Although fundraising opportunities are limited, Nyanyas of Niagara members are committed to continuing their support to some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
While we are all learning how to live in a pandemic, grandmothers in Africa, trying to raise orphaned grandchildren in communities devastated by HIV and AIDS, are dealing with two pandemics, says Terry Mactaggart, one of the founding members of the local chapter of the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign.
The foundation focuses on community-based, grass-roots support, and the Nyanyas (Swahili for grandmother) became one of about 240 grandmothers and grand-others groups across Canada when it was formed in 2007.
Since then, the local group has raised almost $120,000 to help African grandmothers raise their grandchildren.
Now, with lockdowns in place in Africa, borders closed, access to food and medicine limited, people cut off from support groups, and under-resourced healthcare systems under strain, groups such as the Nyanyas and the aid they can provide become even more important to these vulnerable communities.
“Just surviving on a daily basis is difficult for them, never mind in this pandemic,” says Mactaggart. “They are up against a brick wall in their lives. But one of the positives to come out of this is we are finding new ways to fundraise.”
The pandemic has made it impossible for the Nyanyas to host their traditional fundraisers, including annual African dinners, and spring lunches. However, a small group of members making up the steering committee are leading their chapter of about 150 members in finding ways to continue their support.
One opportunity offered to them was a vendor stall at the Saturday morning Village Farmers’ Market, where the women sold a variety of items, including a humorous self-help book for first-time grandmothers, I Love You, Granny, a children’s book, Monsters Don’t Count, books, aprons, mugs, and handmade dog scarves.
But the highlight at their market stall has been the beautiful African bead bracelets some of the Nyanyas have made, and although the market has closed for the season, the bracelets, as well as the other items, are still for sale.
The history of the African bead bracelets originates with a Canadian woman who, when visiting Uganda as part of a medical team, showed some women how to make beads with scraps of colourful paper discarded by a print shop, and varnish to finish them, says Mactaggart.
The Ugandan women began making beads at home to support their families, and were able to feed, clothe and send their children to school with the money they earned.
Recently, a local woman donated “hundreds and hundreds” of African beads to the Nyanyas, and “it was a no-brainer for us to make some bracelets,” says Mactaggart. A group of Nyanyas spent a day in Newark Park putting the bracelets together, and the fundraiser fell into place two weeks ago when they were offered a table at the market.
The African women making the beads are not necessarily grandmothers — some have small children — so the beads are helping three generations, she says.
The other initiative they are depending on to raise funds, one they have resurrected from the earliest days of the chapter, is the blessing jar, adapted to the current pandemic situation, says Mactaggart.
It’s a simple concept, involving a Mason jar — or any kind of jar — with a slot in the lid, and the original fundraiser suggested each time you had something good in life to feel grateful for, you put money in the jar.
During the pandemic, Mactaggart is suggesting you write an IOU slip for a dollar amount, with a description of the positive experience that sends you to your blessing jar, despite all the challenging aspects of living with the pandemic. By writing them down, she says, during a time when there is so much that is negative around us, the Nyanyas hope to evoke the positive emotions that continue to occur, especially in this generous and caring community.
The funds can be collected at a later date, when it is safe to do so, and the blessings in the jar will remind us of all the good we have experienced during the pandemic.
When Mactaggart began calling her friends recently to tell them about the blessing jar initiative, “there were 28 women falling over themselves to participate,” grateful for the suggestion they remember the good that is occurring around them, she says.
Mactaggart says that with five grandchildren, she and her husband Terry have much for which to be grateful. One of the grandkids, now 14, was born in Beirut, and began calling them Teta and Jiddo, Arabic for grandmother and grandfather. That name has stuck, with all the grandchildren, now aged 20 to nine, using it, so Teta and Jiddo have started a blessing jar together — beginning with their gratitude for being able to share wine with friends, and donating the bottle returns — and also recognizing that those in the Middle East, and elsewhere, are dealing with challenging times and huge loss.
Being a grandmother, she says, is a great time of life, “and also makes us empathize with grandmothers in Africa and how they must feel.”
This is such an appropriate time, with Thanksgiving coming up, to use blessing jars, she adds, not only to raise some money, but to bring awareness to what is going on elsewhere in the world.
“We need to keep money flowing to Africa. I understand the support may be less during COVID than it has been in past years, but it’s so important. The need doesn’t go away.”
During the last two Saturdays at the market, selling bracelets and other items, and by selling some bracelets to family and friends apart from the market, the Nyanyas have raised $1,256, says Mactaggart.
Anyone interested in donating, or purchasing any of the Nyanyas merchandise, can email email@example.com.