Through the camera lens, Alexis MacDonald has told the story of African grandmothers who are raising their grandchildren.
“It was such a privilege to be the photographer. But there’s a responsibility that comes with capturing these moments that the grandmothers are proud of. We were let into the homes of these women and into their grief.”
MacDonald, a Summerside native, works for the Stephen Lewis Foundation, which works to support grassroots initiatives in Africa that provide resources to grandmothers who are caring for their grandchildren because their parents died due to HIV/AIDS.
Last month, MacDonald’s photographs hit the shelves in stores across the country in the book “Powered by Love: A Grandmothers’ Movement to end AIDS in Africa”.
Written by her co-worker Joanna Henry, and Stephen Lewis Foundation co-founder, Ilana Landsberg-Lewis.
“The book is about 300 pages and took five years to write. It is a powerful book of women’s voices, both African grandmothers and the Canadians counterparts that are working to support them, about the mobilization of this fight against AIDS and what it means when women are empowered.”
Through the Stephen Lewis Foundation, 270 Canadian grandmother groups have raised $27 million over 10 years, to go toward grass roots initiatives in Africa to support these grandmothers, she said.
“AIDS is taking away parents and leaving behind these legions of children. And that’s what this book is about: grandmothers stepping into this big gap left behind after loss and taking care of their grandchildren.”
The story of Monica, a grandmother from Jinja, Uganda is featured in the book. MacDonald remembers taking a photo of Monica with her grandchildren.
“It was taken in 2012. She has since passed away. At the time she was taking care of her grandchildren and living with HIV.
“They were living in a home that had a leaky roof and there wasn’t enough room. While she did have access to antiretroviral medication to help with the HIV, she was worried about what would happen to her grandchildren when she died.
“So the people of her grandmother support group in her community helped organize the build of a new house as well as a will for her, which indicated the home would belong to her grandchildren after her death.”
She added, “You can see in the photo the love Monica has for her grandchildren. How do you go on when you’ve lost your own children? These women are faced with this choice. They have to get up everyday and take care of their grandchildren because they love them. We don’t talk about love as a force for good often enough. But this is what these stories show.”
What was so powerful was the opportunity to use the lens to show the strength and power of women, said MacDonald.
“I could use this tool to show how these African women wanted to be seen, rather than the way they have been portrayed. It allowed us to defy the stereotypes older women are seen as. These are not women to pity.”
MacDonald says it shows the importance of listening to the people in the communities that are going through this fight.
“There is power listening to their voices. We are standing in solidarity with them, but following their lead. Through the fundraising, the Canadians helping their African sisters are asking them what do you need for us to support you, and how can we get out of the way.”