What is now UJAMAA GRANDMAS started in 2004 when Ellen Monaghan put her sewing skills to work to make purses for sale at craft fairs. Ellen decided that the profits from this venture would go to charity and the charity she selected was the Stephen Lewis Foundation (SLF). Stephen Lewis was very much in the news at that time, as UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, and had brought world attention to the crisis unfolding in Africa due to the epidemic.

2005 to 2010

In the winter of 2005, long-time friend, Leslie Buckle, a knitter and felter, joined Ellen. The two made both fabric and felted purses to sell at a June event sponsored by the Mennonite Central Committee called Glimmers of Hope, at which Stephen Lewis was the keynote speaker. While sales were slow before his talk, the purses flew off the table when the audience came out of the hall at the end of the speech! For several Saturdays that summer the pair sold their purses at the Millarville market.  In the fall of 2005, the circle expanded and several friends joined the project. That Christmas, the small group sold purses at the Millarville Christmas Market and raised approximately $2,000 for the Stephen Lewis Foundation (SLF). Membership in the group continued to grow through word of mouth and sign-up sheets at sales and other events.

In 2006, SLF brought African and Canadian grandmothers together at the 16th Annual International HIV/AIDS Conference in Toronto, and the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign was born. The small Calgary-based group was thriving and was in on the ground floor of this national initiative, continuing to sell purses at craft fairs, Christmas bazaars and at Glimmers of Hope. In October,  the group sponsored a stand-alone handcrafts sale at the Crescent Heights Community Association. About $6,000 was raised and the inventory of about 200 items was essentially sold out by noon. At this point the group was an informal collection of women under the banner of Purses for Africa and didn’t yet have a separate bank account.

In January 2007 another group of Calgary women, inspired to join the national Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign, convened a meeting at the old Hillhurst Fire Hall to form a Calgary organization. Purses for Africa was invited to this meeting and as a result an umbrella organization called Grandmothers to Grandmothers Calgary (G2G) was formed. Other fundraising and advocacy projects were started at that time under this umbrella.

That spring, SLF arranged for African grandmothers to visit grandmothers’ groups across the country. Two grandmothers, Florence and Zubeda, came to Calgary for Mothers’ Day. In addition to participating in two church services, they made a trip to the Siksika reserve, where Lisa Jo Sun Walk, a young woman who was producing purses to sell in Gleichen and at the Purses for Africa annual sale, supported by Denise Peterson, her teacher at the Sequoia Outreach School, organized a gala event. The Outreach students along with the grandmothers of Siksika and G2G members Christene Howard and Denise Peterson, provided an emotional day of performances, toured the reserve, and shared Grandmother stories from both cultures. Touched by Lisa Jo’s story and this event, Sue Farrell Holler wrote a fictional version of the visit – “Lacey and the African Grandmothers” – (including actual photos of that day), a Kids’ Power Book which became part of the Alberta curriculum.

In late 2007, Purses for Africa withdrew from G2G in order to concentrate on fundraising. It was then that group began calling themselves Purses and Projects for African Grandmothers (PPAG), but as that was quite a mouthful, the name was soon changed to UJAMAA GRANDMAS. Ujamaa is a Swahili word representing concepts such as “working together”, “extended family”, or “community”. A Steering Committee was formed and met regularly to plan the annual handcrafts sale and initiate and implement other projects.

In 2008, the first FABRIC & YARN Sale was held at Woodcliff United Church. A small group of volunteers spent hours measuring and pricing each item individually, a practice that soon had to be discontinued as donations mounted. As well, the annual handcrafts sale, known today as BAGS, BABIES & BEYOND, moved from Crescent Heights to its current venue, the Marda Loop Communities Association. Both sales have continued to grow by leaps and bounds. See FUNDRAISING for a history of the growing success of these and other events.

