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The Power of Passion

Hands reach across the globe


Former politician and writer Stephen Lewis talks about the Stephen Lewis Foundation and its work with Canadian grandmothers who aid African grandmothers.

If you’ve never heard Stephen Lewis speak, you may be forgiven for not recognizing his name. But once you’ve heard his passion and conviction, you won’t soon forget the man–or more importantly, his message. Articulate and eloquent, Lewis inspires, not just to think, but also to act.

Global Citizenship or Help at Home?

In the wake of global warming’s potentially calamitous effects worldwide, does it make sense to reach out to countries in serious need of foreign aid?

Should we be aiming to improve conditions in our own backyard before we focus our efforts on reaching out to countries in the Third World?

According to Stephen Lewis, without empowering those who most require the resources to combat the consequences of climate change, we are bound to suffer its devastating repercussions at home. If we fail to recognize the gravity of the environmental and social circumstances presently occurring in developing nations, the negative effects will be far-reaching.

Whether it is through concern about our economy, individual activism, or global citizenship, we have the means to make a positive impact on less prosperous nations–and it is our social responsibility to do so.

What do you think? Should we be providing assistance and leadership to countries fraught with social, economic, and political hardships? What is the extent of our responsibility as Canadians?

Just Do It

When a US poverty activist and friend instructed Stephen Lewis, to “stop whining and do something” about the scourge of HIV/AIDS in Africa, he did; the Stephen Lewis Foundation (SLF) currently funds well over 140 projects in 15 sub-Saharan African countries.

Among these projects are community-based health, welfare, and education initiatives as well as small loans financing, and all are dedicated to helping individuals, families, and communities that have been ravaged by HIV/AIDS.

The SLF website ( not only tells stories about the many grassroots projects funded by the foundation in Africa, but it also provides suggestions about how other Canadians can get involved in “doing something.”

Bringing Life Back to Bulembu

Another group reaching across the world to Africa is spearheading a unique project to bring new life to a town abandoned by mining interests. Before 2001 Bulembu, Swaziland was a thriving mining town with 12,000 residents. But when the mine closed in 2001, there was little left to sustain the former residents.

Couple this with the devastation left by HIV/AIDS (Swaziland has the highest rate of infection in the world, at 43 percent) and it wasn’t long before Bulembu became a virtual ghost town.

Today, with the help of Bulembu International, a nonprofit charitable organization based in Vancouver, BC, Bulembu’s population has grown from 100 to 1,200 since 2006. This unique development initiative involving a team of entrepreneurs and social developers uses a business-based approach to achieve sustainability.

Its vision is to create a totally self-sustaining community with long-term job creation that offers medical care, education, and housing to families and orphans in need. Its business-based approach to achieving sustainability goes beyond supplying food, shelter, and clothing to create opportunities that deliver long-term sustainability while reducing dependence on the continued support of others.

Several macro enterprises have been established–Bulembu Timber, Bulembu Honey, Bulembu Water, and the Bulembu Lodge–and many buildings have been renovated and are now in full operation.

Transformation is already happening. Orphans are growing up in caring homes, and businesses embody the vision in action today–a vision for a fully self-sustainable Bulembu.

The African Trilogy

Two prestigious Toronto festivals (Luminato and the Stratford Shakespeare Festival) have commissioned Volcano, a troupe that specializes in experimental and new works, to create an international trilogy of plays that will focus on “the West’s relationship with Africa.”

The inspiration for this project is rooted in Stephen Lewis’ Massey Lectures, entitled Race Against Time, which were broadcast on CBC in 2005 and published by House of Anansi Press (see book review page 36). In the lectures, Lewis shares his outrage at the international community’s betrayal of Africa.

Toronto playwright and founder of Volcano, Ross Manson was motivated to act “within half an hour of the first [lecture]; I saw it as something [that] needs to be explored through art.”

He told CBC, “What struck me was my own ignorance and that’s always a motivator for me… What Stephen was conveying was a very complex picture about how Africa and the West interrelate at many levels–from the grassroots level to national governments to NGOs, the World Bank.”

Grandmothers Meet Gogos

As Stephen Lewis points out so eloquently, the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa has devastated an entire generation, leaving millions of orphans in its wake. Raising these children are womengogos (“grandmother” in Zulu)–often in their sixties and seventies who have few resources and little moral support. In some countries, 40 to 60 percent of orphans live in grandmother-headed households. (For more information see

Inspired by Lewis and supported by the Stephen Lewis Foundation (SLF), 200 groups of grandmothers across Canada have banded together to raise money and awareness.

Donations are used by SLF to provide grandmothers in Africa with much-needed assistance, including food, school fees, and uniforms for their grandchildren; income-generating projects, counselling, and social support; and coffins to allow for a dignified burial of their loved ones.

See to find a Grandmother to Grandmother support group in your area.

  Current Bulembu Vision state for 2020
Population 1,200 10,000
Support for orphaned children 150 2,000
Children enrolled in Bulembu schools 120 per year 1,500 per year
Jobs created through small and medium enterprise ventures 500 3,000
Hospital/clinic visits 20 per day 400 per day
Visitors/tourists/volunteers 1,000 per year 4,000 per year
Vocational school 0 students 500 students


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