The Victoria Grandmothers for Africa are making their 275 kilometre trek from Campbell River to Victoria starting September 7. In this photo, the ladies are at the top of the Cowichan Bay Hill on trip last year. Laurie Wilson is the one with a blue helmet. File contributed

Victoria grandmothers cycle to end stigma, help women’s rights in Africa

The senior group will pedal 275 kilometres from Campbell River to Victoria to fundraise

Cycling from Campbell River to Victoria is no easy feat, but for 25 local women, the struggle is what helps them feel connected to who they’re riding for.

The Victoria Grandmothers for Africa (VG4A) are hosting their 12th annual Cycle Tour to raise funds for the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign, an effort to help grandmothers across Africa struggling to keep their families together amidst the HIV/AIDS epidemic that is still sweeping the continent.

“It’s a really powerful story of collaboration, of older women doing what each other needs,” said Laurie Wilson, media spokesperson for the Cycle Tour 2018. “Some grannies say that when they cycle, that’s when they feel the solidarity. When it’s hard and hot and smoky and hills are long, that’s when you feel the most connected.”

Women across Canada have joined the Grandmothers for Grandmothers campaign, and since 2006 have raised over $25 million for the cause. The Victoria branch alone has raised over $1 million, and continues to try to spread the word, though it’s not easy.

RELATED: Victoria grandmothers ride the Island to help African orphans

“There’s an interesting kind of invisibility when you’re an older lady,” Wilson said. “You don’t get the same attention as a young woman, or even an older man.”

It’s this kind of struggle that continues to push them along, fighting for the marginalized women in Africa who themselves continue to stand up against the stigmas of AIDS and limitations on women’s rights.

“They are inspiring by the effort that they put into whatever they do,” Wilson said. “They are our age and older, from their 50s to 80s, caring for large numbers of children with very few resources… but, they’ve become very good at supporting each other, becoming experts about medicine, and hounding people to visit clinics.”

In order to gain their own resilience, the Victoria grannies have been training steadily for a year, with weekly two-hour cycles from September to April, followed by a 25-week training program starting in mid April.

ALSO READ: Grandmothers walk for grandmothers

“Every Monday we gradually increase our distance and add a couple hills,” Wilson said. “Just last week we did two back-to-back 90 km routes, so it’s a pretty fit group… some of the ladies who can ride fastest up the hill are in their 70s!”

This year, riders from age 55 to 75 will participate in the three day, 275 km trek down the Island. For the last leg of the ride, the VG4A will by joined by Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, before finishing in Centennial Square at 2:45 p.m. on Sunday, September 9th. The celebration will end with music, food and refreshments.

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