It’s all about babies! (Sort of!)

You might call this the ripple effect. One set of knitting needles, wool, a hip grandmother with a cause, and … a teddy bear. Symbol of comfort in our society, the teddy bear has long been the ‘bearer’ of joy, mystery, excitement, travel.

A number of women in our community, using their single pebble, their ability to knit, are creating teddy bears by the hundreds. Why? These little bears, sponsored by you and I, are sending money and love to a grandmother living in Lusaka, Zambia; Harare, Zimbabwe; Gaborone, Botswana.

This Grandmother has 12 children under her thatched roof. She has buried her sons and daughters and some of her older grandchildren and frequently their graves are in the little yards near her home in her village. They have all died of AIDS. (auto immune deficiency syndrome). And so, with sinew unknown to most of us, these women have once again prepared the onerous job of parenting. Only this time they have ALL the children of all their children, a compounded challenge borne through simply having no other choice.

It’s a far away story in a far away land. It’s part of the very grassroots, “what can I possibly do?” philosophy of humanitarian Stephen Lewis, who is carrying on his own commitment to better our world. It’s a daunting challenge with a million skipping stones, all rippling their energy from one world to another.

Perhaps one of the most literal programs to come out of the Stephen Lewis Foundation is Grandmothers-Grandothers… women of grandparenting age reaching out to these African grandmothers who are carrying their challenges with so little. Fundraising activities, sponsored teddy bears, trips to meet the Grandmothers, times to share their experiences, the “Grannies” of Barrie have raised over $30,000 this year and much much more since they came together under the energy of JoAnne O’Shea two years ago. If it seems like a drop in the bucket, a single stone skipping across a pond, consider that Canadian Grannies this year sent $3 million to African grannies, plus teddy bears for kids.

What’s the challenge for these African grandmothers? First, they live in poverty like most of us will never know. Second, they have all these young children who are grieving, who are scared, and who, without an education, will never get out of this cycle. Education in Africa comes with school fees and uniforms… there’s no such thing as chucking a child into school and that expense alone is daunting.

And then there’s food. And love.

Well, the Grannies in Africa are wellsprings of love but the daily grind of 12 kids! And then the extra kids who show up just because there’s no where else to go?

So, Barrie’s Grannies are a busy lot. While they live in gratitude for their own lives, they also continue to communicate with and for their African counterparts. They flocked to Toronto last year to meet the African Grannies. They send practical assistance; they buy African fabric from cottage industries run by women and they sew bags and vests and things for Canadian women to help the cause.

The Stephen Lewis Foundation has declared the Saturday after Labour Day (September 6) as Grannies Day in Canada. All 200 Canadian chapters will be raising awareness and cash for their African projects. The Barrie Grandmothers-Grandothers is busy, for sure, opening their energy to the entire community that day.

They’ll be at the Barrie Farmers Market all Saturday morning with products and teddy bears, all hand made by Barrie area grannies. For $15 you can sponsor a bear and the money and the bear go to an African Granny and her family. Or, you can buy your own bear.

The Grannies will also be buzzing around a garage sale that day, at 11 Royal Oak Dr in Tollendale. From 7:30 am to 2 pm you can browse around bargains, bargains galore, knowing that whether you’re spending pennies or dollars, your money is going to a Granny in Africa who is living her days against all odds. Later that evening, you can attend the Grandmothers-GrandOthers dinner at Woods Park Lodge on Trillium St. Cost is $25. Open to you. Again, the money goes to support the Grannies projects. A dinner with winners! Tickets through Catherine Dougherty at 719-3605.

The Barrie Grannies are a committed group, grannies or grannies in their hearts. They are reaching out, each in their way tossing that pebble into the pond. The tipples are indeed felt by the Grannies in Africa. Sort of makes the Teddy Bear a real hero, doesn’t it?

JoAnne O’Shea whose son, Tim, takes his medical skills frequently to Africa, talked with tremendous enthusiasm about this project and its life force for so many women. We talked about the Peace Movement of the Sixties when most of the Barrie Grannies were teenagers. The Sixties, without internet, worldwide web, international media, on-the-spot news coverage, was the dawning of awareness of a bigger world. It was a time when young people growing up in North America were realizing that life was different in so many other places. So many of these young people pledged quietly to themselves to build a life that made a difference.

I’d be willing to bet that each of these Grannies has likely made a difference her whole life. And coming together as a group of grandmothers focussed on other grandmothers and connected by love… well, it’s another pebble in the pool of living our commitments eternally.

Thanks, JoAnne and all your incredible grannies. Thanks.