Today’s grandmothers are different from mine.
My grandmother lived a mile away. I played under her bushes where spring violets grew.
She baked a dollop of meringue on a saltine cracker as a treat for me—and prepared delicious Sunday dinners: chicken that my grandfather caught and vegetables that she grew in her garden.
Her bathtub had feet and her phone had a party line. She folded Christmas wrappings to use again. She kept her money in a safe inside a kitchen cabinet.
Coal was heaped high in the basement to heat her house. She wore housedresses and braided her hair into a pigtail she could sit on.
Contrast a contemporary grandmother in Argentina who told me: “When I retired, I wondered what to do with all my education and experience—put them in a box?”
It’s a question that working grandmothers everywhere are asking.
Today, the majority of grandmothers in the United States are between the ages of 45 and 64, younger than they’ve ever been historically and too young to retire (although, like that Argentine grandmother, some are starting to think about it).
They are also healthier, better educated—and, because many work, better off than grandmothers have ever been.
These demographics and life experiences make contemporary grandmothers more energetic and effective than ever before—plus there are more of them than there have been in history: around 40 million in the U.S. this year.
All that adds up to a lot of grandmother power!
Many U.S. grandmothers consider our troubled world and conclude, “This place is not good enough for my grandchildren.”
Boomer grandmothers came of age in the 1960’s; they changed the world then and they know how to do it now.
Grandmothers are forming activist groups all over the world to tackle intractable issues: poverty, illiteracy, environmental degradation, disease, injustice and violence.
Never before have grandmothers campaigned so vigorously or universally to make the world a better place.
I interviewed and photographed 120 grandmothers in 17 grandmother groups in 15 countries on 5 continents for GRANDMOTHER POWER, A Global Phenomenon.
It took three years to visit activist grandmothers in North America, Latin America, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia
. I met them as my sisters—I am a grandmother, too.
In India, the women dressed me in their saris for fun; and in Senegal and the Philippines, we danced together.
They invited me into their homes and introduced me to their grandchildren. Then they shared their stories. As I listened, these grandmothers became more than my sisters. They became my heroes.
In India, illiterate grandmothers who had learned solar engineering at the Barefoot College in Rajasthan brought light to 10,000 village households—and everything changed.
Midwives could see to deliver babies at night. Children no longer got black lung disease from studying by kerosene lamps.
The Indian grandmothers returned to the school and taught grandmothers from 23 developing countries who returned home and installed solar electricity in 35,000 households all over the global south.
In Argentina, 2,000 grandmothers go to schools weekly to read to children. Their love of children and good literature has jet-propelled youngsters’ passion for reading and for books.
The Mempo Giardinelli Foundation’s Storytelling Grandmother Program has been incorporated into Argentina’s national curriculum and copied by seven other countries.
Grandmothers in Ireland worry about child obesity. Preservatives, fast and frozen foods are leeched of nutrition.
On The Slow Food Movement’s International Grandmother’s Day each April, grandmothers teach their grandchildren how to plant, fish, forage for—then cook and enjoy—fresh, local food.
Eight thousand Canadian grandmothers stand in solidarity with African grandmothers who are raising children orphaned by AIDS.
They have formed a partnership, the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign, coordinated by the Stephen Lewis Foundation, which is based in Toronto.
The Canadian grandmothers will do almost anything to earn money for their African counterparts: sell ice cream at the beach, cater weddings, create and sell crafts, and so much more.
In the past six years, 240 Canadian grandmother groups have raised $16.5 million, enough to send continuous small cash infusions to grandmothers raising children orphaned by AIDS in 15 African countries.
I have been so inspired by them that 100% of my author royalties from GRANDMOTHER POWER are going to the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign.
While grandmothers are changing the world, they are also teaching their grandchildren life lessons that I believe are crucial:
If you are a grandmother, know a grandmother, have a grandmother or are a GrandOther, consider starting, joining, supporting or networking with an activist grandmother group.
More than 70 groups in 33 countries are listed on the “Show Your Power” pages of the book website and if I’ve missed any, I hope you will email me details!
I encourage you to become involved in the new, international activist grandmothers movement. You have much to contribute.
And I am convinced down to my shoe tops that it will take all of us -- all of us! -- working together to create hope and possibility for our world.
This article originally appeared on Mariashriver.com and has been reprinted here with permission. Paola Gianturco is an author and documentary photographer. GRANDMOTHER POWER, A Global Phenomenon is her fifth book.