Africa: Granny Power for Development

Rome — Q. Another name for an under-utilized renewable resource for maternal and child nutrition, health and development?

A. Granny.

Grandmothers, according to FAO Nutrition Expert William Clay, represent "an abundant resource for development in all countries that is vastly under-utilized". Involving grandmothers promises higher success rates for nutrition, health and community development projects, says Clay.

Grandmother inclusion

The pro-granny approach was pioneered by American community development and health specialist Dr. Judi Aubel who presented her "grandmother-inclusive methodology" at a seminar held at FAO recently.

Most development projects are youth-biased, reflecting the cultural attitudes of the Western organizations implementing them, Aubel said.

While Westerners often treat older people as second-class citizens, in Africa and much of the non-western world elders are listened to as respected members of their families and communities.

"Elders are natural leaders. Young people are taught to value their knowledge and experience and are expected to look to them for advice," Aubel explained.

Empowering grandma

Development workers have for years promoted gender equity in projects, recognizing the crucial role played by women in rural societies, Aubel noted.

Such efforts have, however, focused primarily on women of childbearing age, ignoring different cultural values regarding older women - as well as the fact that in many countries grandmothers may be aged 40 or less.

Aubel directs a fledgling NGO called The Grandmother Project. Using the grandmother-inclusive approach The Grandmother Project reports that its efforts to empower grandmothers has greatly increased the success of maternal and child health projects in Senegal, Mali and Laos.

And grandfathers? They certainly have a different role - and often a different agenda -- but they can be very powerful allies if approached in the right way.

Big Heart

The Grandmother Project's method often uses songs written by local trainees to encourage other senior women to become involved. According to Aubel, "When one group heard:

'Dearest grandmother, you are so wonderful,

You have a big heart and are full of understanding. .

May God give you long life.'

It brought tears to their eyes. They couldn't wait to come on board".

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