Photojournalist Paola Gianturco’s book Grandmother Power: A Global Phenomenon (PowerHouse Books, 2012) is a tribute to the lives of grandmothers from five different continents, as well as the lives they support, the traditions they pass on to future generations, and the changes they inspire in others to make the world better. The grandmothers roll up their sleeves and get to business, creating economic viability for their way of life. They teach traditions that were dying and have thus resurrected art forms. They replace outmoded policies and build new structures.
In Grandmother Power, Gianturco’s full-color photographs show you vivid and beautiful imagery from the grandmothers’ lives. She takes the viewer into seventeen grandmother groups and reveals their global impact. The book also delivers their stories, in their own words. These grandmothers give Paola the details of their lives and their dreams, what they spend hours trying to create and teach. Seventy-three year old Gianturco is also a grandmother. As her fifth book about women around the world, Grandmother Power allows Gianturco’s artwork to be a vehicle that delivers a message about sustainability, sacrifice, and generosity, especially since she is donating 100% of her author proceeds to the Stephen Lewis Foundation. Grandmother Power‘s global impact represents the fierce determination of women to create better societies, better work and educational environments, greater and transcendent understanding. That means caring for those around us in an ever-expanding circle, encompassing more people and conditions until we are reaching the point of true generosity.
Gianturco found this mission to be exemplified by an extraordinary group, the Stephen Lewis Foundation and the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign that began in Canada when 200 Canadian grandmothers and 100 African grandmothers met and “decided to work together to support grandmothers across Africa who are caring for children who have been orphaned by AIDS.” The African grandmothers have lost their children to HIV/AIDS and are often caring for a dozen or more grandchildren. The Canadian grandmothers sat down with the African grandmothers and learned about their cultures, how and why HIV/AIDS moves in a swift deadly force through their families, and the type of grief and overwhelming responsibility that the grandmothers are living. The compassion and determination that the Canadian grandmothers felt and the perseverance and strength of the African grandmothers has resulted in “240 grandmother groups across Canada who work passionately to provide a continuous flow of small cash infusions to the African grandmothers. In the past six years, they have raised $13.5 million.”For the book, Gianturco contacted grandmother groups with different missions across the world. In Grandmother Power, Paola introduces grandmothers seeking to end female genital mutilation, while a group in Ireland teaches gardening and cooking with fresh, local ingredients. She meets a group of Israeli grandmothers who monitor checkpoints to prevent abuse of Palestinians. These are only a small sample of the groups in the book.
To accomplish the challenge of compiling a book inclusive of so many grandmother groups, in countries where Gianturco didn’t speak the language, she had to get over the difficulties and look toward solutions. In an email correspondence with me, Gianturco focused on the connections she could make and called those people, wrote emails, took a plane ride, and hired an interpreter. She was moved by her inspiration, and the answers to her questions were revealed each step along the way.
Gianturco wrote: “I approached each grandmother group a different way: To reach the Storytelling Grandmothers in Argentina, which was founded by the famous Argentine author Mempo Giardinelli, I wrote a university professor who had invited Giardinelli to lecture in the US, and asked him to relay my request.”
Argentina’s Grandmother Storytellers read to children in libraries across their country, promoting literacy and the right to read. During the Argentine military dictatorship of the late 1970s and early ’80s, book burning, banning, and hiding were common ways of life, so these grandmothers do all they can to protect the rights of readers and writers.On her blog, Gianturco writes, “Mabel (pictured above) is one of 2,000 members of the Mempo Giardinelli Foundation’s Storytelling Grandmothers, a group that has been so successful exciting children about reading that its work has been copied by seven other Latin American countries.”
In our email correspondence, Gianturco provided me with more examples of how she connected with the grandmother groups, “To reach the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, I found an interpreter in Buenos Aires who could telephone their office on my behalf.” A human rights organization founded in 1977, these grandmothers’ aim is to find children who were stolen during the Argentine military dictatorship.
To the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, Gianturco wrote a formal proposal and sent copies of her other books for consideration. The International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers formed in 2004, and represents indigenous traditions, shamans and healers, from the four directions. The grandmothers believe themselves to be fulfilling an ancient prophecy.
The grandmothers host sacred ceremonies and take turns in facilitating the ceremonies in different locations. The ceremony pictured here was held in Sedona, Arizona, in 2009. From Gianturco’s blog, “Alarmed at today’s violence, war, hunger, poverty, spiritual disconnection, corruption, pollution, loss of human rights, and materialism, the Grandmothers got to work.” The next ceremony will be held in Kathmandu, Nepal, November 8-11, 2012.
One of the groups of traditional weavers Gianturco contacted is the Kokkabok grandmothers in Thailand. To reach them, she sought the help of TAMMACHAT Natural Textiles in Nova Scotia, which sells the grandmothers’ organic cotton weavings. Alleson Kase and Ellen Agger created TAMMACHAT Natural Textiles, the fair-trade organization, and they travel to Thailand and Laos to work with weavers, most of them grandmothers. “The weavers live in villages,” Agger told me in a Skype call. “The infrastructure isn’t there for women to get jobs. Learning to weave is an important cultural tradition and a family and village tradition.” Many of the Kokkabok grandmothers in Thailand are weaving and looking after their grandchildren. Their “weaving process and vision” consists of growing and harvesting, dyeing and weaving organic cotton.
In her email, Gianturco wrote about the people who helped her to make connections with the grandmother groups, “Now you know why the Acknowledgements page is so full; I could never have done this book without help. I consider this ‘our’ book, even though my name is on the cover.”
Gianturco explains the Grandmother Movement in her book by pointing out that women not only outnumber men worldwide, but grandmothers are outliving their male peers. Grandmothers are younger and hold more power than any other time in history. They are largely more educated and possibly connected by a global, technological network. Grandmother groups are learning about one another and this time to act and push for changes in cultural practices and policies. All of the grandmother groups help to not only empower their grandchildren while also making the earth a better place to live, but they are leaving a legacy to future generations by their generosity as well.
I asked Gianturco, what can grandmothers accomplish globally?
She responded, “We’re about to find out! Grandmothers are respected in their families and communities, are profoundly committed to their grandchildren, and are powerful enough to cause positive change…that’s clear from the 17 activist grandmother groups on 5 continents whose stories are in the book.
Through their work, they are teaching the next generation by modeling important values and behaviors: generosity, compassion, collaboration, patience, perseverance and resilience.
Some–for example, The Stephen Lewis Foundation grandmothers, the Barefoot College grandmothers, the Lilia Pilipina group in the Philippines–are already working across borders and oceans.
My dream about this book is that it will inspire grand people around the globe to use their wisdom, experience, energy, and power on behalf of grandchildren everywhere, all of whom deserve to live in a better world.”
You can find educational resources and more at Grandmother Power.
Paola’s blog offers personal glimpses and continued updates about the grandmother groups featured in the book.
Paola Gianturco, a grandmother herself, has documented women’s lives in 55 countries. Her work has been exhibited at UNESCO’s Paris headquarters; United Nations’ New York headquarters; Chicago’s Field Museum; San Francisco’s International Museum of Women; and many other venues. powerHouse Books has published Gianturco’s Women Who Light the Dark (2007), ¡Viva Colores! A Salute to the Indomitable People of Guatemala (2006), Celebrating Women (2004), and In Her Hands, Craftswomen Changing the World (2004).