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Canadian and African Grandmothers Rally to Fight HIV/AIDS

Ottawa. High profile guests from Swaziland will join Canadian grandmothers and "grandothers" on Parliament Hill to remind our leaders and all Canadians of our promises to continue the fight against HIV and AIDS in Africa.

WHEN: Saturday September 6 (Grandparents Weekend)
WHERE: Meet at Supreme Court 12:30. Rally on Parliament Hill 1:00

"We are thrilled to have two special guests from Africa join us in the event," says Peggy Rasmussen, Chair of the Ottawa/Gatineau Grandmothers Network Regional Planning Committee. Grandmother Ncobile Nester Nxumalo and Siphiwe Hlope, both from Swaziland will join the rally in Ottawa on September 6.

Siphiwe Hlophe was one of the first women in Swaziland to publicly declare her HIV positive status, and remains one of the country's most prominent HIV/AIDS activists. Seventeen of her twenty-four siblings have died of AIDS-related causes.

"It means a lot to us to know that Canadian grandmothers understand our situation and stand with us in the fight against HIV/AIDS and the human rights abuses that many African women face," says Siphiwe Hlope. "Grandmothers are our strength. All over Africa, they bury their own children and then become parents again, raising their grandchildren and other orphans, usually with only meager resources."

"Canada has broken too many promises to Africa on HIV/AIDS and development assistance," says Peggy Edwards, Co-Chair of the National Advocacy Steering Committee. "Our record on foreign aid is abysmal. Last year, we committed 0.28%, far short of the 0.7% of gross national income we promised over 30 years ago! Our first shipment of antiretroviral generic drugs will finally leave Canada later this month-after a 4-year delay due to cumbersome legislation. The troublesome Access to Medications Regime must be amended if Canada is to honour our promise to continue to supply generic drugs at affordable prices to developing countries."

The 22 granny groups in the Ottawa/Gatineau Region are asking citizens to sign a petition to urge the Canadian government to fulfill our promises now. This is part of a cross-country effort sponsored by the National Advocacy Network, involving over 200 grassroots groups from Victoria to St John's. These groups work with the Stephen Lewis Foundation to raise awareness and funds through the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign. In just two years, the Campaign raised over $4 million for projects that support the grandmothers and their families in Africa.

"Increasing Canada's support to the African grandmothers and other efforts to fight HIV/AIDS is an all-party issue," says Paul Dewar, Member of Parliament for Ottawa Centre. "Canadians want all of their elected officials to make good on our promises to Africa. Grandparents in Canada understand this and I stand behind their campaign."

All are welcome to join the grandmothers, meeting at the Supreme Court Building at 12:30, then proceeding to Parliament Hill. The program will feature chanting, drumming, music, speeches and a demonstration of the colourful Ribbon Waltz, performed in honour of the grandmothers in Africa and all in Canada who have lost loved ones to AIDS.



Media coordinator: Ottawa/Gatineau Rally
Peggy Rasmussen: (613) 828-9405, Cell: (613) 558-9405;

African grandmothers
Ncobile Nester Nxumalo and Siphiwe Hlope
Available September 6th (before and after the Rally) and 7th- in person in Ottawa or by telephone. Possible telephone interviews prior to the Rally and on Sunday afternoon the 7th.
Contact Peggy Rasmussen (613) 828-9405, Cell: (613) 558-9405

Canadian grandmothers
Peggy Edwards, Co-Chair National Advocacy Network, grandmother of 11 and member of One World Grannies (Ottawa)
Available: August 31 through September 8, 2008. (613) 730-2679;

Sue Cousineau, member of Grassroots Grannies (Ottawa); just returned from trip to Africa as one of 12 representatives of the Grandmothers Campaign
Available: August 31 through September 8, 2008. 819-827-1244

Gisele Lalonde Mansfield, founder of Kili Climbers (Dunrobin), leader of grandmother team that climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania
Available: August 31 through September 8, 2008. (613) 832-0859

Stephen Lewis Foundation
Aissatou Diajhaté, Director of Programmes, Stephen Lewis Foundation: Available:

