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    'Grandmother Power' — 8 things I learned from Paola Gianturco

    A little over a week ago, I had the privilege and honor of spending a day in Denver with Paola Gianturco, a powerhouse of a grandmother and photo journalist who has documented women's lives in five phenomenal books.

    The occasion was a presentation on Paola's most recent book, Grandmother Power, in which she shares photos and stories of activist grandmothers around the world, the stories told in the words of the women themselves.

    After the presentation and luncheon in Paola's honor, I had the pleasure of interviewing Paola Gianturco — pronounced Pow-LA John-TUR-co — privately for an upcoming article on (and possibly other websites, too). Once those articles are published, I will pass along the links to them.

    For now, though, I'd like to share with the Grandma's Briefs readers a few of the lessons I learned from Paola that day, some profound, some personal.

    1. Grandmothers can — and do — change the world. We grandmas know we're a powerful force in our families, but the grandmothers who share their amazing stories in Grandmother Power make a difference far beyond the borders of their families and inspire us all to do the same. In Guatemala, grandmothers fight for human rights. In South Africa, grandmothers run afterschool programs for orphaned youngsters. In India, grandmothers learned solar engineering and brought light to their villages. Those are just a small fraction of examples, a small taste of what a difference grandmothers make across the globe.

    2. Grandmother activists have different issues yet the same goal. Though grandmothers across the globe face challenges unique to their cultures, those wanting to make a change agree on one thing. "The one universal was their observation of our troubled world and the conclusion that this world just plain was not good enough for their grandchildren," Paola said.

    3. My camera can do great things. Paola uses the same model DSLR camera as I do for the glorious photos that fill her books. Photos such as these from her slideshow presentation that I took with my camera that's just like her camera:

    4. Grandmothers who have long upheld "bad traditions" hold the power to end such traditions. A prime example is the female genital mutilations performed in Senegal, often at the hands of the grandmothers. Once grandmothers learned how the long-time practice impacted their granddaughters to devastating degrees and often contributed to their deaths, the grandmothers joined together to become the most instrumental and successful of all who tried before to facilitate abandonment of the horrific practice.

    5. I'm not heroic — and that's okay. Like the grandmothers above, what many of the grandmother activists do and accomplish floors me, makes me realize I could never manage the grand and noble things they've pulled off. I don't need to, though, Paola points out. "Don't do something that has no bearing on your life or skill set," she says. She suggests taking inventory of your skills and interests then matching that with issues you could impact locally. After perusing the organizations profiled in Paola's book, I'd say my interests and skills are in line with the Storytelling Grandmothers of Argentina who inspire children to read, which has helped literacy rates rise.

    A member of the Storytelling Grandmothers shares a story — photo taken of Paola's presentation.

    6. Grandmas are award-winning superheroes. Inspired by his own grandmothers, Mohammed Saeed Harib of Dubai created the Freej animated series featuring four grandmother characters. The show immediately caused a sensation in his country and became a runaway hit enjoyed by audiences of all ages. Harib told Paola, "Grandmothers are portrayed in media as somebody about to die or who's ultra sick; that's the storyline of our dramas and soap operas. I get many calls from grandmothers who appreciate that we are showcasing women reciting poetry, solving problems, talking...not showing them as people in wheelchairs about to die."

    7. Step aside Lady Gaga: Grandmas can dress flashy, too. There's nothing like an electric dress to grab the attention of an audience and bring joy to all. Paola had hers made here, and it's the perfect complement to her ebullient instruction on the gratitude dance she learned from GrandMothers and GrandOthers in Barrie, Ontario:

    8. All grandmothers can be activists. Grandmother activists are simply grandmas working valiantly to make the world a better place for their grandchildren. Making the world better, Paola stresses, includes teaching our grandchildren the important lessons of collaboration, generosity, patience, perseverance and resilience. If you teach such things, I think it's safe to consider yourself a grandma activist — then consider the organizations where you might enjoy taking your grandmother activism a step further.

