Putting a Spotlight on Trailblazing Grandmother Activists Around the World

Today's grandmothers are younger, better educated, healthier and more numerous than they have ever been—and they are energetically and effectively changing the world.

As a photojournalist working in Africa in 2006, I met so many grandmothers who were raising grandchildren who had been orphaned by AIDS that I left thinking, "The future of the African continent rests in the hands of the grandmothers!" This inspired me to do research on what grandmothers were doing in other places... and I discovered an emerging international grandmother's movement.

Groups of activist grandmothers all over the globe, determined to create a better future for their grandchildren, are tackling a wide range of social, economic and political justice issues: running literacy programs, child abuse hot lines, bringing solar electricity to dark villages, and fighting against human rights abuses. Today's grandmothers are younger, better educated, healthier and more numerous than they have ever been—and they are energetically and effectively changing the world. Grandmothers are a powerful resource for important social change... but not many people know about the activists, much less a whole movement of them. To share what I've learned, I created a book in 2012 called Grandmother Power, and I've shared rich stories and photos of grandmothers fighting for a better future for their grandchildren on my website. This inspired the new traveling museum exhibit just launched this year, designed by Genesis Inc.

In the exhibit, the grandmothers symbolize family and community, which is represented on columns. There's also an interactive station that allows visitors to add stories about their own grandmothers, which will travel with the exhibit. To further build community around the concept of grandmothers, the Grand Rapids Public Museum in Michigan has a full schedule of activities on the docket... everything from grandchildren shadowing their volunteer grandmothers so they can learn about community service, to Grandmother "Power Lunches" with prominent grandmother speakers.

And, just to give you an idea of the amazing stories featured in the exhibit, here are some highlights...

After their dictatorship suppressed the freedom to read for years, Argentine grandmothers are bringing the gift of reading to a new generation. Through the “Storytelling Grandmothers” program, grandmothers across Argentina are helping to re-engage children with books.

In India, grandmothers learned solar engineering and brought electricity to their villages. Their work was so effective that the United Nations began sending grandmothers from other countries to learn from them.

The International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers, all healers and shamans, hold public meetings where each grandmother conducts a ceremony according to her own tradition, to heal the environment and pray for peace.

In Senegal, grandmothers are forging a healthier future for the women and children in their communities. Through education, they are working to end the practice of female genital mutilation, a deep-rooted cultural tradition.

Thai grandmothers leaned on the ancient tradition of cotton weaving to help fight the negative impacts of mining. By donating part of their wages, they helped put an end to industrial pollution in their villages.

Because the Grandmother Movement in the U.S. is not as developed as it is in other countries, I’m hoping that the book and exhibit will inspire American grandmothers to start, join, and support activist grandmother groups that will tackle important issues in their own communities.

If you'd like to participate or you know a grandmother that should, you can:

1. Support or join an existing grandmother activist group, or create your own at Global Grandmother Power.

2. Check out the traveling exhibit.

3. Add your story to the exhibit. Click here to add it to your To-Do list.

This project is part of GOOD's series Push for Good—our guide to crowdsourcing creative progress.


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Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

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Screenshot via (left) Wikimedia Commons (right)

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