Between 2007 and 2010, many of the current UJAMAA GRANDMAS projects such as the Speakers’ Bureau, the bake sale at the Social Justice Film Festival and the 10,000 Villages Christmas shopping event were put in place. Outreach to schools was organized and several ad hoc fundraisers were held; a Jazz ‘n Springtime concert and silent auction at the Priddis community hall, Tea with Granny (or, in some cases, Gin with Granny), where members invited friends to their homes and accepted donations to the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

Please see 2010 to 2015 tab for further information.

2010 to 2015

In the summer of 2010, UJAMAA GRANDMAS became a non-profit society, registered under the Societies Act of Alberta. A Board of Directors replaced the Steering Committee. This new structure came with job descriptions, by-laws, financial procedures, and official meetings. Since becoming a society, UJAMAA GRANDMAS has continued to formalize the governance structure while maintaining a welcoming and informal atmosphere at the gatherings. Monthly gatherings were for several years held in members’ homes, but as the number of members grew, the Board decided to hold gatherings at public venues; Sewing World in the south, and Foothills Lutheran Church in the north.

Committees were established for the two major fundraising events – FABRIC & YARN SALE and BAGS, BABIES & BEYOND – and the scope of fundraising expanded to include Kazuri Jewelry sales, a fashion show, and milestone celebrations. A Speakers’ Bureau was formed to provide presentations to groups, clubs, organizations and schools on the work of SLF in Africa and the need to support this work. Donations arising from these speaking events became a significant component of the overall contribution to the foundation.

UJAMAA GRANDMAS won a visit from Stephen Lewis; a result of participation of a small group who received the highest average score in the nation-wide Scrabble tournament for Grandmothers’ groups. A major school fundraising event, Turning the Tide, was organized, bringing together over 400 high school students to attend a social justice conference and compete to raise funds for SLF. At the last minute, Stephen Lewis was unable to attend the conference due to illness but visited Calgary later that year, when he gave a speech to a full house of about 400 people, and more funds were raised.

In the fall, SLF organized the Afri-grand Caravan, a cross-Canada tour by a group of African grandmothers and their grandchildren. These guests were brought to Canada by the SLF to give talks and raise awareness of the needs in Africa. UJAMAA GRANDMAS hosted a grandmother-granddaughter pair, grandmother Tsabele and granddaughter Thandeka, in Calgary for visits and presentations.

2010 was also the year of the Swaziland Gathering.  SLF sent approximately 40 representatives from grandmothers’ groups across Canada to a first-ever coming together of African grandmothers to talk about the challenges they face and how they can strengthen their efforts to stem the tide of HIV /AIDS. UJAMAA GRANDMAS members, Ellen Monaghan and Yvonne Way, attended the gathering and brought back stories and pictures to share with our group and others.

In 2011, the website, www.ujamaagrandmas.com, was launched and proved to be an important enhancement to our communication with members, customers and the public, providing information about UJAMAA GRANDMAS, fundraising events, links to local and national groups and links and book reports for additional information on the issues facing African Grandmothers. It is the portal for registration for membership, workshops and volunteer opportunities.

UJAMAA GRANDMAS was approached by Dr. Morris Gibson School in Okotoks to participate in joint fundraising for SLF. Several members created and performed a skit for the schoolchildren, as part of what the SLF called the Red Shoelaces Campaign, designed to raise awareness of children about the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa and the needs of grandmothers and their orphan grandchildren.

In September 2012, the first Ujamaa Grandmas Fashion Show was held and another was to follow a year and a half later. 2012 also saw the first sponsorship from the Heritage Park Rotary Club of Calgary and was the beginning of a longer relationship with that organization.

In 2013, the board undertook to define a Mission and Vision for UJAMAA GRANDMAS. The Mission is “To raise funds and awareness for the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign, using the skills and talents of a vibrant volunteer community.” Our Vision is to be “an enduring and nurturing community that works to transform the lives of African grandmothers and children affected by HIV/AIDS.” This three-pronged platform – raising funds, raising awareness, and nurturing our own community of members – is the measure against which new projects are evaluated for consideration.

