Powered by Love: A Grandmothers’ Movement to End AIDS in Africa
by Joanna Henry, with Ilana Landsberg-Lewis; edited by
Michele Landsberg, with photos by Alexis MacDonald
Reviewed by T.J. Banks
Asnakech, an Ethiopian woman, is living with HIV. So is her twelve-year-old grandson. “My family disowned me when my status became public,” she explains, “but I am not so much worried about me. My grandson cannot play outside—the neighbourhood children will taunt him and torment him.” Nya Nya in Kenya is also living with HIV. Every adult member of her family died from AIDS: She was shunned instead of sympathized with, as though the losses and her own illness were somehow her fault. “It was painful,” she recalls now. “I cried and I mourned. And I remained alone.” Isabella, who lives in Zimbabwe, lost her home and the custody of all but one of her grandchildren; for a time, she was actually living in a tree until the local church gave her a room.
Each of these women is raising grandchildren who have lost their parents to the AIDS pandemic in Africa. And they are only a few of the millions of grandmothers—gogos—who speak to us in Powered by Love: A Grandmothers’ Movement to End AIDS in Africa. Many frequently lost the family breadwinners or were often forced to give up their own paying jobs in order to care for sick and dying loved ones. “Our systems of support have always been the family—they have always been our safety net—but what do we do when our family of twenty-five becomes two?” one African grandmother demanded.
In 2006, that picture began to change. Through the Stephen Lewis Foundation (SLF), Ilana Landsberg-Lewis put together the “Grandmothers’ Gathering” in Toronto that grew into the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign. The movement essentially brought together African and Canadian grandmothers in an electrifying bond. The Canadian women got their consciousness raised and in turn raised funds to help; the African women received the emotional support they’d been starving for. The gogos then were, as Joanna Henry observes, able to “mov[e] from securing their most basic needs to educating themselves, taking on leadership roles in the community, and starting their own programs for orphan care.”
Powered by Love is a book that will both break your heart wide open and inspire you. The strength of these women is phenomenally moving; so is the way that women from two different countries came together. “The grandmothers,” says Sarah Obama, the grandmother of former President Barack Obama and a tireless advocate of the orphans, “have empowered each other.”
T.J. Banks is the author of Sketch People, A Time for Shadows, Catsong, Houdini, and other books. Catsong was the winner of the 2007 Merial Human-Animal Bond Award.