Lynn Popoff is the grandmotherly type, there is no doubt about that.
Almost a decade ago, she joined a group a fellow grandmothers in a bid to help out their counterparts in Africa.
That was 2006, and Africa was suffering an AIDS epidemic that decimated an entire generation, leaving many grandmothers alone to raise their grandchildren, the intervening generation of wage earners dead.
Popoff, who has family in Johannesburg, South Africa, had first-hand experience of what conditions can be like for people living in Africa.
“Anyone who has visited there, you just can’t help but feel for what the people have gone through,” said Popoff. “So, in 2006, when the grannies were just starting, I got in touch with them and asked if I could do their publicity.”
The grannies she refers to were Grandmothers for Africa, raising money here for the Stephen Lewis Foundation and its Grandmother to Grandmother campaign.
“When the Penticton group got started in 2006, I think there were only about six granny groups and now I think it is 260,” said Popoff.
Grandmothers for Africa is a strong social movement, she said, that appeals to an older demographic. For one, they have the time and resources to donate to the work, but also grandmothers can relate to the tragedy of losing their children, and once again finding themselves in a parenting role.
“It’s draining, it takes all your energy,” she said, adding that she found herself inspired by how well the African grandmothers are handling it when she visited Swaziland as part of a GFA delegation and heard firsthand their stories.
“They are really heart-wrenching stories and we would be close to tears, time and time again,” said Popoff. But then the African women would start to sing.
“And all of a sudden everyone in the grandmother group, including the Canadians, would be singing and dancing until everyone felt better,” she said. “It was the African grandmothers cheering up the Canadian grandmothers, time and time again.”
Publicity and communications, she explained, comes from her work as a school principal.
“If you weren’t communicating well with your teachers or with the staff or the kids, the school wouldn’t go smoothly,” she said. “That is certainly a part of my professional background that I use with these. When I join a group, I usually have in mind helping them with the publicity and that sort of thing.”
Popoff has also put in a lot of hours volunteering for the South Okanagan chapter of Habitat for Humanity. Though the work with the grandmothers is important, she said, they aren’t the only ones needing aid.
“I also understand that there are a lot of Canadians that need help,” said Popoff, explaining that the work for Habitat gave her a sense of balance.
“I enjoy Habitat most when they are building, that is exciting. In between builds, I am not as keen a volunteer,” said Popoff.
Considering work for Habitat included being co-chair of the chapter and several other executive positions, including handling their publicity, many groups might like having “not as keen a volunteer” as Popoff.