Today all over South Africa there are grandmothers holding together families affected by HIV/AIDS and poverty. Often these women are the sole bread winners in a household. They may also be nursing the dying and bringing up orphaned grandchildren on their own.
In the past AIDS organizations have tended to focus on younger age groups and grandmothers have had little or no support. Research shows that these grandmothers suffer from a lack of information, stigmatization and overriding poverty.
In October 2001 GAPA started as a self help project in Khayelitsha, outside Cape Town, South Africa. GAPA’s intervention has a two pronged approach. Workshops are held each month for grandmothers were they learn about HIV infection and AIDS. Practical skills to overcome effects of the pandemic on households are taught. The workshops cover topics such as vegetable gardening, human rights, elder abuse, accessing social grants, drawing up a will and business skills. Grandmothers are also invited to attend support groups held in area representatives homes once a week.
In December 2004 there were 19 psychosocial support groups in Khayelitsha and 3 cooperative groups near Umtata in the Eastern Cape.
New grandmothers are drawn to the project each month when they attend 3 day workshops that are designed to meet their educational and practical needs caused by the pandemic. GAPA membership is limited to grandmothers who are 50 years and older and who have been affected by HIV/AIDS in some way. In some cases their adult children have died or are very ill and need nursing. Some have to care for orphaned children while some are grieving for lost family members and feel unable to cope with their day to day lives.
Grandfathers who are present in households support GAPA because it strengthens their wives coping skills enabling them to take care of their families in the way that they are expected to.