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Difference Maker

Janet Siddall helps African families through 'Grandmothers to Grandmothers.'

Ex-ambassador Janet Siddall works with those caring for those affected by HIV/AIDS through the 'Grandmothers to Grandmothers' project

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"[They] have exactly the same aspirations as we Canadian grandmothers," but with just a fraction of the resources, she says. The African grandmothers must start parenting all over again – as well as care for themselves. They assume responsibility for feeding, housing, and schooling their grandchildren.

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Their plight has struck a chord with Canadian grandmothers. In just five years, 240 chapters of G2G have sprung up across the country and raised $12 million (Canadian; US$12.4 million) to help.

Siddall's branch of G2G thrives on the generosity and pluck of its members. It has no budget. Siddall has organized a potluck dinner that raised $2,500 (Canadian). She also headed up a local "Stride to Turn the Tide" walk that raised $6,000.

This group of retired teachers, community workers, nurses, and a former ambassador isn't likely to be found sitting by the fire reading a book, says Ms. Martin. "We're from the '60s generation. We don't take anything lying down," she says of her group's determination to support Africa's AIDS-ravaged families.

Gillian Sanderman, a G2G member in Peterborough who advocates a stronger role for the Canadian government in the AIDS crisis, says that the analytical skills and passion for Africa that Siddall brings after such a long career as a diplomat are great assets to the work of the group.

Siddall is a compelling speaker when she encourages local audiences – such as college students or church groups – to identify with their "African sisters" in places like Swaziland, where an estimated 1 in 4 adults is infected with HIV, the highest rate of infection in the world.

Swaziland for Positive Living, a G2G-funded group, assists hundreds of African grandmothers. In remote areas, home care is essential to support the women and their young charges.

Parent organization SLF rigorously vets grass-roots projects in Africa before they are funded, Siddall says. SLF also guarantees that no more than 10 percent of the funds G2G raises are spent on administration costs.

During the fall of 2010, G2G members were delighted to meet with a handful of grandmothers from G2G-supported grass-roots projects in South Africa, Malawi, and Swaziland during an "AfriGrand Caravan" tour across Canada, made possible by donated frequent-flier miles.

The Canadians were moved to hear AIDS orphans, also on the tour, talk about their plans to become nurses or lawyers.

"We were energized by their energy!" says Siddall, who traveled to one of the stops on the tour.

G2G groups have now sprung up beyond Canada's borders, in Colorado and Guildford, England.

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