Granny power! New book highlights activist grandmothers

Granny power! New book highlights activist grandmothers
Courtesy of Paola Gianturco

They don’t call her grand for nothing.

Photojournalist and granny to two, Paola Gianturco discovered on her travels across five continents that the old matrons are reshaping the world — and she brought together their faces and stories in her new book, “Grandmother Power.”

The 73-year-old Gianturco said she decided to embark on the project after a 2006 trip to AIDS-plagued Kenya, where she interviewed dozens of small village women and noticed an alarming trend when she asked how many children they had.

“They all answered in essentially the same format: ‘I have so many children, and then this many adopted,’” said Gianturco, who will speak at powerHouse Arena in DUMBO on Feb 4.

Gianturco said she realized that disease had killed almost a generation of parents, leaving grandmothers to rear the orphans. And the Kenyans weren’t alone. Everywhere Gianturco travelled in Africa, the situation was the same: mothers and fathers dead from AIDS, and grandmas caring for the children.

“The future of the continent rests in the hands of the grandmothers,” Gianturco said, adding that many of the matriarchs had begun to organize to raise awareness of their struggles and obtain aid.

The African grandmas inspired Gianturco to see what dowagers were doing elsewhere on the planet. What she found astounded her:

• In India, instructors at the famous “Barefoot College” began training provincial grandmothers to become solar engineers after finding that younger men and women took their new skills to the cities instead of back to their villages. The grannies brought electric light and refrigeration to 9,000 rural homes.

• In the Philippines, women who had been taken captive as sex slaves to the Japanese during World War II sued Japan for reparations, an apology, and their rightful place in the history books — in hopes of preventing such horrors from happening to another generation of girls.

• In Guatemala, grandmothers helped run a child abuse prevention center that provided instruction in proper parenting. Gianturco said that Guatemalan adults and children preferred speaking and listening to a matronly figure.

“People feel most comfortable talking to a nice, friendly, soft grandmothers,” Gianturco said.

• In Ireland, chef and nanny Darina Roberts and her American friend Alice Waters founded Slow Food Movement International Grandmothers Day on the second-to-last Saturday in April, where kids learn lost cooking skills that help combat childhood obesity.

• And in America, groups like the Raging Grannies and the Granny Peace Brigade demonstrate regularly in New York City against war.

In each case, Gianturco said the grandmothers were fighting for a better life for the youth.

“The common theme is that these are all women who looked at the troubled world around them and said, ‘Not good enough for my grandchildren,” said Gianturco.

Paola Gianturco discusses “Grandmother Power” at thepowerHouse Arena [37 Main St., at Water Street, (718) 666–3049, powerhousearena.com]. Feb. 4, 7 pm.

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-4507. Follow him at twitter.com/WillBredderman.