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The story of the epic battle against HIV/Aids by local grandmothers is set to take Washington DC by storm, when an exhibition of photographs accompanied by the women’s stories is shown there at the Katzen Gallery.
Felicia Mfamana, 72, and Thelma Nkone, 62, both members of Grandmothers Against Poverty and Aids (Gapa), it’ll be their first time travelling abroad when they leave Cape Town on Sunday.
The exhibition, which will also be shown at the annual literary festival at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, combines the work of Cape Town photographer and journalist team, Eric Miller and Jo-Anne Smetherham.
Together with Gapa’s executive director, Vivienne Budaza, they are responsible for The Nevergiveups, a book and exhibition of photographs and stories about the grandmothers and the dire circumstances that brought them together when they thought they had nothing left.
Gapa was founded in 2001 after UCT research into how HIV/Aids had impacted on the lives of grandmothers. When the research was complete, the women asked: “What are you leaving us with now?”
The organisation was then started with money left over from the research project, and has continued to grow – not only in Khayelitsha, where its offices are, and Cape Town – but also in Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Lesotho and Kenya.
It brings together women who have lost loved ones and, in many cases, have been left to raise orphaned grandchildren as a result of disease and poverty. Gapa’s main goal is to “fight the effects of poverty, Aids and other illnesses by educating and empowering grandmothers”.
At the Gapa centre in Khayelitsha, women can share their stories and participate in workshops teaching them about HIV/Aids, and also gain basic skills, including gardening and crafts. Many of the women say that when they share their stories they realise they are not alone, which helps them immensely.
Gapa also helps the women confront and deal with the tragic loss of their loved ones.
“Death is something we shy away from. No one really wants to talk about death,” says Budaza.
“But death was on their doorsteps.”
The exhibition has been seen extensively in Cape Town, but will be shown in the US for the first time next week, and will include an event where the team will share their stories next Friday. The eBook of The Nevergiveups, which will be available on Kalahari from next week, will also be officially launched at both venues.
The exhibition will run for six weeks in Washington DC and for one week at the literary festival.
The idea to take the exhibition to the US came about when two American professors – Jennifer Fish, professor of gender studies at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, and Bette Dickerson, professor of gender studies at American University in Washington DC – became aware of and involved in Gapa. Each year the professors bring groups of students to Cape Town as part of their study programmes, but they decided that wasn’t enough, and that they wanted to take Gapa’s message home with them.
Their hope is that “The Nevergiveups will inspire, educate, connect communities and show how a committed group of women are continuing to change the society in which they live, against all odds”.
Both Mfamana and Nkone are looking forward to the journey, and the experience. Mfamana wants a window seat on the plane so she can see what’s going on, and Nkone is looking forward to travelling underground on the subway when they arrive. Both will celebrate their birthdays while they are overseas.
* For more information on The Nevergiveups and the US tour, go to www.thenevergiveups.org.