Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Grandmothers: The unsung heroes

Women cope with impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic

Express Staff Writer

After spending years volunteering and visiting Africa, Susie Banfield, a Sun Valley resident and grandmother of 15, co-founded a non-profit organization called Voiceless Children with photojournalist Felix Masi of Kenya. The purpose of the organization is to supply healthcare, basic sustenance and education in the slums of east and central Africa, especially to women raising their own grandchildren due to the AIDS epidemic.

"Helping these women to be self-sufficient is a goal that can be accomplished," Banfield said.

On Thursday, Oct. 9, at 7 p.m., Banfield will present a screening of the award-winning film "A Grandmother's Tribe" as a benefit for Voiceless Children. The documentary will be shown at Our Lady of the Snows church on Sun Valley Road. Admission is free but donations will be accepted to support the women and children of East Africa. All the entry donations will go to the grandmother families for schooling, housing, wells and eventually a community center through the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

The movie was produced by Borderless Productions, a New Zealand-based company that works to create positive change through its films, documentaries, TV series and videos. It was directed by Qiujing Wong and shot by her partner in Borderless Productions, Dean Easterbrook. Masi worked as production coordinator and location advisor while Banfield lent production support.

It captures the lives of two Kenyan grandmothers—one rural and one urban—raising their young grandchildren. Borderless was looking for exactly this situation to film when they heard of Banfield's and Masi's organization.

"It just fell in my lap, it was just there," Banfield said. "I had met Felix and he had this dream to help the women who raised their orphaned grandchildren. He was an orphan—he lived with his sister who had married young, and his grandmother helped them.

"We have 35 children in school now and they are honestly, honestly so hungry for education. Without help they can't do it. The wish of these grandmothers is to see that these children are educated for the future."

The U.S. Embassy in Kenya is sponsoring the film for World AIDS Day in Nairobi on Dec. 1.

"They thought it was a wonderful thing for American relationships and for Kenya," Banfield said. "We're bringing a screen to show it at the village on Dec. 5, which the embassy is also supporting. We're so grassroots. We're just doing it, and praying that funding comes in and things go well."

The goals of the film are to increase awareness of grandmothers in Africa who struggle every day to care for the orphans of HIV/AIDS, to educate audiences and to connect viewers with effective grassroots solutions.

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