Midlands AIDS Service Organization (MASO) is a longstanding Stephen Lewis Foundation community-based partner working in the Midlands province of Zimbabwe. In their work to empower communities to reduce the spread and impact of HIV and AIDS, MASO runs comprehensive programs for grandmothers – a demographic they say is traditionally overlooked in the country and needs support that takes into account their age, gender and the critical role they’ve taken on as caregivers for orphaned and vulnerable children.
More than a decade ago, recognizing the grief grandmothers experience alongside the stress of becoming caregivers for orphaned and vulnerable children, MASO organized grandmothers into peer-to-peer support groups. These support groups became a platform for grandmothers to discuss issues that affect them, challenges they face in caring for children as well as a vehicle to increase their leadership skills and agency as they governed their own groups. Support groups provide grandmothers with a break from their daily routines to receive essential emotional, spiritual, nutritional, and income-security support as they continue to care for their grandchildren.
Through the savings and loan aspect of grandmothers support groups, MASO has seen grandmothers’ initiatives grow from micro-projects to small-scale businesses. Grandmothers have opened a clothes shop, they vend produce and rear livestock, and they’ve even purchased a grinding mill.
Income from these businesses allows grandmothers to support their families, and they teach these new skills to their grandchildren and young people in their communities.
The time and space to connect with other women in the community had, and continues to have, such an impact on grandmothers’ health, wellbeing and overall confidence that MASO launched an annual Grannies Retreat and an annual Grandmothers’ Conference to bring together grandmothers from support groups across the province.
When I am together with the other grannies, we understand each other, we are at the same level in terms of age and the experiences that we are going through. It’s very different than talking to somebody younger, they cannot understand you. And it is not like talking to a counsellor either, it is more like talking to your sisters.Powered by Love, SLF, 2017
These opportunities create spaces for grandmothers to find strength in coming together, and provide a forum to learn about their rights, and mobilize and advocate for change at the national level. Grandmothers have developed petitions demanding proper implementation of free healthcare for senior citizens, reliable access to medications for conditions like diabetes and hypertension, free education for their grandchildren, and clean, safe water.
The grandmothers movement that MASO has created by bringing grandmothers together has inspired peer-to-peer support groups to spring up in other regions of the country where MASO is not yet working. Existing grandmothers support groups have jumped in to collaborate on joint fundraisers with groups that needed help launching their savings and loan program. Veronica Nhemachena, CEO of MASO, said recently, “The grannies are unsung heroes, our champions.”