Merville grandmother visiting Africa

MERVILLE GRAND MOTHER Tina Filippino will leave the comforts of her Comox Valley home to witness firsthand the work of the Stephen Lewis Foundation in Africa. - Jan Wilderom
MERVILLE GRAND MOTHER Tina Filippino will leave the comforts of her Comox Valley home to witness firsthand the work of the Stephen Lewis Foundation in Africa.
— image credit: Jan Wilderom

Billions of dollars are donated each year to thousands of charities around the world. Ever wonder where your money is going?

Well, Merville resident Tina Filippino is flying over 17 hours to the front lines to see just where the Stephen Lewis Foundation is spending their donated money.

“I start off in Ethiopia, Addis Ababa,” joked Filippino. “I will be heading overnight into the country to visit a program. We spend about eight days in Ethiopia and then I travel to South Africa.”

Filippino is a member of the Merville Grand Mothers delegation and was selected to go on the trip after applying and being nominated by other members of the Grand Mothers group, said Filippino.

“I was pretty surprised to be chosen. There’s 240 Grand Mother groups and all the possibilities of the people who could be nominated because they only choose 21 out of the whole country.”

Stephen Lewis was a former Canadian politician who then took placement as the Canadian ambassador to the United Nations. In the '90s he was the deputy director of UNICEF and his involvement with other nations inspired him to start the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

“In 2006 there was an AIDS conference in Toronto and Stephen Lewis was part of the meeting,” said fellow Grand Mother Sally Gellard. “After the AIDS pandemic in Africa parents had died. One or both, and it was the grandmothers who raised the children and nobody was recognizing that.

“He (Stephen Lewis) recognized that and about 100 Grand Mothers were sent over to Africa with Aeroplan mile points. Out of that formed a movement.

"A campaign to say Canadian Grand Mothers showing up with African grand mothers to recognize they are going through this time. This hardship.”

What makes this foundation unique to others is the fact there aren’t any intermediaries. There are no Canadians on the ground directing the programs, said Filippino.

“It’s the African Grand Mothers themselves. They organize the programs. They apply for the grant and they run the programs.”

Filippino said she got the inspiration to apply for the trip after going to a tribunal in the fall.

“They brought Grand Mothers over from Africa. Up until then we were raising money because Grand Mothers need our help is kind of how I felt. These were really powerful advocates. They are really showing us the way and showing us how to stand up and make a change.

“It’s not like a holiday,” continued Filippino. “We have a specific purpose. I’m really excited to meet different Grand Mothers from across Canada. It feels like I have a job to do.”

Filippino said the Comox Valley community has been really supportive, as the trip was made possible through fundraising.

“On new years day I did a community sing. I am a choir director (of Letz Sing) and 130 something people showed up so they contributed to get in. They bought goodies and we got a whole lot of money. Almost half the trip that way.”

“When I walk down the street people are handing me money. People are really, really supportive.”

To help fund Filippino’s trip, contact the Stephen Lewis Foundation at


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