By RON FANFAIR
The Stephen Lewis Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign of Toronto was among 20 organizations and individuals honoured with June Callwood Outstanding Achievement awards for Volunteerism in the province last Friday at the St. Lawrence Centre.
The awards recognize volunteers for exceptional leadership, innovation and creativity and significant contributions to their community and the province.
Lewis launched the campaign in March 2006 when he was the United Nations Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa. The aim of the program is to support African grandmothers who bear the burden of providing care for their orphaned grandchildren and who are holding many of that continent’s countries and communities together.
As the number of AIDS orphans in sub-Saharan Africa continues to rise, responsibility for their care has shifted to grandmothers. A total of eight out of 10 children orphaned by AIDS live in sub-Saharan Africa and less than 10 per cent of children in the world, who have been orphaned or made vulnerable by AIDS, receive public support or services.
The campaign started three years ago with five Canadian grandmother groups raising nearly $25,000 for their African counterparts. There are now over 200 groups that have raised close to $4 million for food, opportunities to earn a living, school fees and uniforms, counseling and social support and coffins to allow for dignified burials.
“This recognition is amazing when taken into consideration the countless hours women, and a few men, throughout the country are putting in,” said Julie Coultas, the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign of Toronto co-ordinator. “I think occasions like this give us a chance to stop and reflect and then realize how far we have come and how much our volunteers have done.”
Aissatou Diajhate, the campaign’s director of programs, said the project has evolved in the past three years and the volunteers deserve the province’s recognition.
“There are few that can surpass the kind of volunteerism we see,” she said. “Many of our volunteers are working seven days a week and they are not paid for it.”
Ontario Citizenship and Immigration Minister, Michael Chan, said the award recipients represent Callwood’s legacy of social action.
“She was not simply content to write about injustices that she witnessed,” he said. “She was strongly motivated to right wrongs and make a bad situation better. Her activism extended from freedom of expression to advocating for women and children in crisis. Above all, she constantly displayed a deep love for humanity.
“The individuals and organizations we honour here today have demonstrated commitment to humanity and social action. Your concern for the preservation of a good quality of life and for helping us to build strong communities across the province is noteworthy. Ontario is truly a better place because of all you have done.”