Grannies Scrabble for a cause

'Help' or 'love' might not garner a lot of points on the Scrabble board, but they certainly do in life.

Newfoundland grandmothers group one of hundreds across Canada helping their counterparts in Africa

Grandmothers in N.L. are helping grandmothers in Africa 4:45

Grandmothers in Newfoundland and Labrador are putting their thinking — and spelling — caps on this weekend to help fellow grandmothers in Africa, who have been left to pick up the pieces of broken families due to the AIDS pandemic.

The Terra Nova Grannies are hosting an all-ages Scrabble fundraiser Saturday at the Lantern in St. John's from 2 to 5 p.m.

"We feel strongly that what we are doing here in our few items throughout the year that we are contributing," said Jennifer Whitfield, who is part of the granny group.

The Terra Nova Grannies is one of 240 groups making up the Grandmothers-to-Grandmothers campaign, an initiative of the Stephen Lewis Foundation. (Stephen Lewis Foundation)

It's just one of 240 that have banded together across the country as part of the national Grandmothers-to-Grandmothers campaign. It began in 2006 and is an initiative of the Stephen Lewis Foundation. 

"We felt that if Canadian grandmothers knew what African grandmothers were doing — and the courage and tenacity with which they were doing it — then they would feel interested," says Ilana Landsberg-Lewis, who lives in Toronto and co-founded the foundation with her dad. 

The campaign is 10,000 Canadian grandmothers strong and has raised $27 million in the last 10 years. 

"[It] has gone straight to hundreds of community groups in 15 countries across sub-Saharan Africa, directly to the grandmothers raising orphan children," said Landsberg-Lewis.

A Scrabble fundraiser is planned for Saturday from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Lantern in St. John's.

She worries there is a perception that AIDS is under control, when really it is still a dire situation.

"The truth is, in sub-Saharan Africa, which is still the epicentre of the AIDS pandemic globally, fewer than 50 per cent of the children who are HIV positive have access to the antiretrovirals and around 50 per cent of the adults who are infected have access to the drugs," said Landsberg-Lewis.

Powerhouse grandmas

Ida Nambeya is from Zambia and is a representative with the Stephen Lewis Foundation. She has seen the devastation of the disease firsthand.

"I've been to communities where you will find grandmothers who have lost 10 children to AIDS, nine children to AIDS, and who have to remain to take care of the grandchildren." said Nambeya.

Ida Nambeya, left, and Ilana Landsberg-Lewis speak with Here & Now's Anthony Germain about the Grandmother to Grandmother campaign. (Gary Locke/CBC)

She said the money raised helps put food on tables and get orphaned children back to school.

"When you think of the African grandmothers, they are doing so much with so little and they have emerged as leaders in their communities," said Lewis-Landsberg.

Canadian grandmothers, as well, have established themselves as a force to be reckoned with. 

"They too have formed community amongst older women. And I don't think it's an accident that older women are global citizens," said Lewis-Landsberg.

Jennifer Whitfield is part of the Terra Nova Grannies, who are hosting a Scrabble fundraiser to help grandmothers in Africa. (Gary Locke/CBC)

The fundraising efforts are bringing hearts and minds together and the Terra Nova Grannies are only too happy ot be a part of it. 

"So if we run a Scrabble game and it's a small amount of money but you multiply that by the donations made by 240 groups [across the country] it comes out to a very large sum of money," said Whitfield.

That support is being felt thousands of kilometres away in Africa, according to Nambeya.

"When you go into these communities now, you will find that grandmothers, they smile back. They've even managed to become leaders, because the trauma they have gone through has lessened," she said.

With files from Anthony Germain