Grandma Martha’s broad smile and bouncy demeanour are a testament to her triumph over the challenges that life has thrown at her.
In 2001 this dynamic Kenyan grandmother was left to raise her young grandsons after her son died of AIDS – a major challenge for an elderly woman with no income living in a community where there is a lot of stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.
But thanks to our project in partnership with the Mothers’ Union of the Anglican Church in Kenya, Grandma Martha found the support that she needed to work through the grief, start providing for herself and her grandsons, and now, support others in her community as well.
“My son died of HIV and his wife ran away,” says Grandma Martha. “I was left with their two children to raise. I worked hard to clean nappies, to hold one in one arm and one in another until they were able to reach nursery school and started first grade.
Watch the video here.
“To send the children to school I had to sell coffee and do manual labour because my husband was dead and I had no help.”
In 2007 Grandma Martha joined a support group for people living with HIV/AIDS and guardians of children orphaned by AIDS. The group, run by the Mothers’ Union, is part of a program supported by Anglican Overseas Aid and funded by Australian Government aid grants and donations from the Australian public.
Through the group, Grandma Martha connected with other grandmothers who were going through similar challenges. Together they were given counselling to process the death of their loved ones. Further training included the use of Memory Books to help children process the loss of parents and hold on to important memories, which also improved the relationships between grandmothers and the grandchildren in their care.
Training in finances and saving enabled Grandma Martha to save enough to be eligible for small loans. Livelihoods training taught her strategies for improving nutrition in her family’s diet and boosting income in ways that are less labour intensive, such as setting up kitchen gardens and raising small animals.
“Before joining the group I was doing manual labour, which did not allow me to afford things like my chickens or food to feed the orphans I was looking after. I felt very vulnerable,” says Grandma Martha. “But now, since I joined, I have become empowered to be strong and stand on my own two feet.
“The group supported by Australian aid has pulled me out of a situation I thought I would never escape. The help I received meant I could help these orphans. If there was a problem with school fees I would use the support to pay it or I could buy school uniforms, food, soap, all this support comes from the program.”
It’s clear that this support group has made a huge difference to Grandma Martha’s life, not just in practical ways, but also in terms of companionship and mutual support.
“If ever I felt burdened and life was too hard it all lightens when I share it with the group. Whatever you are worrying about disappears when we are together. We share our concerns, thoughts, feelings and ideas. We ask each other ‘How are you? Are you OK? What is the problem? How can we solve it?’ ”
These days Grandma Martha lives with the adult grandchildren that she raised by herself, and devotes her time to helping others who face similar situations to hers.
“I have been helped to move on so now I can think about others and help them. When we think about each other, we can be happy. Thinking about each other is loving each other.”
Grandma Martha is very grateful for the donations from the Australian Government and the Australian public that funded the program that changed her life.
“I feel very happy because of their generosity,” says Grandma Martha. “I thank God that people thought about me and vulnerable people like me. They are not giving to those who are able but to those who need help. When I am weak or vulnerable this aid helps lift me out so I can feed myself and the children. I pray that they have the will to keep giving but before they give, I pray they have love for us to make the giving possible.”
The Archbishop of Melbourne, the Most Reverend Doctor Philip Freier and current Primate of the Anglican Church in Australia, said stories such as Grandma Martha’s demonstrate the need for a strong Australian aid program, and donations from regular Australians.
“What a heart-warming story the coolest grandma on earth offers! Usually the story around aid is full of suffering and need, but this is a wonderful story of hope and joy, and shows that Australian aid can make the huge difference that donors hope it will,” said Archbishop Freier.
“It highlights the importance of the Federal Government restoring the overseas aid budget that has been savagely cut in recent years, and supporting agencies such as Anglican Overseas Aid that continue to do this important work. Australia, we bring hope and joy: let’s do more”
You can help support people such as Grandma Martha. Click here to donate to our work in Kenya.