GAPA Trip to Robben Island | African Impact Blog

Author: Kat Duffy

Just over two years ago I had a conversation with my dad`s partner Liz that changed my outlook on life. She told me about her adventures and experiences gained from spending six weeks on an African Impact project in St Lucia, South Africa. Six weeks later, in October 2016, I was flying over the equator for the first time to begin a four week stay in St. Lucia that changed my outlook on life. It not only changed me as a person, but it began my love for a charity that still, and always will, lie close to my heart.

The children eagerly looked out the boats windows as the left Cape Town's shores set for Robben Island

The children eagerly looked out the boats windows as the left Cape Town’s shores set for Robben Island

Liz had told me how proud she was of helping to convert an old shipping container into a library during her placement in South Africa, and I wanted to be part of something that would also last beyond my stay in St Lucia. Before going out, I had raised just over £1000 for the African Impact Foundation and split this money equally between a rural teacher training course and providing badly-needed medication and mattresses for community members.

That trip only made me want to do more for people who hadn`t been able to live a life like I had.

Volunteering in Cape Town: Round Two

At the start of this year I really wanted to go on another African Impact adventure and came across the Cape Town projects. I chose the Early Childhood Development Project, which saw volunteers split their time between teaching at pre-schools in the morning, and visiting a place called GAPA in the afternoons.

GAPA stands for ‘Grandmothers Against Poverty and Aids’. It was set up in 2001 by grandmothers living in the township community of Khayelitsha, firstly as a support group for the grandmothers who were HIV+, and then in 2007, it became an after-school care center facility for local children. Many of the grandmothers were caring for their grandchildren (having lost their own children to HIV and AIDs), so it was a great platform to provide community support for these children, as well as those who had nobody at home to look after them in the vulnerable after-school hours.

GAPA provides the children who visit with a hot meal, care and educational – but fun – activities organized with the help of African Impact volunteers. GAPA has 160 children registered with them (which is incredible) and I am very proud of the work African Impact puts into supporting it all.

GAPA kids on Robben Island

The kids from GAPA loved their trip to Robben Island. You could feel the excitement in the air.

The African Impact Foundation’s Enrichment Trips

The African Impact Foundation fundraise to take the kids and grannies on an enrichment outing twice a year. It gives them the opportunity to experience their own city in a way that would otherwise be impossible to do due to limited funds. Trips in the past have included a tour of Table Mountain and Kirstenbosch Garden, as well as exploring the city’s museums.

I was very lucky to experience one of these trips back in March, which had a profound effect on me. The excitement on the kids and grannies faces (and the amazing time they had there) was an indescribable feeling and made me want to raise money for their next trip.

After accompanying that trip, volunteers, staff and grannies sat in a circle at GAPA to give feedback and generate ideas for the next trip, which would be planned for October 2018. As ideas were discussed openly, it was clear that top of their wish list was the opportunity to visit Robben Island, to see where Nelson Mandela had been imprisoned for 18 years. The grannies had lived through the difficulties and struggles of the Apartheid era and their stories really touched me. From that moment I wanted to help make their dream of going come true.

I set up a Go Fund Me page on Facebook and held a charity quiz night at our family’s pub to fundraise. Over a few weeks, I managed to raise an amount which would be able to make the trip possible. I was humbled by how generous people had been.

With the organizational assistance from the staff of African Impact, along with the fundraising that had been done, the trip was confirmed and we were able to take 90 children and 15 grannies to Robben Island. I was lucky enough to have been able to get the time off work to come back out to South Africa to volunteer again and to experience the trip myself. Words can’t describe how amazing it felt to have helped towards funding the trip and making it a reality for the grannies and children.

Volunteers, grannies and children took the capacity of one touring boat to Robben Island

Volunteers, grannies and children took the capacity of one touring boat to Robben Island

Experiencing Robben Island, made possible with my donation

The day started off with staff collecting the 90 kids and 15 grannies from the township of Khayelitsha. While this was happening, myself and my fellow volunteers were up bright and early making final preparations; in such high spirits and all so excited for the day. We began receiving videos and updates from Chris (the project manager) who was part of the team collecting the GAPA crew, and the excitement on all their faces was such a special moment to see.

When we arrived at the Waterfront, where the Robben Island boat departs, we were eagerly waiting for the kids and grannies to arrive on their bus. As the vehicles pulled in, the children’s faces were pressed up against the windows, with each one smiling, excited and ready for the day ahead. The kids were split into groups of around ten, with one volunteer, staff member and granny prepped to look after them for the day.

As the enrichment trip is also meant to be educational for the children who attend, we’d organized pre-trip worksheets for the kids to fill in before they boarded the boat to Robben Island. This is used to assess the children’s current knowledge, which is then repeated a week later (when the trip is finished) to assess what they have learned throughout the day.

Having completed the pre-trip worksheets, together we queued for the boat. For the majority of the children (as well as the grannies), this was their first time on a boat and we didn’t know what to expect. Would there be a lot of sea-sick children? Just in case, we’d thought ahead and brought sick-bags along for the journey. Luckily, we didn’t have to use any!

Children boarding the boat set for Robben Island

Children boarding the boat set for Robben Island

Touring the Island and Nelson Mandela’s Cell

When we arrived on the island, we were shown around the grounds by a former prison inmate who had been imprisoned alongside Nelson Mandela. While it was meant to be a learning experience for the children, I too learned a lot. I was shocked by what I learned about the treatment of inmates purely down to the color of their skin, and it gave me a new-found respect for the grannies, all whom had lived through the Apartheid era. It made me feel ashamed for what once was, but I was proud of the African Impact team and grannies for making this day so spectacular.

The trip to Robben Island makes me want to continue fundraising for the African Impact Foundation and I’m excited about being part of future trips. GAPA now has a big place in my heart, both for the children there and the amazing job the grannies do.

I know I want to do what I can to start fundraising for their next trip and encourage you to get involved too.