Grandmothers Helping Others Through Activism

Want to get involved? One photojournalist spotlights and supports the work of grandmother activists to help you help others.

By Lisa Carpenter

A popular concept of late is that of finding one’s tribe, the group with whom we fit, folks whose values and actions resonate with and reflect what’s in our hearts. Grandmother and photojournalist Paola Gianturco (pictured, right, with grandparent blogger, Donne Davis) found her tribe in diverse women all across the globe. Then she wrote a book about them — the inspirational grandmothers facilitating change in their communities, their cultures, their world and ours.

In Grandmother Power: A Global Phenomenon, Gianturco, a former advertising executive, pairs her photos with the personal stories of 120 grandmother activists from fifteen countries making their mark on the world. They are women who, despite different cultures and issues, shared one over-riding concern.

“The one universal,” Gianturco says, “was their observation of our troubled world and the conclusion that this world just plain was not good enough for their grandchildren.”

The issues tackled by the activist grandmothers in this, Gianturco’s fifth book, tend to be unique to each culture, each country, Gianturco says, issues often unheard of in the United States.

“Female genital mutilation is not a problem in the United States, but it was a huge problem in rural Senegal. It’s not a problem in the United States to have to have no electricity in your village, but it’s a huge problem all over central Asia and Africa.”

Other problems the grandmother activists fight against run the gamut from heart wrenching to heartwarming. Argentine grandmothers continue the 40-year search for grandchildren kidnapped during the nation’s military dictatorship. Irish grandmothers teach children to cook. Indigenous grandmothers conduct healing rituals to bring peace to the world. Plus many others.

Gianturco captured the stories of such grandmothers united against inequities, injustices, inhumanities in the words of the grandmothers themselves. All author royalties from her book will be donated to the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign, a Canadian organization which benefits grandmothers in African countries who are raising AIDS orphans.

“I’ve always chosen to give my royalties from my books to an organization that is working on the issues in the books,” Gianturco says. Her “dream” with her books — all of which have documented the lives of women across the globe — is that they “help people understand each other more completely so that they can work together to tackle the problems that seem to me to be pervasive everywhere.”

Gianturco credits in part her own Italian grandmother — whom she never met — for her heart for activism and doing one’s part to make the world a better place.

“I discovered about her through her diary,” Gianturco says of her grandmother. “She had written it for her own children so that they would know what their parents life had been like, so it was a very intimate look.” 

Gianturco’s grandmother had married a member of parliament in Italy, and when he was running for office, she dressed in the costumes of the newly unified provinces and wrote his speeches. She also wrote letters to the editor on contemporary issues, including divorce and abortion.

“I don’t know that any of those things are transmitted genetically, but I could see her in me in ways that really surprised me,” Gianturco says. “She was a writer and she was essentially an activist.”

Gianturco read accounts of her grandmother affecting issues of long ago Italy, and she’s heard hundreds of stories of grandmothers bringing about unprecedented change in countries across the world. Threaded through all the stories, Gianturco says, are grandmothers teaching important lessons of collaboration, generosity, patience, perseverance and resilience. Being a grandmother activist, she says, is nothing more or less than trying to make the world better for one’s grandchildren and helping them deal with their world.

“Sometimes activism is simply a way of engaging with grandchildren directly in order to make their worlds more complete and make them more effective in their own lives,” Gianturco says. “Sometimes it is trying to move mountains of economic, social and political injustice. And it can be everything in between.”

Whatever the degree to which a grandmother — or grandfather — wants to pursue activism, Gianturco advises taking an inventory of one’s skill sets and interests, then considering local issues for engagement.

“It is much more likely that you will be effective if you can see your own work changing things for the better and affecting your own family, your own grandchildren’s futures.”

The next step is deciding how to take action. “I see this as start a group, join a group, support a group, network with groups,” Gianturco says. Groups can be found through local newspapers and networks or by choosing from the list of grandmother groups featured in Grandmother Power, available in the “Show Your Power” tab on the Grandmother Power website.

Today’s generation of grandmothers, particularly in the United States, is younger, healthier and wealthier than past generations, Gianturco points out.

“It’s a fantastic resource that has never existed before, that really could be effective in making the world better.”

Gianturco’s high praise may be filled with high expectation. Yet no one might know better what grandparents are capable of than this grandmother who has documented what can and does happen when grandmothers across the globe join together to improve the world for their grandchildren and the generations to come.

Lisa Carpenter is a mother, grandmother and writer of the blog Grandma's Briefs. You can read more of her musings at



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