Ask Dr. Gramma Karen: Helping the Gogos (Grandmothers) of Swaziland


Dear readers,

In my September 13, 2015 column, my guest columnist was Hannah Laufer-Rottman, founder of Palms for Life, an organization dedicated to eradicating worldwide hunger and poverty. In that column Hannah talked about the important role the grandmothers, known as the Gogos, are playing in Swaziland, a country in Africa. (Gogo is an honorific title that is capitalized.)

Through Palms for Life, Hannah partners with community organizer Precious Nxumalo-Banks, who started a social center for 50 Gogos in northwestern Swaziland. Every Friday Precious serves the Gogos a free meal. At Christmas time Hannah’s organization provides donations so the Gogos can receive special gifts and supplies.

Precious writes about her work with her Gogos.

The Swazi Gogos (Grandmothers)
By Precious Nxumalo-Banks

Zandondo is a rural community in northern Swaziland. In 2006, I set up a pre-school in the area, and gradually started to use the premises for additional community activities.

After a few years getting to know and understand the community, I felt the need to look after the Gogos, by providing a meal at least once a week. The Gogos have not had it easy growing up, with most marrying in their teens or early twenties and spending their entire lives in this rural community.

For example, Gogo Nelly Matsebula is 78 years of age and had four children. She has to look after her two sons, one of whom is sick with tuberculosis, and the other is mentally challenged. Her health is failing her, her eyesight is not good, and her knees are giving in on her. Yet she is still looked up to as head of the family to make ends meet, putting food on the table. Besides her two sons, she lives with two orphaned granddaughters, one who has a year more in high school, and the other who dropped out of school and has since had her own two children.

Due to the HIV/AIDS pandemic and high rate of unemployment, many young and middle-aged parents have died, leaving children to be looked after by the Gogos, as is the case with Nelly Matsebula. Some older girls have left the community in search of work only to fall prey to men they meet and are promised work, and, in the process, get pregnant. They then take their children to be looked after by the grannies. Indeed, the Gogos play a major role in the families.

There is very little state provision in Swaziland, especially for the elderly. The Government does give quarterly grants, but this is not always consistent, and the amounts are small. By the time they receive the money the Gogos already owe this money to a number of different people.

We have NGOs (non-governmental organizations) for different groups in Swaziland, e.g., children, youth and women, but not many that look into the needs of the Gogos; thus I was motivated to at least try to do something for the Gogos in the community. It was for this reason that the lunch club was formed, to at least provide a weekly meal and/or food hampers for the Gogos to take home.

During these lunches, a number of topics are discussed, for example, there are talks on how to handle or look after HIV/AIDS-infected relatives, so they themselves are not infected. Over the years, some Gogos have died through caring for their relatives infected with HIV/AIDS.

You find the Gogos nursing the sick without taking necessary precautions to avoid contracting the virus, e.g., the usage of gloves. I also educate them about hygiene in the homes, the importance of taking their medication and going for their regular check-ups, as most of them are diabetic or have hypertension.

Gogos heading home after a luncheon together
Gogos heading home after a luncheon together

Educating the youth

To also assist the Gogos, we have been educating the youth, especially the girl child on growing up, and helping them understand the importance of education and abstinence, which could reduce the incidence of teenagers having children, who end up being taken care of by the Gogos. This education could be another way of lessening the burden on the Gogos, since otherwise the girls have relationships with boys/men in the hope of getting money to buy neccesities. Hence some of them get HIVand/or fall pregnant, thus affecting our Gogos.

Cancer is seemingly on the rise in Swaziland, especially cervical. Some causes could be that most of the rural children cannot afford sanitary towels and end up using a number of different things that could lead to cancer, e.g., newspapers, toilet paper and pieces of cloth. Now we are trying to organize a supply of sanitary towels so we can give them to the girls each month when we meet.

A closing comment

I want to express how grateful we are to Hannah Laufer-Rottman, Executive Director of Palms for Life Fund, and to the supporters of her organization, for recognizing the plight of our Gogos, and ensuring that the Gogos have something to eat at Christmas and some food to share with their families. For that we are thankful.

Messages from Swazi Gogos to their American counterparts

Gogo Tfwala

“Who would have thought that people from the other end of the world would be thoughtful and consider spending money on us in Swaziland. We thank you and may our gracious Lord continue to keep you.”

Gogo Ngomane

“Much thanks goes to out to Make [Mother] Banks, who thought about us Gogos, the neglected part of our society, now she has given us a platform where we can meet and share ideas, laugh together and grow old together.”

Gogo Matsebula

“We look forward to our regular meetings with Make Banks, to enjoy these hearty, balanced meals she prepares and all the talks that we have. Yes, during this time we are able to offload, speak about our problems that we are faced with at our homes.”

Gogo Nelly Matsebula and Precious Nxumalo-Banks

(Note: Ask Dr. Gramma Karen will next post on Tuesday, January 3, 2017. Wishing everyone a wonderful holiday season and a Happy New Year!)

 Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.

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Ask Dr. Gramma Karen, Volume II: Savvy Advice to Soothe Parent-Grandparent Conflicts

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