HIV/AIDS, Grandmothers and The Children in Their Care: Immaculate Nakyanzi’s Story

In 2009, Peggy Edwards received the Alan Thomas Fellowship Award presented annually by the Carold Institute, and began a year of reflection and writing about the important work of the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign. Since then, Peggy has built on her Fellowship work to make numerous presentations and to continue to advocate on behalf of the Grandmothers Campaign.

On March 16, 2015, Peggy spoke at a seminar in Women’s Studies (University of Ottawa and Carleton University). Her presentation Body Politics: HIV/AIDS, Grandmothers and The Children in Their Care incorporated a story from Immaculate Nakyanzi–a tiny but strong Ugandan grandmother. In her story, she speaks to the triple threat of discrimination African grandmothers face—based on age, sex and HIV status.

Immaculate’s Story

When HIV and AIDS came to my community, it hit my life very hard. My parents, most of my brothers and sisters, my husband and two of my children died from AIDS. My three other children are living with HIV and AIDS. I was left by myself, caring for the children and grandchildren in my home.

I strained myself to get the medication, to go to hospitals, and to get food supplements to feed the sick and the rest of the family. There was such poverty in my family then. It harmed my dignity to have to ask for loans from other people. I was losing so much weight and couldnt take care of myself, so people started looking at me as if I had HIV. The feelings and the stigma were so bad, and I lost my friends and started keeping alone to myself. 

In 2011, when Kitovu Mobile AIDS Organization started helping us grandmothers, my life began to change. They helped us raise crops again. My grandchildren needed special grief counselling, and I had help communicating to the girls how to prepare for their menstrual period, and to talk to my adolescent grandchildren about building relationships, and the reality of growing up in a community struggling with HIV and AIDS. Kitovu Mobile also helped me get a good house for the family. The old house was in very bad shape.

So many grandmothers are having land problems, and relatives are even taking their animals and selling them. In my solidarity group, two grandmothers have had their land grabbed.

When my house was being built, my in-laws tried to chase me from my land. They told me to stop encroaching on their land and to pay them rent. They said, Youre a grandmother, you are only left with land for your grave. One time they came after us with machetes, but one of my sons joined with our neighbours and fought them off.

About four times, my in-laws threatened to kill me. I reported them to the police. The police asked for 10,000 shillings but I only managed to raise 6,000. They took the money but did not act because I failed to raise the full amount. So then I went to the prison officer and got a letter from him to give to the local leaders and the boys. It warned them to stop any kind of violence to me, otherwise they would be imprisoned.

 I still worry about the land but for now, things are better. The children are fed and they are going to school. Kitovu Mobile is counselling the children living with HIV to live positively. One of my daughters is getting free AVR medicines from Uganda Cares.

But Kitovu Mobile doesnt have resources to help all the grandmothers. They are isolated because of the stigma. They dont know about nutrition and sanitation, and how to generate some income for themselves. They have problems with bad houses, and their grandchildren are not getting to school. Their land is taken from them.

 That is why I am doing my voluntary work with Kitovu Mobile. They trained me as a contact granny and gave me the knowledge and skills to help others. I offer the grandmothers counselling and teach them about nutrition and hygiene, to keep in solidarity and dignity as grannies, and to be hopeful. I accompany the sick to the health facility. I advise them about their property rights and how to deal with the police. I love the work of helping fellow grannies. It has become part of my life.¨

Immaculate Kakyanzi is an example of defiance against the stigma and abuse of women’s rights that can precede and accompany a disease that invades an individual’s body, and the soul of a community.

The grandmothers in Africa have become a powerful source of resistance. They inspire their Canadian sisters. Together, we issue a clarion call for the promotion, protection and fulfillment of the rights of African grandmothers and the children in their care. Together, we are a strong source for change and social justice.

* This is an abbreviated version of Immaculate’s story. She told her story in Vancouver, October 2014 at the Grandmothers Tribunal hosted by the Stephen Lewis Foundation. To learn more, visit www.grandmotherscampaign.org and www.grandmothersadvocacy.org.