In support of African grandmothers, 160 grandmothers’ groups from across Canada are presenting a virtual concert featuring Together in Concert: In Solidarity with African Grandmothers.
The Niagara-on-the-Lake group of grandmothers is going one step further, offering a Tapestry of African Desserts to enjoy while watching the 90-minute online concert featuring a tapestry of Canadian talent, which includes music, dance, storytelling, and drumming.
The Nyanyas of Niagara is one of 260 grandmothers’ and grandothers’ groups that raises money for the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s grandmothers campaign.
Since the local group was founded in 2007, the Nyanyas (Swahili for grandmother) have raised more than $100,000, from two major fundraisers held each year and other smaller events.
The Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign was launched by Lewis’s foundation in 2006 in response to the crisis faced by African grandmothers as they struggled to raise millions of children orphaned by AIDS. Since then, a growing number of grandmothers’ groups has raised funds to support the life-enhancing programs run by African grandmothers, and the community-based organizations which support them.
Today, African grandmothers continue to raise the next generation while two pandemics intersect, HIV and AIDS and COVID-19.
The need has grown even greater, says Terry Mactaggart, one of the original founders of the Nyanyas, while fundraising opportunities have been limited by the pandemic, making it more difficult to ensure community-based organizations in Africa have the resources to support their programs.
This event celebrates the 15th anniversary of the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign of the Stephen Lewis Foundation.
In an effort to do something significant for the 15th anniversary, says Mactaggart, she joined representatives from across Canada in a virtual meeting to brainstorm ideas.
In addition to talented musicians and storytellers, one of the speakers is an African grandmother, who has visited Niagara-on-the-Lake and attended a Nyanyas fundraiser, and has also travelled across Canada to talk about the work of the Stephen Lewis Foundation and what the campaign means to African grandmothers, and the programs it’s funding.
Canadian grandmothers also travel to Africa to see what their counterparts are doing to raise their orphaned grandchildren.
The travel is funded through donations of Aeroplan miles, of great benefit to the campaign, says Mactaggart, as women are able to talk about the positive work that is being done and how effective it is, inspiring groups to carry on the fundraising.
That motivation is especially important during the pandemic, when smaller groups of just a few women are struggling, and some have folded.
With 150 members, the Nyanyas is one of the larger groups, but still has had difficulty fundraising during the pandemic, although typically it has done very well with the events the women have organized. The virtual concert, says Mactaggart, “is a feel-good event,” allowing even the smallest of groups to get involved. “This is something we can all get behind.”
Representatives of grandmother groups across Canada have been meeting monthly by Zoom, she says. Last October, when they were brainstorming about the 15th anniversary, Mactaggart recalls, “one of the members said, ‘why don’t we put on a cross-country concert?’ The idea quickly took hold, and a couple of weeks later, about 20 people from across the country joined to help plan this. From east to west, members were so amazing. None of us know each other, we just pitched in and found our niches of where we wanted to help. And now we have two weeks to go.”
In addition to signing on the performers, someone was needed to look after the technical aspect of producing the virtual show, and Mactaggart put forward Niagara College as a possibility.
“Students help the community in so many ways. They need the experience and they have good mentorship through their professors.”
She approached Niagara College, and students of the broadcast department became involved. She also arranged for some of the grandmothers who had been part of the planning, and live close enough to Niagara-on-the-Lake for a day trip, to meet at Jackson-Triggs Estate Winery last week and record introductions of the performers. They met and filmed the segments safely outside, she says.
After many months of meetings, “we were beyond excited” to see the concert coming together, and so close to being a reality, she says. Along the way, they encountered some glitches, “but the committee has been great at finding solutions.”
As much as it has involved a lot of time from last fall to get to this point, Mactaggart says it has been great having something to do to help get through the pandemic.
She has also been fortunate to have a good group of friends to walk with daily, always safely, wearing masks and distancing, two of whom are members of the steering committee, and all members of the Nyanyas.
Along their walks, they did a lot of talking, and lots of laughing, she adds, although their usual end to the exercise, time to sit and chat, and enjoy treats and coffee at the community centre, was no longer allowed.
So once the idea of a concert took hold, and the Nyanyas wanted to add an extra fundraising, local element to the event, Erinn Lockard of the Sweets & Swirls Cafe was the obvious place to start.
Mactaggart contacted Lockard about providing a selection of African desserts, and chose not only three unique African treats, but “some really good African teas” to accompany them, to be ordered ahead of time and picked up a few hours before the concert.
A $15 box for one person will include three desserts, plus two servings of African teas, a creative way to fundraise for the Nyanyas.
A $20 box for two people will include three desserts paired with two servings of African teas for each person.
“We’re happy to partner with Sweets & Swirls. They’re such a community-minded couple,” says Mactaggart, referring to Lockard and her husband, James Cadeau, who are always eager to help out when they can.
There is no charge for the virtual concert, which will be shown Thursday, April 15 at 7:30 p.m., and available live-streamed for 72 hours for those who register, until Sunday, April 17.
In the countdown to the concert, the Canadian Grandmothers Facebook page is highlighting one performer or group each day, to entice people to tune in not only across Canada but in other countries where there are grandmothers involved in the campaign, including Australia, the U.K. and the U.S.
After months of planning, Mactaggart herself is excited about the upcoming event. “If you see it April 15, it will be so good. I’m telling all my friends about it.”
The concert features Steven Page, Jackie Richardson, National Ballet of Canada, David Myles, Stratford Festival, Sheree Fitch and Stephen Lewis Foundation Speakers.
They will be joined by acclaimed Canadian talent, including Bridge Brass Quintet, Canada’s National Ballet School, the della kit, Feels Like Home, Forte, Genticorum, Kids of Note & The Notations, Kym Gouchie, Lorraine Klaasen, Sya VanGeest & Nicholas Stoup and stories from Canadian grandmothers who visited Africa.
The virtual event is free, but donations are welcome. Registration is required. For more information, to register or to make a donation, visit www.cdngrandmothers.com.
Orders must be received by noon on Tuesday, April 13 for pickup on Thursday, April 15, between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. at the Sweets & Swirls Cafe in the Anderson Lane community centre. Place orders at email@example.com, including your name and phone number.
Payment can be made by cash or cheque at pickup, or by e-transfer to firstname.lastname@example.org with the password: sascafe.
Credit or debit can be used at pickup, or call Lockard at 905-468-1024.