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COLUMN: Local grandmothers help African grandmothers

Oneness Gogos group celebrates 15 years of helping African grandmothers
White Rock/South Surrey Oneness Gogos group members pause for a picture after their Random Acts of Kindness Week meeting February, 2023. (Photo: Ursula Maxwell-Lewis)

In 2008, South Surrey resident Mary Harris contacted the Cloverdale Reporter to ask if I would meet with a group of White Rock/South Surrey grandmothers who were forming a Gogos group. Gogo means grandmother in Zulu. Intrigued, I agreed.

Harris and her friends told me they were joining forces with like-minded Canadian women dedicated to helping and supporting African grandmothers now, unexpectedly, raising grandchildren in 15 sub-Saharan countries.

AIDS/ HIV had decimated families and communities. A staggering 35 million people perished. African grandmothers with little or no resources suddenly faced the daunting challenge of parenting orphaned grandchildren. The parental segment of the population had been wiped out leaving an entire generation of children in dire need of protection, food, clothing, schooling, healthcare, housing, guidance, love.

Against this backdrop, the Oneness Gogos was formed under the banner of The Stephen Lewis Foundation Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign.

In February, 15 years after our first meeting, I visited the Oneness Gogos at their White Rock Library monthly meeting conducted by current co-coordinators Penny Cuddy, Thelma Newbury, and Anne Hartnell.

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This being Random Acts of Kindness Week, the meeting featured a “thank you” presentation to White Rock Library staff for hosting the group since its inception, a letter of appreciation from Stephen Lewis Foundation staff in Ontario who had been acknowledged by the White Rock women, and my own recollections of reporting on Black women, the Union of Jewish Women, and the National Council of Women working together in South Africa during my years as a young South African Benoni City Times reporter.

In 2006, The Stephen Lewis Foundation launched the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign in an effort to support and assist African grandmothers. Grandmothers and “grand-others” in Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States rallied in response, creating a dynamic movement. Together their community fundraising continues to support life-enhancing programs run by African grandmothers in concert with supportive community-based organizations.

“The grandmothers movement amplifies the voices and expertise of grandmothers in Africa and shows the world that leadership by older women is critical in reclaiming hope and rebuilding resilience across communities,” explains The Stephen Lewis Foundation (SLF).

Here in White Rock and South Surrey, Penny Cuddy tells me that the Oneness Gogos have two main ongoing campaign objectives: 1) to raise awareness everywhere of the HIV/AIDS crisis and the challenges the African grandmothers face in raising their grandchildren; and 2), to raise funds and send donations to SLF which assist the grandmothers to realize their grass roots projects that have been accepted by SLF.

“We have done this is a variety of ways, such as making and selling crafts, sales of African jewellery, African dinners, teas, dances, walkathons, fashion shows, garage sales, plant sales, concerts, and any other community opportunities which arise,” Cuddy explains.

Speakers or videos are often part of their monthly library meetings. There’s an elected steering committee, sub committees, and committee chairs who recommend operating guidelines and projects.

“There is also a desire to thank, and assist, our own local community—to show our gratitude for their support,” she says. “Over the past 10 years, we have handed out hot chocolate and sweets, organized a Kindness Bazaar of used household items for new immigrants, donated toiletries to two local women’s programs, made soup for clients of the Food Bank and Women’s Place lunch program, made and filled Welcome Bags for new Canadians, and baked goodies for the Hospice freezer.” Thelma Newbury, the committee Memory Keeper, has compiled books of photos, news clippings, programs, and posters. Each member has something unique to contribute, they tell me. New members are always welcome.

Regarding their African counterparts, Canadian Gogos say, “We will not rest until they can rest.”

A well-attended Oneness Gogos 15th Anniversary Tea was held on February 23 at Clancy’s Tea Cozy, 15223 Pacific Ave., White Rock. On March 13 at 2 p.m., the coordinators of the regional group, Greater Van Gogos will be guest speakers at next meeting at White Rock Library, 15342 Buena Vista Avenue. Visitors are welcome to attend.

For more information about joining these White Rock/South Surrey grandmothers helping African grandmothers (and this community), call 604-542-4772. The Greater Vancouver Gogos website,, lists all Southwestern British Columbia Gogos groups. For the Stephen Lewis Foundation, go to

Ursula Maxwell-Lewis is the former owner/managing editor of the Cloverdale Reporter. Contact her at

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