2013 saw the demise of the Canadian penny, which provided another avenue for fundraising. Pennies for Change raised over $1000. The Speaker’s Bureau connected with a variety of groups and, along with Kazuri Jewelry Sales, made a significant impact on the funds that are sent by us and in our name to the foundation. Milestone Celebrations, with donations to the Foundation in lieu of gifts, continued to be dynamic. Local individuals and organizations gave donations to defray the cost of sales and events enabling us to send more of our money to the Foundation.

In September, SLF sponsored the African Grandmothers’ Tribunal in Vancouver, and a UJAMAA GRANDMAS group participated, getting firsthand stories of our African Grandmothers. Hearing these poignant, real-life experiences humbled and inspired us to work even harder to help them make life better for the children in their care and themselves.

In the fall, UJAMAA GRANDMAS hosted the Provincial Gathering of 19 Alberta-based Grandmother groups under the theme Together We Can. Speakers included representatives from the Foundation, Leah Teklemariam and Tammy Ebuen. Ida Nambeya, an African Grandmother, was the key-note speaker. A traveling art exhibit from the Royal City Gogos of New Westminster, B.C., featuring works inspired by African grandmothers, was on view to participants and the public during the Gathering.

In 2014, SLF organized a second Africa visit and Alison Longson represented UJAMAA GRANDMAS, visiting projects in Ethiopia, Rwanda, and South Africa. Upon her return, Alison gave more than 20 presentations around Southern Alberta, raising awareness of the SLF’s work.

2014 was a challenging year as UJAMAA GRANDMAS crossed the good news/bad news earning threshold that required collection and payment of GST and income tax.  This necessitated a significant change in financial operations. This is a  testament to our success in fundraising. 2014 also saw the end of Kazuri Jewelry sales after many successful years and the breaking of the $30,000 mark for the FABRIC & YARN SALE and the $50,000 mark for BAGS, BABIES & BEYOND.

A new fundraiser started in 2014 – Walk in the Park. This is UJAMAA GRANDMAS’  version of the SLF annual Stride fundraising event. Instead of doing one annual walk, UJAMAA GRANDMAS members meet for a walk twice a week. Members donate $2 per walk and by December, 2016 had cumulatively walked 3,300 kms and raised over $1,900 for SLF.

In 2015, the FABRIC & YARN SALE saw a surprise visit from Stephen Lewis, who was in Calgary for a speaking engagement.  Two new fundraisers were implemented: the first was  participation in the  distribution of convocation regalia at SAIT, in exchange for an honorarium and a small group of volunteers responded on short notice to make this a success (this fundraiser was repeated on two more occasions), the second was an evening speaking event by Barbara Coloroso, a well-known US parenting expert and former Board member of SLF. Barbara spoke on “Bullies, The Bullied, and the Not-So-Innocent Bystander”. The event was organized in record time by a small committee, Barbara generously donated her time and all profits went to the SLF.

Please see the 2016 to preset tab for further information.

2016 to present

2016 was a ‘banner year’ for UJAMAA GRANDMAS.  After a variety of successful fundraising events, including the FABRIC & YARN SALE in April, BAGS, BABIES & BEYOND in October, the Bake Sale at the Justice Film Festival, two convocation events at SAIT, and others,  in December the cumulative donations to the SLF reached one million dollars!!

A series of events were held throughout the year to celebrate ten years of the SLF Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign. The Tenth Anniversary Committee implemented some creative new ideas, some of which are slated to become part of our ongoing activities. One such event was Yarn Bombing, where five trees in Tomkins Park were dressed up for a month, raising awareness of UJAMAA GRANDMAS and the issues we support; a second was Knit-Me Bags, where  brightly-coloured bags were stuffed with yarn, needles, and pattern, as well as information about UJAMAA GRANDMAS and distributed at libraries, Knit in Public Day, and other locations. Some recipients donated their completed items for BB&B, although this was not required; others may have made donations to the SLF; and still others may have learned a new skill, or had several hours of enjoyment. Such events support the ‘awareness-raising’ pillar in our mission, and provide new opportunities for creativity and enjoyment for our members.

