Grannies to ride 260-km for AIDS victims in Africa

Local grannies gear up for 260-km ride to help AIDS victims in Africa

Left to right, Shirley Mander, Marg Terrett, Diane Thomson, Stella Val, Deanne Ryan, Photo: Granny Archives OTTWP

Most of them are in their 70s now, having earned the right to sit back and watch the world go by.

So, why is it that the Grassroot Grannies continue to take up their cause with a high-spirited trek on two wheels?

The answer is simple. Grandmothers from Ottawa-Gatineau, in concert with others in Canada, the US, Australia and UK, are inspired and motivated by grandmothers in Africa who raise their grandchildren – feed and educate them – when those children lose parents to AIDS-related diseases.

In Canada alone, some $27 million has been raised by grandmother groups for the Stephen Lewis Foundation, to provide direct aid to Africa.

Ottawa’s Grassroot Grannies more than hold their own in the campaign. The GGs have been together for 12 years, and have raised in excess of half a million dollars, grandmother to grandmother. Lewis’s foundation only works with community-based projects, and not governments. The Grassroot Grannies are also affiliated with the Grandmothers Advocacy Network (GRAN).

While the local Grannies, a group formed by Sue Cousineau, conduct a plant sale and a books/breakfast event to raise money at other times of the year, as September approaches it can only mean the Grannies are about to apply their mettle to the pedal.

From Sept. 5-7, some 22 Grannies (including ‘gran-others’ and support vans) will aim to raise $60,000 in donations while cycling 260 kilometres in three days during their Ride to Turn the Tide campaign, their largest fundraiser of the year.

This is the ninth edition of the concept, which was born when Nancy Hough returned from a trip to Cuba, where she encountered a Vancouver grannies group raising money through a multi-day ride.

The annual trek starts in Stittsville, with overnight stops in Perth and Metcalfe and lunches organized by grandmother associations in Almonte, Merrickville and on Riverside Drive.

The riders pay their own costs, which means all money raised goes to the African campaign.

Along the way, the group will make important school visits at Bayview Public School and Carleton Heights PS, stops that always warm the hearts of riders. Since their first meeting a couple of years ago, the fit elders and the school kids have bonded.

“Sometimes when we hear the words ‘wheels’ and ‘seniors’ in one sentence, wheelchairs and walkers come to mind,” says proud Granny Shirley Mander, who chronicles the rides on behalf of the group.

“The Grassroot Grannies felt it was important to provide students with an alternative image – seniors can keep active, have fun and help others.”

Last May, the Grannies showed the schoolchildren slides that illustrated the difficult conditions for many children their age in Africa.

Eyes were opened. Questions flew.

“One keen youngster wanted to know if we all had carbon fibre bikes,” Hough said. “Another wondered how she could help kids like her in Africa.”

The Grannies shared the story of Ryan’s Well, a program started modestly but earnestly by Ryan Hreljac of nearby Kemptville while he was in Grade One. Ryan’s resolve to bring clean drinking water to a primary school in Uganda exploded into a global campaign and made him a celebrity activist and subject of a 2001 documentary film.

The message: children can make a difference too. No need to wait until grandma or granddad status.

As always, the Grannies effort supports at least one of five mandated areas — children affected by HIV/AIDs, grandmothers, home-based health care, positive living and battling sexual violence.

For more information or to support the ride, visit or

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