  • Prior to the Rally - in Toronto by telephone (416) 533-9292 x 236,
  • September 6th and 7th - In Ottawa, in person or by telephone. Contact Peggy Rasmussen (613) 828-9405, Cell: (613) 558-9405
  • ---------------------------------------------

    Grandparents Rally to Fight HIV/AIDS
    September 6, 12:30 Parliament Hill, Ottawa

    Biographical Information: Special Guests

    African Grandmothers

    Siphiwe Hlope is the Founder and Director, Swaziland Positive Living (SWAPOL). Siphiwe Hlophe was one of the first women in Swaziland to publicly declare her HIV positive status, and remains one of the country's most prominent HIV/AIDS activists. She is the Director and a founding member of Swaziland Positive Living (SWAPOL), a national grassroots organization advocating for the rights and recognition of people affected by HIV and AIDS in her country. Seventeen of her twenty-four siblings have died of AIDS-related causes.

    When Siphiwe found out she was HIV positive - during a series of routine tests to secure a scholarship to the University of Bradford in England - there was only one HIV/AIDS support group in Swaziland. No educated, married, working mother had ever publicly declared her status. AIDS was ravaging the country in silence, and Siphiwe had already lost a sister to the disease.

    In 2001, she and four other HIV positive women started SWAPOL. Today, the organization has grown to include more than 1000 people living with HIV and AIDS in 45 communities around Swaziland. SWAPOL works to fight stigma, care for AIDS orphans, look after the sick in their homes, educate people about HIV/AIDS, provide access to HIV counselling and testing, start small businesses, cultivate community gardens, and advocate for HIV treatment and support.

    Siphiwe has served on the National Emergency Response Committee on HIV/AIDS, the Swazi government body coordinating prevention and care projects. She has been the Chairperson of the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS in Swaziland, and a member of the UN Secretary General's Task Force on Women, Girls and HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa. Siphiwe was the recipient of the 2006 African Women's Development Fund's Stephen Lewis Fighting Spirit Award and the 2007 Index on Censorship's Freedom of Expression award.

    Ncobile Nester Nxumalo, is a mother of five and cares for twelve grandchildren. She lives in Nkambeni, a rural and impoverished area of Swaziland which has been heavily impacted by the AIDS pandemic and which lacks access to clean water.

    Ncobile spent much of 2002 in her local hospital, visiting and caring for her youngest child who was very sick. It was during this time that she decided to be tested for HIV, fearing that her husband's multiple marriages left her exposed and at risk.

    Ncobile's visits to the hospital made her painfully aware of the extent to which HIV and AIDS were ravaging her community, and she decided to join Swaziland Positive Living (SWAPOL). She trained as a caregiver and soon began conducting home visits, providing counselling and referring people for HIV testing.

    Surrounded by information about the disease and confronted daily with its terrible implications, Ncobile awoke to her own vulnerabilities as a woman whose husband has two other wives. Despite her constant urging, her husband insists that condom use with his wives is unnecessary, and so she now refuses to maintain a sexual relationship with him and although he visits her regularly he no longer sleeps in her house.

    "I am so happy that I know my rights," Ncobile said of her involvement with SWAPOL. "And thanks to their introduction of a mobile clinic, my fellow community members are now accessing treatment and HIV testing. We are very grateful."

    Stephen Lewis Foundation

    Aissatou Diajhaté is the Director of Programmes at the Stephen Lewis Foundation (SLF). She oversees the grant-making process and leads a team of programme officers who provide technical guidance and support to the over 170 projects funded by SLF in 15 sub-Saharan African countries. Ms. Diajhaté also manages a team of consultants in Africa who pre-assess potential projects and conduct monitoring and evaluation visits for ongoing projects. Prior to joining SLF, Ms. Diajhaté worked in Washington D.C. as the Sr. Associate for Women's Leadership and Capacity Building at the Centre for Development and Population Activities. She also served as the Director of International Admissions and Enrollment for Suffolk University Boston- Dakar Campus, overseeing recruitment processes in 18 different African countries. Ms. Diajhaté holds a Masters in Development Administration from Western Michigan University. She is originally from Sénégal, West Africa.


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