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Grandmothers want change

Burnaby Gogos collecting pennies to help African women

A group of Burnaby grandmothers wants your one-cent coins to help change the lives of grandmothers in Africa, caring for children orphaned by AIDS.

The Burnaby Gogos have launched a "Change for Change" campaign, collecting pennies before they go out of circulation.

"We are what's called a solidarity group and not a charity group in that the people who benefit from the funds we raise, they are the ones who identify their need, they are the ones who know what they need. We're not just giving handouts," said Burnaby Gogo Madeleine Owen. "We are grandmothers in solidarity with grandmothers there."

The Gogos movement was inspired by the Stephen Lewis Foundation's Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign. Lewis is a former United Nations special envoy for HIV/ AIDS in Africa.

The campaign was a response to the crisis Lewis witnessed in Africa. Grandmothers there have lost their own children to AIDS and are left to care for an estimated 16.6 million orphaned grandchildren - 14.8 million of which are in sub-Saharan Africa. The women bury their own adult children and take care of the little ones left behind, with few resources and barely a chance to grieve.

Grandmothers to Grandmothers was launched in 2006, and since then, more than 250 grandmother groups have formed across Canada. In the past six years, 8,000 to 10,000 Canadian women have raised $13.5 million as part of the campaign. They have all taken the same pledge: to not to rest until their African counterparts can. The African grandmothers pledged to stop raising their grandchildren for the grave.

The Burnaby group has about a dozen members and is part of a larger network of more than 25 grandmother groups in southwestern B.C.

Owen, a Burnaby resident and retired nurse, had heard of the group's work and wanted to help.

"I guess because I have 12 grandchildren, the very idea of having to bring them all up would be a daunting thing to do. I also know of Stephen Lewis and the kind of work he's dedicated to, (helping people with) AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa," she said.

With the Change for Change fundraiser, the Burnaby Gogos are hoping to cash in on the recent federal government announcement that the penny will be taken out of circulation.

"They'll always be worth something because of the weight of the copper," Owen said.

The Gogos are available to pick up penny donations; email or call 604-469-6795. People can also drop their coins off at Prudential Sterling Realty, at 226, 3355 North Road or at Poppy Residences, 5291 Grimmer St. Businesses are also welcome to keep a jar at the office, and the Gogos will pick it up once it's full. The campaign will end around November, but they will still accept penny donations after that.

Money raised goes to the Stephen Lewis Foundation, which funds grassroots groups that help grandmothers and orphans in 15 African countries. The money covers things like counselling, food, medicine and HIV education, prevention and care. The foundation receives more than 100 proposals for projects each month.

"Some of them get turned down because there's not enough money," Owen said. "Whatever we can do will be helpful."

For more information, go to or www., or call 1-888-203-9990. The Burnaby group is always welcoming new members. You don't have to be a grandmother to join. You can be also be a "grand-other."