First the grandmothers raised money to supply pink uniforms for midwives in Ivory Coast. Then they worked their way up to funding a hospital incinerator. "The world is changed by lots and lots of people doing small things," said Bobby Righi, one of eight members of Grandmothers for Race and Class Equality, or GRACE.
First the grandmothers raised money to supply pink uniforms for midwives in Ivory Coast. Then they worked their way up to funding a hospital incinerator.
Never mind that the latter project was put on hold for six months during a postelection crisis in the West African country — that simply gave this group of Seattle-area women their next idea: Helping a children’s clinic rebuild after it was looted and ransacked.
Whatever they decide to do, and no matter how tiny the project, the women believe they make a difference.
“The world is changed by lots and lots of people doing small things,” said Bobby Righi, one of eight members of Grandmothers for Race and Class Equality, or GRACE.
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The members meet monthly to discuss local and international issues and don’t consider their work much of a sacrifice.
Righi says it means giving up an evening now and then, and perhaps donating $50 to a charitable cause, or persuading others to do so, something they’re apparently good at.
Through fundraising in Seattle last year, the women netted about $7,000 to build an incinerator for a medium-sized hospital in Béoumi, a city of roughly 400,000 in the middle of Ivory Coast.
Before, the hospital’s hazardous medical waste, including needles, was dumped in a shallow hole near the hospital’s maternity ward. Children could play or scavenge in the garbage.
The incinerator, made mostly of brick and cement, also destroys waste brought in from other clinics in the region.
“It’s really important to see the result,” said Sharon Felton, another of the grandmothers — who aren’t all grandmothers but are close to retirement age.
Many people donate to worthy causes, Felton said, but never end up seeing what happens with their money. For GRACE, it’s important to have something tangible and grass-roots.
The grandmothers formed their group four years ago, as Righi was retiring from her job teaching math at Seattle Central Community College. Its eight members live across the city, from Beacon Hill and Rainier Valley to Phinney Ridge and Fremont. One lives in Bellevue.
Their first major project, in 2008, was to raise money for midwives’ uniforms.
They got the idea from their connections with Stephen Gloyd, a University of Washington professor who founded Health Alliance International, a nonprofit that works in five countries and is based at the university’s global health department.
The alliance made available a wish list from their local partners in Ivory Coast, also known as Côte d’Ivoire, which had been divided by civil war since 2002.
A new car was on that list, but the members of GRACE wanted to tackle something they were sure they could deliver. They chose uniforms for midwives.
“They usually wear pink uniforms, but the Ministry of Health didn’t have any funds,” said Julia Robinson, the alliance’s technical adviser for country programs.
The grandmothers were able to raise about $700 — enough to pay for about 35 uniforms for midwives in three districts in the north of the country. They were sewn by a local tailor, and were a morale boost to the health workers, Robinson said.
GRACE’s logo, with Seattle’s name, was sewn on the outer pockets.
The incinerator was a trickier project. After the money was raised, and a hospital selected, Ivory Coast had an election, and the incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to concede. He and his supporters held on to power, while the internationally recognized winner, Alassane Ouattara, set up shop a few blocks away.
During the four-month standoff, banks were closed and many businesses and offices were looted.
“It got really, really ugly,” said Ahoua Koné, Gloyd’s wife and the country director for Health Alliance, whose office in the capital, Abidjan, was destroyed. “Everyone was scared. You couldn’t trust anybody.”
Members of GRACE say they were more worried about the well-being of their partners than about the stalled incinerator.
Finally, the conflict ended, and the project was back on track. The incinerator was built in June and July and began burning waste last month.
Another small project, sure. But tangible, practical and potentially lifesaving.
Said Helen Taylor, the GRACE member from Bellevue: “You can be a small group of people and have an impact on another part of the world.”
Jeff Hodson: 206-464-2109 or firstname.lastname@example.org