Their names are Agnes, Beatrice, Esther or Phoebe. They raised their own children and then lost them to the Pan-African scourge of HIV/AIDS. Now these widowed Kenyan women have enabled many of their grandchildren to get to high school. Undoubtedly, theirs is a success story, except that it ain’t over `til it’s over.
The grandmothers, or gogos, are subsistence farmers and when their grandchildren head to boarding school, some of them go hungry. The only means to complete high school in rural Kenya entails leaving home.
Leaving the aging gogos without the physical help of their grandchildren means some are increasingly unable to keep up with the labour-intensive job of meeting their day-to-day needs, such as fetching water or tending crops.
So, lately, the Kings Kikima Grannies have been doing double duty, helping with education costs for the kids and sending $50 a month toward food security for the half a dozen gogos who don’t have enough to eat.
Later this week the Horton High School music students and music alumni are supporting these Kenyan grandmothers with a concert at the Horton Performance Centre on Thursday, April 18.
Over a decade ago now a group of women from across Kings County came together after being inspired by the documentary dubbed The Great Granny Revolution. This documentary chronicled the kinship between two groups of women an ocean apart; the women of Wakefield, Quebec and the grandmothers of Alexandria, South Africa. It told the story of the struggles grandmothers in South Africa faced raising their grandchildren and how humans, when united, can create powerful change.
Moved by the film and wanting to help, the Nova Scotia Grannies reached out to Acadia University graduate Ruth Kyatha, whose home is in Kikima, Kenya. Working in community development, she shared the needs she witnessed in her community. With Ruth’s first-hand guidance and knowledge, the Kings-Kikima Grannies were formed. Some of the Kings grandmothers were paired with the 27 gogos who were raising 67 grandchildren. Letters go back and forth.
In 2008, a severe drought was causing many in Kenya to struggle, so emergency food aid was the first need. Education was always a focus because schooling is not free, but the grannies committed to the development of an irrigation system.
Wolfville Rotarians joined in by providing a goat for every gogo to milk. Other local groups have contributed, too. An annual HIV/AIDS education workshop is funded every year. Stigma runs rife. HIV-AIDS has been a killer in Kikima.
Over the last decade a number of the grandchildren have graduated high school and taken further training toward employment. One is enrolled in university and another, a teacher, recently married. But there are still 41 of the grandchildren in school.
The fundraising undertaken locally has largely consisted of collecting and selling previously loved jewellery and holding an annual yard sale (June 1). As a member, I often find bags of jewellery on my doorstep and I have to say Christmas shopping has become super easy in the last decade.
The upcoming benefit concert will support both the school music program and the far-off grannies. Four Horton music alumnae, Emily Levy Purdy, Alan Slipp, Jem Buchanan and Chantal Peng, will also offer their talents.
Admission is by freewill offering to this delightful spring evening event. It will start at 7 p.m., but Horton’s responsive music teacher Kay Greene has arranged for the music to actually start an hour earlier with the Glee Club and Jazz Combo. At the same time music parents will set up a canteen and the jewels will be on display in the lobby.
All are invited then to an evening of music, snacking, and shopping, combined with some community service and global awareness. Greene promises “everything from musical theatre showstoppers to jazz band favourites and concert band classics. There will be something for everyone.”
You’ll be supporting youthful musicians locally and some worthy women in Africa.
Former Advertiser and Register reporter Wendy Elliott lives in Wolfville.