News » Whistler

Stephen Lewis’s legacy

Local grandmothers, school children reaching out to counterparts in Africa



When grandmother Beth Harlow heard about a Whistler community project aimed at helping grandmothers millions of miles away, she was intrigued.

As a grandmother of two, she couldn’t help but be drawn in to the plight of those grandmothers in sub-Saharan Africa who are now caring for some of the 13 million grandchildren orphaned by AIDS.

When approached by the project organizer, Cathy Jewett, to take part in raising awareness and funds, she found she couldn’t say no.

“I just think it’s an awesome project,” said the retired teacher. “First of all, I have a little bit of experience that I thought would be helpful to them… Second of all, being a grandmother, my heart goes out to the grandmothers in Africa who are trying to raise children who have been orphaned because of AIDS. I just think it’s an amazing thing to do. I just so much admire Stephen Lewis for putting together the foundation to try to help these people and I just thought it was a very small thing that I could do.”

Jewett developed the project around the upcoming visit of one of Canada’s pre-eminent politicians and diplomats, Stephen Lewis, the former UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa.

Lewis will be speaking in Whistler on Friday, Oct. 19, the last speaker in the Whistler Social Sustainability Speaker Series.

That series ranged in focus from the individual to couples and families to relationships with First Nations neighbours.

“We were building from an individual out to the community,” said Jewett. “Now we want to touch on global social justice. So we thought ‘who’s the number one Canadian that’s going to spring to mind in social justice issues?’ Stephen Lewis.”

Jewett thought it was a long shot to entice Lewis; nonetheless she made the call.

Lewis accepted.

And so, the community project was born, along with some very lofty fundraising goals for his cause.

The Stephen Lewis Foundation funds more than 100 community-level initiatives to help ease the pain of HIV/AIDS in Africa. One of his projects is the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign, aimed at helping those women who have stepped in to fill the void left by their own children who have died of the disease. In some countries, more than half the AIDS orphans live in grandmother-led households.

Jewett’s idea began with a handful of high school student volunteers who were asked to research Stephen Lewis and the AIDS/HIV epidemic in Africa.

Six students were recruited by Whistler Secondary School teacher Alison Williams, who can’t speak highly enough about their leadership skills. She calls these students her “dream team.” They are: Nadine Crowe, Bronwyn Lawrie, Dana Jensen, Hannah Auer, Lonnie Wake and Eleanor Messeguer.