Twenty-one Victoria women will put on their spandex outfits next month for a long-distance cycling fundraiser for grandmothers in Africa.
Victoria Grandmothers for Africa will ride from Campbell River to Victoria from Sept. 11-13. They’ll be raising money for the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmother to Grandmother campaign to help to grandparents in sub-Saharan Africa.
HIV and AIDS has killed many young parents in sub-Saharan African countries, especially on the southern part of the continent. In Botswana, for example, infections exceed one in five people from 15 to 49.
Orphans of AIDS fatalities are often left in the care of their grandparents, frequently grandmothers. The African grandmothers are now holding entire communities together.
Victoria Grandmother for Africa rider Joanne Lomax, 59, said the issue of HIV/AIDS in Africa struck her several years ago. She started sponsoring a child in Uganda and joined the Victoria Grandmothers for Africa.
“These [African] grandmothers are doing all the things a parent would do, except a lot of them are in their 60s,” Lomax said.
“If you have kids, just being around a little kid for a couple of hours can be pretty exhausting,” she said. “These people are doing everything.”
The money helps with food, clothing, medicine and education for the children.
Formed in 2006, Victoria Grandmothers has provided more $900,000 for the Grandmother to Grandmother campaign. Last year alone, the group raised more than $195,000 through a variety of fundraisers, from bake sales to bicycle rides.
The Victoria group now has 96 members and is part of a Canada-wide groundswell of 260 grandmotherly groups also looking to help.
Lomax said some of the groups allow men to join and some allow younger people.
Even the name, Victoria Grandmothers for Africa is a bit misleading.
For example, Lomax admitted she doesn’t really live in Victoria. Her home is in Saanich.
And not everyone in the group is a grandmother. Lomax herself is not. And since her son is only 21, she said, she is glad about that.
But the group is reserved for women, although men sometimes help out. Members are at least 55 years old, with energy to spare to help out others.
Lomax said training for the cycling event is a year-round thing with participants meeting every week, usually on Mondays.
Like most long-distance events, the three-day cycle is a big commitment and requires some intense training. Another group has been training and will ride 50 kilometres on the Sunday, Sept. 13, in another fundraising event. It’s for women who can’t commit to three full days but still want to participate.
• For more information about the group, go to victoriagrandmothers forafrica.ca