Gogos have a ball

2012-03-31 16:16

Last weekend’s Gogolympics were all about smiles, laughter and fun – but life for many of KwaZulu­Natal’s grandmothers is anything but easy.

That’s what Sister Cwengekile Myeni and her colleagues at the Hillcrest Aids Centre Trust discovered when they started working with elderly women in Durban’s Valley of 1 000 Hills.

Myeni, the centre’s nursing manager, trains ordinary people to become home-based caregivers.

She discovered that, as middle-aged men and women died from HIV/Aids-related illnesses, more and more grandmothers were being called on to take care of their grandchildren.

“These grannies were stressed and confused. Here they were, thinking now that their children are grown they would help relieve the financial pressure – only to realise that they had to be parents all over again.”

Many of the women she worked with were battling to get foster care grants to help support themselves and their grandchildren.

In 2006, Myeni started a support group called the Granny Group Project, which she co-ordinates on behalf of the centre.

“We negotiated with various non-governmental organisations in the area to teach life skills and other handwork like knitting, sewing, baking, beadwork, crocheting and gardening.”

The results, Myeni says, were phenomenal. Around 1 500 women are involved, working in 31 support groups. The oldest member of the project is 84. One woman, in her 60s, has 20 grandchildren.

“I have been working in this community since 1971,” she says.

“I know the problems associated with being a rural woman. As a professional woman, it was hard to live above the mentality that women are still subjected by men and that women can’t amount to anything.

“But I also wanted to change the mentality of looking to government for things. This is rural development because if you train a woman, you train generations.

“It is rewarding to see a situation where a woman who couldn’t utter a word is being open-minded, ­women who couldn’t handle ­machines sewing clothes and ­selling them to feed their families, and women who used to go to bed without food running successful vegetable gardens.”

Khethiwe Mchunu has seven adult children. Five of them depend on her and her husband, also a pensioner, for financial support. Mchunu is also the sole caregiver for eight grandchildren.

She got involved in a support group that is changing its community. When recent storms destroyed people’s homes, the group collected money to build them new, stronger homes.

Khonziwa Gumede was shattered by the sight of elderly people crying about their financial struggles. “It kept me up at night. I used to be so stressed. I’m now a leader in one of the support groups.”

Exercise and sport play an important role in the project. Gumede tells of an 80-year-old woman who had a stroke. Through exercise, she recovered instead of ending up bedridden like her daughter, who also had a stroke.

The Gogolympics is organised by the province’s department of sports and recreation with the Hillcrest Aids Centre Trust and the Light Providers’ Club. Hundreds of women took part in the second annual Gogolympics at the KwaNyuswa sports grounds in Botha’s Hill ­outside Durban.

Not only does the event motivate, energise and ­empower women, but they have fun and laugh, if only for a day.

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