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MEET A MEMBER

Jean Hodgson

My introduction to The Kingston Grandmother Connection came at a very pivotal time in my life.

In 2003 my first grandchild, Ella, arrived and in 2005 her brother, Wesley, was born.  The only way I can describe their addition to my life is - unbridled joy! As the months of their early childhood went by, it became very clear that their every need was fulfilled.  All I could add was love!   About the same time, I read an article about the emerging crises in Africa as Grandmothers struggled to raise their orphaned grandchildren because their parents’ generation had been devastated by AIDS. I was haunted by the image of these women of my age but extremely poor and often ill themselves struggling to provide food, shelter, clothing and pay to put their grandchildren through school.  The contrast with my life was stark!

I thought I had an original and brilliant idea: we grandmothers in Canada must help these grannies in Africa! It was early 2006 and my husband and I were preparing for retirement and a move from Toronto to Kingston.  Having heard of the Stephen Lewis Foundation (SLF), with its focus on HIV/AIDS in Africa, I phoned with “my idea!” They informed me that their Grandmother to Grandmother Campaign in Canada had already started and, wasn’t I in luck? The Kingston Chapter was having their first meeting in Kingston in June. “My idea” wasn’t unique at all.  Others had already decided it was the natural thing to do.

I will never forget that day as about 20 women sat around a table and listened to a core of leaders who had already laid the basis for what was to become, the “Kingston Grandmother Connection.” I felt especially privileged as this group not only planned to support the SLF but also another excellent charity, “Help Lesotho.” One only needs to click on the Help Lesotho website and read the founder, Peg Herbert’s words to sense the desperate need. After weeks of travel and workshops in the high cold mountains of Lesotho, she wrote, “I was overwhelmed by the thought of these orphans, vulnerable children and their grandmother-caregivers feeling so alone and forgotten.”

Now here we are 11 years after the founding of the Kingston Grandmother Connection. It has been a positive part of my life.  I have learned so much. Such a wonderful, committed and hardworking group. There are tears as we learn about the suffering of so many in sub-Saharan Africa but there is happiness as we see what our efforts have done to improve the lives of many and there is hope for the future.

At first, I wondered what role I could play with such organized, competent women in the group, but over the years I have found ways of contributing in a quiet but meaningful way – volunteering for various events and sponsoring grandmothers and grandchildren in a very personal way.  The annual “Market for Africa” is the most wonderful experience. It’s magical to watch the transformation of a dim, commonplace church hall into a bright, busy market, resplendent with unique and beautiful items and bursting at the doors with people who have come to regard it as a seasonal highlight.  Deb Ruse’s and my special market niche is the Art Gallery, along with the help of my husband, David. Now the Gallery also plays a part in the Spring Market. Both are fun and interesting.  We never know from one year to the next what visual wonders will appear on our easels. 

Now Ella and Wes, the babies who started me thinking about the African Grandmothers are 14 and 12. As I watch them grow and celebrate their happiness and accomplishments I think they have been watching me and I am confident that they will not take their blessed Canadian life for granted.  They too will find a way to giveback.