    Today's question:

    Of the lessons Paola points out as important to teach our grandchildren — on collaboration, generosity, patience, perseverance, resilience — which do you find easier to teach? Which is more of a challenge?

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    Reader Comments (15)

    Wow. What a truly wonderful and thought provoking post, albeit a bit intimidating! Given my 'life and skill set' I thought the best thing I could do was immediately pass the word on through my FB page.

    Hopefully, I pattern all those qualities for my Grandchildren, but perseverance is the easiest for me to teach. Collaboration is probably my biggest challenge, since I can tend to be a lone maverick at times. Since we all know kids learn by example, I'll keep working on it :)

    February 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNonnieKelly

    That post is enough to intimidate any Grandma! What an exceptional person she is -- and you are, too! Thanks for sharing this with all of us.

    Perseverance is one of the things I am trying to teach Amara. I was once told that my tenacity is my greatest strength and I am trying to pass it on. It is so easy to just give up if something is difficult. And if you just give up -- you may never know what you've missed.

    February 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGrandma Kc

    NonnieKelly and Grandma Kc: Paola is truly an inspiration. Don't be intimidated, though! As Paola told me (when I was feeling less than worthy and, yes, a bit intimidated) to do what works for you. We all can and do make a difference that has a ripple effect that affects the bigger picture. Then we're welcome to make a bigger splash, too, but not required. Even just sharing her story and the stories of the grandmother activists makes a difference. We all rock — just in different ways.

    February 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLisa @ Grandma's Briefs

    Wonderful, Lisa!

    February 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmy Ruhlin

    As GREAT-grandmother, I feel so far removed from my grand-children's lives but, this reminds me that I was the seed from which all these special people sprouted!

    February 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnn

    Lisa, Wonderful! I've read about this great book, and have even Tweeted about it for BA50 because I thought it was such an amazing project. The messages it conveys are so positive and inspiring. So great that you could get up close and personal with her.

    February 19, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermindy trotta

    Patience and perserverance are the two lessons I am trying to teach my 11 yr old granddaughter. I want her to know that if she really wants to do something, to not give up on it. Her parents and grandparents (on both sides) would do anything to help her achieve whatever she wants to do. She is such a sweet girl but I'm already having anxiety about her changing when she goes to middle school next year .

    February 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDebbie E.

    OK, I'm properly inspired. Beautiful story looks like a beautiful book also. Thanks for sharing. Just discovered your blog from GenFab.

    February 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSandra Sallin

    She's gorgeous and such an inspiration. Thank you for sharing her with us!

    February 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSharon Greenthal

    What an amazing woman. Thank you for sharing your experience with us Lisa.

    Norman & I are teaching Bella & Lucy all the qualities that you mentioned. The one that is the most difficult is perservance. Both the girls seem to give up on things when the going gets too tough for them.

    February 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSally Kabak

    What a lovely, inspiring woman! What a privilege to have become her friend!
    I find collaboration easist to teach because my grandchildren enjoy snuggling up and working together on projects with me. Patience is another thing entirely! At ages 2 and 4 I have to find a gentle way to steer them back on task when things don't go right immediately. Respect for their attention spans must also be considered!

    February 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoyce

    How wonderful :)

    February 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterConnie

    Thanks for your excellent summary of Paola's inspiring book and presentation. I think she's absolutely amazing and I'm proud to call her my friend.
    You've done a beautiful job of reproducing her slides.
    I consider myself an activist through my GaGa Sisterhood where we grandmas inspire each other to continue growing and evolving along with our children and grandchildren.

    February 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDonne

    I've been speaking up and speaking out as both a regular citizen and an elected official for as long as I can remember. My children have learned to do the same from my example. Your thoughts on Paola reminds me that now is not the time to rest on my laurels and pack it in. More than ever, I need to continue my example for my grandchildren so that they too will know the importance of being an activist for the values they hold dear.

    February 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCaryn/the Mid Life Guru

    Mine are too young to be teaching anything to yet - except to hold them and love them and enjoy their infant goodness! What a special experience for you Lisa! Thank you for sharing.

    February 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBarbara
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