Photo by Maria Araujo
In the early 2000s, AIDS was the leading cause of death in Africa—one that ended millions of lives. At that time, the continent had the highest number of infectees in the world, and since people knew very little about the disease, it spread, caused many deaths and left millions of children tragically orphaned. The grandmothers of these orphans were often forced to take care of them, in addition to carrying the burden and grief that came with loss of their own children.
Powered by Love, a 2017 Goose Lane Editions publication, strongly conveys the enormous impact AIDS had on grandmothers—an often-ignored group of vulnerable (yet valuable) people in any community. In the book, author Joanna Henry and photographer Alexis MacDonald travel through eight African countries with Ilana Landsberg-Lewis to document intimate, profound and heart-wrenching stories of unbearable loss, grief and denial. Every photograph, portrait and story in the book describes a grandmother’s unique battle with HIV and AIDS, death, loss and a love burden to take care of her orphaned grandchildren. The stories leave the reader with a crushing eagerness to learn more about the pandemic, the grandmothers and how their Canadian sisters step in to share the burden.
This book tells more than stories of death and loss. As the title suggests, Powered by Love does not only acknowledge the “profound love and unbearable bond grandmothers have with their grandchildren,” but also the “tenacious nature of women’s organizing power,” which led to the birth of a movement powered by love: the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign. This was launched by the Stephen Lewis Foundation to encourage Canadian grandmothers to support their African sisters.
With each page, Powered by Love goes from breaking the reader’s heart to restoring hope. The themes gradually change from death, loss and despair to love, restoration, unity and hope. The African grandmothers’ stories go from grief-filled to standing together, becoming leaders in their community, and taking the initiative to fight and end the struggle of AIDS. The African grandmothers’ growth, the Canadian grandmothers’ overwhelming love and the relationship the two develop as they stand together to fight the “shameful disease” is commendable—and perhaps the best aspect of the book.
There are many things to appreciate about Powered by Love, such as the poetic writing and delivery, the sturdy images and the inspirational stories. What I appreciated most about it, however, was the overall tone. The book’s rawness and authenticity remarkably bring these fierce women to light, appreciatively noting the grandmothers, the roles they play, and they love they have for their children, grandchildren and each other. Powered by Love brings the collective power of love and unity to life in an otherwise bleak world.
As an African and someone who has witnessed first-hand what a treasure it is to grow with one’s grandmother, I commend Powered by Love for celebrating these women. More importantly, though, I commend the writers and photographer for not delivering an African story in a condescending manner—but rather, in an authentic, warm and congenial one. I also commend the book for delivering a moving story and for celebrating an overlooked group of people: our grandmothers.
Powered by Love is a must read. Delve into this tremendous book to experience an overwhelming power of love.