Gifts for grandmothers

They say it takes a village to raise a child. Charlotte Day might say that sometimes it takes the help of another village thousands of miles away.

In 2005, Day started GOGO Grandmothers, a ministry within the nonprofit Safe Africa that connects grandmothers across the world and donates resources to Malawian grandmothers. "Gogo" is the word for grandmother used in Malawian villages.

There are now 12 GOGO Grandmothers groups in the U.S., with a chapter in Newport Beach and two in Laguna Beach.

The Newport Beach group, which meets at Mariners Church in Irvine, was the founding chapter of GOGO Grandmothers.

Day and other GOGOs, which is what they call themselves, met at the church Tuesday to look at their latest project — an "ark" full of supplies on its way to Malawi.

Day, 81, lit up when she numbered off the donations the GOGOs have received in just three months.

"We just stand in amazement," Day said. "If you ever doubted there was a God ... "

The ark is painted in vibrant bright colors with images of children across it. The 40-foot container will be filled with a children's playground, school and teaching supplies, games, eating utensils, clothing, blankets and much more.

It will leave on a ship from Long Beach next week and make its way to Mozambique, where it will travel by truck to the village of Zomba, Malawi, where Day and her husband live.

The Days moved to Malawi in 1991, only intending to stay a year. The couple never left.

Due to the transmission of HIV and AIDS in Malawi's adult population, millions of children are orphaned in the small southeast African country — left to care for themselves or, if they're lucky, by family members.

"We have a lot of kids that lose their parents and don't have grandparents and live under a bridge or something," Day said.

She said she noticed that grandmothers, many not equipped to handle a household of five to 10 children, were becoming a new generation of parents.

Besides helping individual villages, GOGO Grandmothers started the Seeds of Soy and Joy program, which teaches grandmothers how to plant and harvest soybeans and use them in soy formula, milk and other ways. They've also donated commercial fertilizer to help sustain crops because the region's soil tends to be nutrient-deficient.

Each GOGO group has its own village that it focuses on.

One of the Laguna Beach chapters, headed by Cathy Cramm and Jeri Rimel, is focusing its efforts on raising enough for a freshwater well for their village, Tikondane, home to 78 grandmothers and 61 children.

Another GOGO group meets at the Little Church by the Sea and is headed by Penny Stastny. She said her group has been focusing on getting the word out about sponsorships so it can get more supplies, such as bed nets to prevent malaria.

For $30, anyone can sponsor a grandmother in Malawi.

"It goes such a long way," Day said. "If people only knew how far $30 could go."

The donation covers everything from school and teaching supplies to bed nets and blankets, Day said. That small amount can help sustain grandmothers with as many as eight children to care for.

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Twitter: @joannaclay

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