There are an estimated 3.7 million orphans in South Africa, about half of whom have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS. As a result, thousands of grandmothers or gogos across our region are now the sole carer for their orphaned grandchildren and many are struggling to cope, physically, emotionally and financially with this enormous task. Many of the gogos HACT works with through our Gogo Support Groups programme are illiterate and have no income other than their meagre state pensions with which to try feed, clothe and school anywhere between 1 and 20 grandchildren. Furthermore, in many cases, the grannies have little or no knowledge about HIV/AIDS and due to the generational gap, struggle to talk to their grandchildren about sex, interpersonal relationships and other important issues that are crucial to them growing into healthy, well-adjusted and HIV-free adults. The future of South Africa lies in the hands of our children, and since these children are increasingly being raised by their grandmothers, it is our grandmothers that need to be supported and enabled in order that they can provide a loving, stable home environment for our future leaders.
The aim of our granny support groups project is to educate, empower and uplift grandmothers who are caring for orphaned grandchildren in the Valley of 1000 Hills region of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, leading to better life outcomes for both the grandmothers and their grandchildren.
Specifically the projects aims to:
- Provide ongoing psychosocial support and encouragement to the gogos at a community-level through their weekly gogo support groups.
- Develop within each of our gogos a sense of self-worth and help them realise a vision for their future and that of their grandchildren.
- Provide stress-alleviation activities for the gogos to help them release and reduce the enormous stress they are under and which negatively impacts on their health, well-being and relationships with their grandchildren.
- Educate the gogos about HIV/AIDS and equip them with basic parenting and communication skills so they can talk to their grandchildren about sex and other important issues.
- Empower the gogos by providing intergenerational, income-generating opportunities for them and their orphaned granddaughters, including skills training in dress-making and craft.
- Encourage good health and physical fitness through the Gogolympics so the gogos can live longer, healthier lives and better care for and support their grandchildren.
- Provide the gogos with trauma counselling to help them deal with their past struggles and losses in life.
- Provide HIV/AIDS counselling and testing to the gogos and to their grandchildren, ensuring all gogos and their grandchildren know their HIV status
- Provide one-on-one counselling and support to those gogos who are themselves HIV positive or whom have HIV positive grandchildren, ensuring initiation onto treatment, disclosure and adherence counselling and support
As with all our projects, HACT adopts a holistic and family-centric approach to achieving our Gogo Support Groups project’s aim. We believe that by identifying and addressing the physical, emotional and financial challenges that are facing our grandmothers, we will succeed in creating better life outcomes for them and their orphaned grandchildren.
HACT currently has 54 gogo support groups involving over 2000 gogos across eight communities. Each group has between 10 and 30 members who meet weekly to talk, laugh and cry about whatever is on their hearts and is impacting both positively and negatively on their lives at the time. The gogos form close bonds, supporting and encouraging each other to create a better life for themselves and their grandchildren.
In addition to their weekly support group meetings, the gogos come together weekly to participate in a variety of sporting and outdoor activities. Some groups walk together, others play soccer and some even hold aerobics classes in their local community hall. The motivation behind this fit and active gogos’ movement is HACT’s annual Gogolympics event which in 2017, is set to take place on the 27th April.
This past year, this unique event drew a record number of gogos – over 1500, who were all keen to show off their physical abilities on the sports field. One such gogo was Nombango Bhengu from Ncgolosi who is in her late sixties and currently supports four grandchildren. Five years ago, Nombango was left bedridden and unable to use her arms due to suffering several strokes. Three years ago, she joined a HACT gogo support group and slowly started exercising again. This year, Nombango partipcated in the 400m relay race at the 2016 Gogolympics. Having regained her mobility Nombango is now able to hold and play with her youngest grandchild which she says makes her very happy.
We make use of donor funding to provide the following services for the gogos:
- Six week parenting and child development courses which focus on educating the gogos about the different developmental stages their grandchildren will go through, and looking at different approaches and strategies towards issues such as discipline, having difficult conversations with grandchildren and supporting youth through the confusing puberty years. This course is very popular amoungst the grannies as they have the chance to ask any questions they may have related to their relationship with the grandchildren and the ways to best support them.
- We run two dress-making schools in the communities which train grandmothers and also their unemployed, out of school grandchildren, in dress-making. We also run one advanced dress making course per year for 20 grannies who are ready to move to the next level. Once they have completed their training, the grandmothers are given a sewing machine to take back to their support group and train other grandmothers on. The support groups then start to create items such as clothing, linen, school and church uniforms to clothe their families and to generate an income
- In August every year we hold a Dress Making Graduation event whereby all participants graduate from the dress-making school. This is a huge celebration that the community are encouraged to attend as it is the first and likely only time that the gogos have graduated from something - with the majority of them not having completed school nor tertiary studies. The gogos sew their own graduation hats and gowns and participate in a traditional dance competition on the day which is another way of encouraging movement and physical fitness amoungst the gogos.
- In November annually we hold the Gogo of the Year event at which we honour our most active and enterprising gogos. This event is also an important part of our gogo support groups programme as it serves to inspire and motivate our gogos.
Each group is visited regularly by HACT HIV Counsellors and Testers and a trauma counsellor, to ensure that all grannies and their grandchildren know their status and have the opportunity to work through past trauma.
All of these activities contribute towards the overall project aim: keeping the gogos busy, stimulated, encouraged, encouraged and supported, and enabling them to learn new strategies of supporting their grandchildren and generating an income with which to put food on the table and pay school fees.