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South African Group Rallies Support for Grandmothers Raising AIDS orphans

The effect of AIDS on the aging continues taking its toll on those who support children of mothers and fathers who’ve died of the disease. In South Africa, an organization called Grandmothers Against Poverty and AIDS (GAPA) is actively trying to improve the quality of life for these older women who have little or no resources for raising these children.

Kathleen Broderick is the director of GAPA which serves townships near Cape Town. She says GAPA gets basic government financial aid to help run its educational and peer support programs. She says as recently as five years ago family members were dying from AIDS but nobody would admit it because “the stigma was absolutely awful and families turned within themselves.” Broderick says grandmothers were left to care for orphans and sick people without any community support. She says because the older and younger generations were not talking to each other about sexual activity, both ignorance and stigma became rampant.

Broderick says GAPA educates 30 new grandmothers every month in three day workshops where “they learn the basics about what the disease is, how to cope with it, and various other skills which help them and their families.” As examples, she mentions food gardening, the issue of making wills, how to deal with bereavement, and human rights which she says is emphasized.

Broderick says after the workshops the grandmothers join 10 member peer support groups that meet once a week to council and comfort each other. Broderick says that her own occupational therapy skills – which the project manager also has -- work well in the form of productive activities for GAPA’s mission: “you heal yourself through doing something, becoming a new person through your own enterprises.”

She says that women over 60 are eligible for a small state pension of about 800 rand [approximately $100 a month] and statistics reveal that for every grandmother getting a pension, 20 people are supported. However, she says virtually half the grandmothers are under age 60, and because they don’t get the pension, find themselves in dire poverty. She adds that the younger grandmothers’ actual handicraft skills are very important for survival because it increases their household income.

She says GAPA “is a wonderful project; it’s made such a difference: ”even though grandmothers have always looked after children, they’ve never had to be the sole breadwinners 24/7… but now they are.”