When gyms and recreation facilities closed down during the COVID-19 pandemic, many OOS residents returned to or increased our most fundamental form of exercise—walking. In the process, we re-discovered our local neighbourhoods, got to know our neighbours better and found ourselves developing a greater sense of community. Often, we were not alone in our efforts, walking our dogs or alongside a grandchild or friend with whom we shared experiences, frustrations, and sometimes sorrows.
The concept of “walking alongside” is a key principle of the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers Campaign, launched 15 years ago in response to the crisis faced by African grandmothers as they struggled to take care of millions of children orphaned by AIDS. Partnering with community-based organizations in sub-Saharan Africa is at the core of how the Foundation operates, in recognition of the fact that the expertise needed to turn the tide of HIV and AIDS is found at the grassroots level. As Douglas Masinde, a leader at Tamba Pwani, a community-based organization in Kenya says: “You don’t tell us what to do - you give us support, and we walk together as partners, as human beings.” Hundreds of women across Canada, grandmothers and “grand-others”, have been inspired by this approach to join the Campaign, banding together in groups in every province to raise funds - more than $36 million to date.
To celebrate the 15th Anniversary of the Grandmothers Campaign, grandmothers from the National Capital Region are springing into action once again. The One World Challenge, led by Ottawa’s One World Grannies group, is an exciting summer fundraiser that will see participants from several regional Grandmother groups embarking on a virtual journey through sub-Saharan Africa.
The goal of the Challenge is to raise $25,000 and to cover a distance of over 10,000 kilometres. Between May 1st and September 1st 2021, participants will trek through all of the 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa where the Foundation has partners. After enlisting support in the form of a one-time donation from friends and family, participants commit to keep track of the number of hours they spend performing a chosen activity, whether it be walking, running, cycling, gardening or even tap-dancing! Any active movement qualifies (except sleeping!) and each hour recorded contributes 5 kilometres to the trek.
Participants and donors will receive regular bulletins on the trek’s progress, and will also learn about the work being undertaken in each of the 15 countries. For example, as participants make their way through Zimbabwe, they might hear about the work of the Midlands AIDS Service Organization (MASO) - a longstanding Stephen Lewis Foundation community-based partner. MASO runs comprehensive programs for grandmothers, and as the CEO of MASO, Veronica Nhemachena, says: “Through the economic strengthening of our grannies, which brought economic independence and ownership of assets like goats and cattle which are traditionally owned by men, they were able to break the barriers of gender and poverty and prove that they were not just old, but able to make ends meet.”
Another example of “walking alongside,” is Izimbali Zesizwe (IZ) in South Africa—an organization that provides psychosocial support, food and nutrition programs, and after-school tutoring and home-based care to orphaned and vulnerable children, as well as to their families.
Through the One World Challenge, grandmothers across the region will be adding their energy and support to hard-working organizations such as these.
“The pandemic has helped to bring residents of Old Ottawa South of all ages together (physically distanced of course),” says one of the granny participants. “Just as we have learned here and in Africa, community is at the heart of getting through difficult times.”
The One World Challenge is open to all! Why not join us and make every hour of your physical activity count this summer? Signing up is easy - we’ll even do it for you! Contact Jenny at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit: oneworldgrannies.ca.
Peggy Edwards is a resident of Old Ottawa South where she loves to walk her dog Molly and connect with neighbours and other dog walkers.
Featured in the May 2021 OSCAR.