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Dust in the air and a massive amount of fans are things I have come to expect when heading to the soccer field here in South Africa. But the unexpected came in who was playing at the field the other day.
The go-gos (grannies) were playing a group of kids no older than ten.
Yes, grandmas. The typical sweet, loving, will-make-you-whatever-meal–you-want grandmas were playing soccer…and winning.
Every time the grannies scored, they didn’t just cheer and have a small celebration. No, the granny bench cleared, and they went into a full on celebration – sometimes carrying on for several minutes and ending with fully choreographed dances.
I stood amazed and mesmerized by the site that was before me. This was one of the most entertaining sporting events I had ever been to.
Finally the grannies finished their merciless assault on the opposing team and after one final celebration dance, the game was over. All of the children from the other team quickly left as soon as the final whistle blew.
I don’t blame them. Who would want to show their face after getting beat by a group of grannies?
Change In Plans
In South Africa, these grannies are more than just soccer players. They do EVERYTHING.
Grannies cook, clean, garden, discipline the children, get them ready for school and so much more. If you want to do something, you better ask granny first.
This isn’t always how it’s been though. You see, grannies here aren’t any different than grandmas anywhere else. They raised their own children fully expecting that, in their old age, their children would be there to support them.
It didn’t happen that way though. HIV swept through and changed those plans.
The grannies had to start over. The grannies were forced into the role of parent. This wasn’t typically one or two children either. Most grannies began taking care of anywhere from four to 10 grandkids. Not only that, but they had to do it all on a retirement pension.
Talk about impossible.
As HIV worsened, the amount of go-gos taking on this position grew as well. A granny named Mrs. Cwengi knew something had to be done to support the grannies. So she started a support group for grannies where they could drink tea, pray and talk about life.
Within kwaNyuswa, this became known as the “Granny Project” and now there are more than 27 support groups and 1500 grannies involved.
However, Mrs. Cwengi realized the grannies needed more than just support groups. They were lacking the critical skills to run a family in these conditions.
So she reached out to Light Providers, based on their reputation of personal development.
Mrs. Cwengi knew the grannies needed to be transformed into leaders of their families against the crisis of AIDS. They had to know everything from raising grandchildren, to providing financially for them and how to manage AIDS within their family and community.
That is a lot for a woman over the age of 55 to learn and change. I was quite skeptical it could even be done.
Then I met Kristina.
Kristina is taking care of two children who have lost their parents and four more of her own grandchildren.
As we talked, I could see the impact Light Providers has had in every area of Kristina’s life.
Through Light Providers, Kristina and her support group have learned about the value of banking, especially saving money. They put money back each month so in the future they can buy materials for their gardens or other needed expenses.
Light Providers also provides Kristina with the chance to get physical exercise. Every Friday, Kristina and other go-gos head out to the soccer field. They play soccer and have an aerobics class together.
The heath of many go-gos has improved so much that they no longer have to take medicine for high blood pressure, diabetes and other health issues.
What Would Granny Do?
Day after day of a granny outworking and outperforming you would get very frustrating and quite embarrassing! Well this embarrassment has begun to pay off.
As Kristina said with a subtle laugh, “Our kids and our grandkids become motivated to do something when they see granny doing it. They don’t want to be outworked or shown up by granny.”
So now the kids have begun to emulate what granny does. They go to classes at Light Providers with her. They are out in the garden. They are learning what is necessary to survive.
Light Providers now has reached countless grandkids just because they worked with the grannies. These kids learn valuable life skills from someone who knows and loves them, and they don’t have to leave the house to find it.
Changing a generation. That is just what the grannies are doing.
But nothing has been as crucial to the fight against AIDS in the community as that of education. The grannies didn’t know how to properly prevent and treat HIV/AIDS, but through education they learned the symptoms, where to get checked and what medicines to take.
Instead of going to the witch doctor in the community, grannies now go to the health center. Instead of watching their grandchildren die, they now get to watch them thrive, play and go to school.
I can’t help but wonder how many lives were saved just by having the knowledge about HIV. How many more kids’ stories don’t have to end up as just a statistic for someone else to read?
Nothing is as important as that.
A Real Victory Dance
So maybe the victory dance of the go-gos extends much farther than just the soccer field.
Yes, the go-gos and Light Providers are in the midst of a struggle. But together, inch-by-inch, they are claiming back all that has been taken away by AIDS in their community.
They have hope for a better future for the generations to follow and that is what drives them.
For the grannies, this hope eases the struggle of having to get up at 4:30 a.m. every morning and get the kids ready for school. It drives them through the gardening all the way through when they have cleaned the last plate from the dinner table at night.
This hope allows them to sleep restfully knowing they are able to get up and do it all again.
- Pray for the local go-gos in kwaNyuswa so they may continue to develop in order to change the generations after them.
- Reflect on your own life and consider what areas you believe you are too old or too young to do something. Make one step this week toward breaking this barrier – whether that is walking a mile or working in the church nursery.
- Consider donating $60 a month to LSA. This amount can help train 10 grannies to care for and raise dozen of AIDS-orphaned children.
About the Author: Tyler is a summer intern with World Next Door for 2012. He is currently studying Social Work at IUPUI. He has a hope to see social justice take place in this world through the transforming love of Christ. He loves working out, playing sports, and sometimes thinks he is still going to be a professional athlete. He also listens to Taylor Swift more than he cares to admit.