St. Marys Journal Argus
A representative of the Stephen Lewis Foundation, speaking to a gathering in St. Marys on Saturday, Nov. 16 of the Grandmothers to Grandmothers fundraising association that supports the Foundation’s work in Africa, explained at the beginning of the meeting that the Foundation doesn’t hire Canadians to cross the ocean to set up its offices.
“There is expertise that is there, that is indigenous, that is African, that we couldn’t touch,” the representative explained.
And those at Saturday’s meeting were treated to a presentation from a person who, surely, must be among the brightest and most passionate of those African experts.
Ida Nambeya, who went by her husband’s family name of Mukuka when she was featured in a 2007 book by Canadian Stephanie Nolen, has lived the struggles faced by the people the Stephen Lewis Foundation now strives to serve. She met Lewis when he was still the United Nations Envoy for AIDS in Africa, and she was an AIDS activist in her native Zambia, encouraging people with the disease to seek treatment instead of hiding away in shame.
Nambeya had lost both her husband and her brother to AIDS, and is HIV-positive herself. She told the St. Marys United Church audience — which included members of the local Grandmothers to Grandmothers chapter, as well as visitors from places like London and Hamilton — that she set two goals for herself at the time: She would not die before her parents; and although her family was not well off and her siblings had not pursued higher education, she herself would find a way to attend university and thereby have a better chance to provide for her own two children.
Her introduction to Lewis provided an opportunity to achieve the second goal. “He doesn’t just talk. He walks the talk,” Nambeya said of the one-time Ontario New Democrat leader. Lewis helped her secure acceptance into St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, and she eventually was hired by the Foundation to work as an on-the-ground field representative for many of its projects.
Her own daughter recently achieved the highest level academically in Zambia, and is now studying at the University of Lusaka with an aim to become a lawyer.
Nambeya’s second life goal — to outlive her parents — was less of a sure thing, given her HIV positive status. But she says coming to Canada was again a key.
She related how her readings for immune system strength were getting dangerously low when she came to Nova Scotia. But she joked that she “saw salad for the first time — I didn’t think I should eat it like that. I thought I should take it home and cook it.” And that was just a part of the improved lifestyle and work/life balance she was able to benefit from while studying in Canada. Her immune system readings increased as a result, and only recently — after nearly 10 years — have begun to decrease again due to the disease.
Nambeya’s mother died in September of this year. “It was very sad. When I was in Canada, whenever I was sick or sad, she would sing traditional songs to me on the phone.”
At Saturday's meeting, Nambeya showed slides of various projects supported by the Stephen Lewis Foundation, and related how situations for those affected by AIDS have changes since the Foundation began providing services. The projects include introducing small-scale income generating opportunities for grandmothers in remote Ethiopia who are caring for the children orphaned by the death of their parents; educating women and men about spousal abuse and AIDS prevention in the seclusionist Maasai society of East Africa; and building adequate homes and latrines for grandmothers in Malawi.