Finally, during 2016, we hit 500 members. Our growth in numbers:

  • One person in 2004 to 500 members by 2016
  • Just over $4,000 raised in 2004 to over $1,000,000 by 2016
  • 200 items at our first stand-alone handcrafts sale in 2006 to thousands (too many to count!) of items in 2016
  • A small number of customers (we didn’t count them) at our first FABRIC & YARN to lineups as long as one hour to get in the door by 2016

In 2017, UJAMAA GRANDMAS hosted several women from our African partner organizations accompanied by SLF staff members. We learned about communities’ struggles with the HIV/AIDS pandemic and their determination to educate and fight the ignorance and stigma they encountered. We also learned about the latest work of the SLF, with many examples of work at the grass roots.

A Calgary book launch was hosted for the new SLF book “Powered by Love”, with author Joanna Henry and other African partners. The book has justifiably become a best seller and garnered more funds and supporters for the Foundation nationwide.

A Connections Group, comprised of active, concerned members, was formed to help us look to the future and to take positive steps to encourage and recruit a younger and more diverse membership before UJAMAA GRANDMAS diminishes as we age and inevitably become less active.

The three main sales, Bake Sale at the Justice Film Festival, Fabric & Yarn Sale, and BAGS, BABIES & BEYOND all had excellent results. These sales are eagerly anticipated and have become well established in the Calgary event calendar. And this was another astounding year with respect to donations which amounted to $95,539 to the SLF! In addition to our fundraising events, we partnered with a consignment store and BluesFest as a means of increasing our scope in raising funds and awareness for the SLF.

2018 was another year of accomplishment, but it was also a devastating year. Human error resulted in the loss of close to $9,000 through inaccurate credit/debit transactions at BAGS, BABIES & BEYOND in October. A ‘Root Cause Review’ determined that a more accountable process for our operations was needed, due to our size. The Board adopted recommendations from the review, including forming a Sales Finance Committee for each major fundraising event. In line with the need for more formal processes, we established an annual budgetary process.

The monthly E-newsletter and two monthly Gatherings (which are a time to visit, to bring completed products to custodians, and to learn about the Board and SLF activities) kept the 500+ members informed. The Connections Team arranged many social activities for members as requested through a satisfaction survey completed early in the year.  

2019 was a most uplifting year as we contributed $105,000 to the Stephen Lewis Foundation. Our major annual fundraisers, the Fabric & Yarn Sale and BAGS, BABIES & BEYOND were both held with hard work and creativity. A new fundraiser occurred when we were invited to participate in the DeSonus Charity Concerts, where we exceeded our fundraising expectations. 

The Board of Directors held two Strategic Planning sessions, where our three goals of “Nurturing Members”, “Enhancing Awareness” and “Fundraising” were affirmed, and action plans were developed towards these goals. A Governance Committee was formed to develop policies for the organization and terms of reference for eight of our committees and teams.

In 2020, when the pandemic began, our determined and creative UJAMAA GRANDMAS members rose above the chaotic and worrying COVID-19 situation throughout the year.  Many of our usual activities and events were necessarily cancelled in order to follow provincial public health guidelines.  But others were re-created so that members and the public could be safe. As a result,  an amazing $79,082 was sent to SFL.

UJAMAA GRANDMAS stayed connected from March through December via Zoom.  Monthly Board meetings, Gatherings, the AGM and committee meetings were held, with discussions and planning to accomplish our goals of “Nurturing Members”, “Enhancing Awareness” and “Fundraising”.  The Governance Committee spent many hours updating the UJAMAA GRANDMAS By-laws.

Since our Grandmother’s group was founded in 2004 to the end of 2020, the total amount of funds generated for the Stephen Lewis Foundation is a phenomenal $1,544,841!

We have much to be proud of.