Grandmothers” campaign involves Canadian grandmothers and “grand-others” who support the millions of African grandmothers who have watched their own children die of AIDS, and are now raising their grandchildren, many of whom are also infected.

On June 12, Grandmother groups across Canada, including Kitchener-Waterloo’s Omas Siskona (grandmothers together) and Mama KubWas, will “Stride to Turn the Tide” on HIV/AIDS in Africa.  By walking, Canadian grandmothers will show solidarity with African grandmothers and raise money and awareness of their situation.

Three generations of my family will walk, and we will savour the opportunity to spend part of the day outside, together.  We’ll wear our hats and sunscreen, and will worry about little else but arriving on time to a minor sporting activity later in the day.

When African grandmothers walk, it is out of the necessity to find food, water and firewood so that their families can survive.  For them, walking is work, not pleasure or exercise.

But, regardless of an unfathomable discrepancy in resources, there are ways in which African grandmothers are absolutely the same as Canadian grandmothers:  both are fiercely committed to doing what’s best for their grandchildren.

Both also know that in order to Turn the Tide of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa, affordable antiretroviral drugs and free education for their grandchildren are needed to help break the cycle of poverty.

The walk on June 12 will also serve as a reminder of Canada’s humanitarian promise to provide affordable, generic life-saving drugs under legislation known as Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR), which requires the passing of Bill C-393.

As well, the walk will encourage support for Education for All, which states, among other things, that education is a fundamental human right, and a means by which developing countries can achieve sustainable development and stability.

According to Stephen Lewis, the former UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, and the inspiration behind the Canadian Grandmothers’ efforts, more than half a million children die of AIDS every year, “simply because the world imposes such an obscene division between rich and poor.”

I find myself struck by these poignant words which are so entirely simple and yet, inconceivably complicated.

And if you’re reading this, as I am while writing it, with a coffee in your hand and your children safe at school, you probably feel very much the same way as I do…lucky.

Walkers are invited to join the Grandmothers on Saturday, June 12 at Waterloo Park Area 1 at 9:30 a.m.  Learn more about their campaign and the Stephen Lewis Foundation at