The grandeur of the grandmothers: From Africa, with love

Landing in Uganda in late February, Gail Rappolt must’ve felt not so much as though she’d flown over an ocean as simply put her other foot down, to complete a step.

By now, after 12 productive years, it’s almost as though she and the thousands of other women on both sides of the Atlantic, in the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign to end AIDS in Africa, had all but pulled the continents together. In a way they have.

Ever since her friends told her about listening to Stephen Lewis talk about the sub-Saharan AIDS crisis in 2006, Gail has been journeying toward Africa in many senses of that idea.

She’d never physically been there until now, but she has raised money and awareness, from her support of projects like Blooms for Africa to 2015’s Walking to Uganda in Hamilton, a virtual voyage using pedometer-recorded walking miles.

This year was her literal landfall. From Feb. 26 to March 1, she took part in the Grandmothers Gathering, an international conference in Arusha, Tanzania, organized by the Stephen Lewis Foundation. She tells me that she has never experienced anything like it in her life.

Gail is presenting a public reflection on the experience, called African Grandmothers: The Pillars on Sunday, May 27, 2 to 4 p.m., at First Unitarian Church of Hamilton, 173 Dundurn St. South.

She was one of only 11 women from Europe, Australia and North America, and more than 200 from different parts of Africa, who took part in the collective effort that culminated in a march to the Tanzanian government offices in Arusha to present a list of recommendations.

“I understood before what it meant to believe in the work of the foundation, because of how that work is done, not top down but community organizations on the ground in Africa,” Gail says.

“I didn’t understand how complex that is on the ground until I experienced the sophistication and planning of the conference, to ensure that nothing is done to undermine the mantra to the African grandmothers: ‘you have the power, the voice, the resources, the expertise.’ Now I have a deeper understanding.”

The trip included visits to two Stephen Lewis Foundation (SLF) community-based programs in Uganda — one in Kampala and one in Entebbe. She and the others met the people who conduct and take part in training programs at hospitals and mobile units. She met young people in schools, thanks to Grandmothers to Grandmothers and other SLF initiatives.

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