As 245 women gathered for an evening of sharing, we were treated to a refreshment table of punch and small snacks, and a projection of slides of various previous WTB events. The tables at our March 16, 2008 International Dinner were decorated with colorful cloths inspired by a variety of cultures, and clothes from all around the world adorned the walls.
Mara Sapon-Shevin‘s community-building exercise of making bracelets and sharing helped tablemates get to know one other. Members from six different faith traditions offered blessings on the food and our community. Our traditional vegetarian buffet, coordinated by Daryl Files and provided by members and guests as well as local vendors, was varied and delicious.
Rita Fratto, a social worker from the Syracuse Housing Authority, spoke about Relatives as Parents Program, a support group for those raising their grandchildren or nieces and nephews. Relatives raising relatives is not new to the present era, it is age-old. There are many reasons relatives gain custody: addictions, emotional illness, incarceration, emotional or physical neglect. Many of these young parents are too young or are not ready to take on the responsibilities of a parent. What is new is that there is now a nationwide program which encourages and promotes the expansion of services for grandparents and other relatives who have taken on the important work of caring for children outside the foster care system.
Mary Anna Beer was appointed Advisor to the Stephen Lewis Foundation in 2006 on the newly formed Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign. This program provides grandmothers with food, school fees and school uniforms for their grandchildren, income-generating projects, counseling and social support, and coffins to allow for a dignified burial of their loved ones. The Campaign also ensures that the world knows about the plight of these grandmothers. To publicize the program, one hundred grandmothers from thirteen African countries came to Toronto for the International AIDS conference being held there in 2006 (see statement below). Ninety of these women had never been on an airplane. The Foundation arranged for their passports, and even provided shoes and suitcases to those in need. They were met by two hundred grandmothers from across Canada whose job it was to listen to the African grandmothers, build solidarity, and then raise awareness and funds in their own communities and influence their government. The message of the African grandmothers was that they did not come just for themselves – rather they represented thousands who face the same struggles, and they expressed awe that these foreigners who seem to have so much, cared about them who have nothing. Today the two hundred Canadian grandmothers have grown to two hundred groups representing over five thousand women.
Cantor Francine Berg closed our evening with a benediction that included blessings from various traditions.
For a more detailed report, click here.