GUILDFORD — A woman casually strolled through the lower level of Guildford Town Centre – just one of 100 or so people doing the same thing in the same spot at the same time.
Then things got weird. Suddenly and without warning, the woman – Ariel Eastman – unzipped her winter jacket and threw it deliberately to the floor.
And she began to dance.
Simultaneously, the Christmas-themed shopping mall music ended, replaced with an anthem of sorts – the Eurythmics’ Sisters are Doin’ It for Themselves.
And Eastman kept on dancing.
Soon, other “shoppers” tossed aside their own outerwear and moved in to join her. Then a door opened and dozens more poured into the centre of the mall. Ultimately, 120 women, each dressed in red, would be “doin’ it for themselves.”
Flash mobs of this size and scope are fun to watch wherever they may happen, but last Thursday’s large-scale Guildford gathering held a special appeal.
For starters, these weren’t teens or tweens or young students at a dance class. These were grandmothers. Some had a history of dance, most didn’t. They were a cross-section of women whose children had already had children of their own.
But more than that, they were dancing for a cause. These were the Greater Vancouver Gogos, a network of 25 “Grandmothers Campaign” groups that work tirelessly on behalf of the Stephen Lewis Foundation.
But let’s back up a bit.
It all started in 2006, when Canadian humanitarian Stephen Lewis noticed a disturbing trend while travelling through Africa. The AIDs epidemic had hit young adults – many of them parents – the hardest, killing many of them and leaving grandparents to raise grandchildren. He put out a call for Canadian grandmothers to bond with their African counterparts.
And the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign was born. Today, there are 240 regional groups across Canada. In the Lower Mainland, many of the affiliates incorporate the word “gogo,” which in Zulu means grandmother.
The mandate is to raise funds for and create awareness of their African counterparts. And on World Aids Day 2016, they figured cross-country flash mobs would be a superb way to do it.
“Today,” said Greater Vancouver Gogos co-chair Judy Johnson just minutes before the mob began, “we’re marking World Aids Day. We’re here in support of our African sisters – grandmothers who stepped into the fray, raising their grandchildren who’ve been orphaned by the AIDs pandemic.
“If it wasn’t for these women, I don’t know what would be happening over there. We all want our children to grow up in a world of possibilities. The difference is that in my life, I have a lot of resources. I live in a county with a lot of services and a lot of supports. These women don’t. They’re doing it for themselves, and we think they shouldn’t do it on their own. They should have support from the rest of us, and we stand with them in support, in raising awareness, and in raising funds.”
But Johnson et all are also out to break stereotypes.
“Gone are the days when grannies were only in the kitchen baking cookies. Grandmothers today are doing everything. In Africa, they’re supporting communities and raising families under very tough conditions.”
Pat Glennie was there, one of at least 20 Surreyites from the two local chapters (Oneness Gogos and Ubuntu Gogos).
“I joined because my husband and I visited Kenya and Tanzania, and then came home and saw an article in the Now about the Grandmothers. I decided I could help. We hope we can make a difference.”
Surrey’s Kathy Cuthbert, the other Greater Vancouver co-chair, says she may not be a great dancer but she sure likes doing it – especially when she’s inspired.
“I like dancing but it’s not my strength,” says Cuthbert. “But it’s inspiring when we think of the grandmothers in Africa and how every one of their get-togethers include dancing. Singing and dancing. That’s an inspiration to us.”
You don’t have to be a grandmother to join the Greater Vancouver Gogos – and dancing shoes are not mandatory.
For more information, visit Greatervangogos.org.