Two generations offer their stories

We’re here to tell our side of the story on what we’re doing in the face of HIV/AIDS,” said Regina Mokgokong, one of two African women who delivered their accounts of the devastating epidemic to a group of members from Wilfrid Laurier University and the local community.

The gathering on campus is one of 40 such lectures by African grandmothers and granddaughters across Canada taking place between September and November.

The Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign, run by the Toronto-based Stephen Lewis Foundation, raises awareness and funding for many African grandmothers who have been forced to raise their grandchildren after their own children contract HIV.

There are 240 groups of women in Canada working to supporting the initiative’s work in African nations. So far the Canadian grandmothers have raised upward of $9 million.

Mokgokong, a grandmother who cares for her HIV-positive niece and her children, is the executive director of Tateni home care nursing services, an organization operating in townships north of Pretoria, South Africa.

A nurse for 30 years, she has administrated the organization that provides in-home care for HIV-positive individuals and their families as well as children neglected as a result of the infection striking their parents, since 2005.

Discussing their initiative, Mokgokong explained, “How far the Stephen Lewis Foundation, through the support of the grandmothers, have come.” She went on to express Tateni’s goals of consistent and thorough care, especially for children affected by the presence of the virus in their communities.

Zahra Mohamed, program officer at the foundation, explained that drawing awareness to the issues surrounding treatment programs and giving Canadians a better perspective on programs they may be supporting is important.

“It’s an opportunity for the community to hear, because they’ve been very supportive, from the organization that they’ve been raising funds for for so long.”

She continued, “We can’t send everyone to visit the projects so this is a good way for the community to be engaged and to draw awareness.”

Nkulie Nowathe is a 17-year-old South African who lives with her extended family after her mother died of AIDS in January.

She depends on Tateni’s operations to continue her education and since she arrived in Canada the first week of September, has spoken to many community and university groups.

“I think it’s important to share my story with people who support me,” she said. “It’s not always easy [to stand in front of groups] but I try.”

Nowathe, who will soon graduate high school and hopes to pursue a degree in English, explained what she has seen in her brief time in Canada, specifically speaking at universities.

“I think students should take everything seriously … they should appreciate what they have and not take the opportunity they have by being here in the university for granted,” she said.

Education, especially beyond high school, is far less accessible in her community she said. “Some of the children want that chance, they need that chance — people here are so fortunate.”

John Laband, chair of Laurier’s history department, was involved in sponsoring the event and making it possible for the women to speak at the university.

Asked what it meant for the university community to host these individuals, he expressed regret that more students did not attend.

“What interests me is what you do to get students to become involved and engaged in these kinds of initiatives,” he said.

“There’s a great deal to learn and also a lot of complacency — this is Third World stuff … and here is a group that’s obviously making a difference.”