In attendance were 500 grandmothers from Uganda, Canada, England, South Africa, Kenya, the Stephen Lewis Foundation team including the founder Mr. Stephen Lewis, among the participants also were “special” grandmothers from Uganda including Ms. Geraldine Kawuma, Ms. Theresa Mbiire and Hon.Namirembe Bitamazire. Wells of Hope was represented by Ms Lovisa Namusoke and Ms.Peninah Mukisa.
The aim of the gathering was to create awareness of grandmothers’ issues across the country and establishing a national level consortium of organizations to address them.
Grandmothers infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS shared moving testimonies of their struggles, joys and successes in the face of HIV/AIDS. It was evident that grandmothers are heavily burdened with the large number of orphans left in their care and without much support. The grandmothers infected with HIV noted that they get embarrassed to seek HIV treatment in public health facilities. The grandmothers however showed amazing resilience under the tough circumstances that they face as some mentioned that to adhere to their drug regimens and care for the grandchildren.
Grandmothers also held small workshops within the gathering to discuss some of the specific challenges that they face as they confront HIV/AIDS and create strategies to address the challenges. Some of the issues discussed included: Poor financial management, difficulty in accessing loans, inadequate skills in saving, limited knowledge in prevention of HIV infection in households, effects of HIV/AIDS on grandmothers including loss of relatives and social support network, lack of support in terms of food, treatment and other basic needs, difficulty disclosing HIV status due to stigma and embarrassment among others.
The Grandmothers called upon the government of Uganda to address these challenges by creating structures such as the national council for the elderly to strengthen the voices of the elderly and include older people’s challenges into the national development plans and budgets
Grandmothers also recognized the financial support given by the SLF (Stephen Lewis Foundation) through local organizations highlighting that life in the face of HIV had become so difficult had it not been such organizations may be they would have been dead by now.
The gathering was concluded with a 3 kilometer match around Entebbe town and through the state house. Grandmothers held posters with advocacy messages urging the government to take action to address grandmothers’ needs. Some of the messages read: “we demand for adequate access to health care”, “we need no sympathy but your support”, “neglect us and a generation is wasted”, “national policies must address the needs of the elderly.”
In addition, grandmothers read a statement called “the Entebbe Statement” describing their urgent needs and the action that should be taken by government and other duty bearers to fulfill their human rights. The grandmothers were encouraged by Stephen to continually demand for their rights because the issues raised in the statement are not privileges, but rights that government has to attend to.
Grandmothers were able to interact and learn that they are not the only ones in the struggle of looking after grandchildren. The grandmothers got an opportunity to share nice meals and comfortable accommodation to the extent that some of them almost failed to sleep; one of the grandmothers said," who am I to be treated like a queen! I did not know that I could have such a meal and sleep on a bed with a mattress and bedsheets, To God be the glory!"