For about 30 elder Victoria cyclists, a “tour across sub-Saharan Africa” reached a finale at the Mile 0 monument the morning of Sept. 12.
Those who peddled from Central Park to the Beacon Hill Park monument on a windy Sunday morning made up about half of the total Victoria Grandmothers for Africa group; 65 cyclists ages 58 to 86 who rode a combined 28,000 km in support of peers in Africa.
This year’s 15th annual fundraiser raised $103,000 for African grandmothers who are building community against AIDS, HIV and this year, disproportionately low COVID vaccination rates.
Mayor Lisa Helps joined the Victoria Grandmothers on the final 3.5 km leg of their cycle for a fifth year in a row.
“It’s physical labour, as you know, but it’s also such a good cause,” she told the cyclists. “Even as the world changes and causes change, what you’re doing is so important.”
Only about three per cent of the African continent’s population is vaccinated, Helps said, compared to Canada’s 67.8 per cent, according to the World Health Organization and the government of Canada. Funds raised by the Victoria Grandmothers will go to the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers for Grandmothers campaign, which has funded matriarchal leadership in response to the African AIDS crisis since 2006. Seventy-six cents for every dollar donated to the foundation goes directly to their cause, according to Charity Intelligence Canada.
Victoria resident Lisbie Rea, a retired professor of theatre who rode Sunday, said she attended a conference of 500 elder women in the southeast African country of Eswatini, confronting community gaps created by the AIDS crisis.
“It absolutely changed my life (and) gave me a focus for my retirement,” she said. “They are astonishingly inventive, courageous women and they deserve all of the support that we can give them.”
To that end, Rea said the Victoria Grandmothers asked their cyclists from Victoria, Campbell River, Duncan, Ladysmith and Merville to push themselves on their individual biking routes.
“Don’t be too cautious – dare yourselves to go as far as you can” was the ethos, she said. One elder cyclist who aspired to 50 km finished the campaign with 300 km behind her.
Those interested in donating towards the Victoria Grandmothers’ efforts can do so online at victoriagrandmothersforafrica.ca.
“We, as grandmothers and in solidarity with grandmothers, understand (the African elders) impetus to look after their orphans,” Rea said. “We want to do everything we can.”
Following the ease of pandemic travel restrictions, Helps said she wouldn’t put it past Victoria’s grandmothers to bike across the sub-Saharan continent in actuality.
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