Written by: Efrance Karungi African Impact volunteer
On the first sight of the Norval Foundation Museum, I had the impression that this was a place for the fancy ‘artsy’ people that knew all the nitty-gritty about art pieces and can read the emotions in paintings or sculptures. I am not one of those people and I did not think the children or grandmothers from GAPA were either.
After waiting for over 30 minutes, the bus finally pulled up with 25 seven and eight-year-old children and 12 grannies. Everyone filled with excitement on arrival, shouting, waving, and some staring wide-eyed at the beautiful museum building. As I stepped out of the bus, I contemplated the benefits the kids would get from this trip. I knew the previous GAPA trip to Robben Island was highly informative and part of their history, therefore closer to their hearts.
Naturally, the kids were energized by the new environment and ran towards the building, ready to embark on a new adventure – or maybe because they knew it was snack time. As the guide started her introduction speech on the dos, don’ts, and other rules, half the kids were looking into the bags of chips to make sure they hadn’t left any barbeque flavoured chip uneaten and any sip of juice undrunk.
After snack time, the kids ran to hold the hand of the first volunteer they could find in their teams for the gallery tour. This got me thinking about the small home environments I saw in Khayelitsha – some were made from make-shift materials, lacking everyday comforts that I/we often take for granted.
The Norval Museum is a grand volume of space that these children now find themselves exploring.
African Impact volunteer visits to GAPA are designed by the Foundation, and they must be the building blocks of trust that were apparent to me. This is especially significant considering many of these children could be facing neglect or abuse.
Despite this, the children are extremely confident. They introduced themselves, asked personal questions, and started conversations with volunteers they had never interacted with before. The grannies were mostly intrigued by the foldable chairs they could carry around the gallery and use whenever they pleased.
On my team was a little boy, Joseph (not his real name), whose face was filled with curiosity and utter joy at the sight of each piece of art. He seemed to be stunned by what he was seeing.
The first art piece we approached was a huge sculpture by William Kentridge which was steel moulded into a beautiful piece. Several of the kids tried to touch this piece because they didn’t understand how something this big and beautiful was made from a hard material like metal.
Joseph tapped my hand and whispered, “This is very big but very beautiful. I like it very much, but wasn’t it hard to shape and cut?”
Indy, one of the other volunteers, overheard his question and answered, “The best work can come from the hardest materials.”
Joseph paused for a second as though he needed to process the depth of this statement.
As we continued the journey through the museum, the kids were drawn to the loud drumming in one of the rooms. Little did they know this was an extraordinary work of art that opened a world of inquisitiveness.
The kids went crazy, dancing, singing, and moving to music made by the drums. Their songs rhymed to the beats, becoming part of the performance art. At this point, the grannies knew this was not about to end so they whipped out their foldable chairs and took a seat while sipping juice from the complimentary juice boxes they got at the entrance.
(Why Should I Hesitate, William Kentridge)
20 minutes later, they finally calmed down and sat down ready and eager to learn why there was no drummer and how it works. As the guide talked about the art, she occasionally asked the kids questions to keep them alert. Joseph shot his hand up every chance he had.
As we walked out of this room, he turned to me and said, “Can I make something like this when I grow up?”
“Do you like art?”
“Very much,” he responded.
“Joseph, you can do anything you set your mind to.”
His little face lit up, and for the next hour, he admired each art piece and talked about how he wants to have work displayed in a big building for everyone to see when he gets older.
When I walked into this gallery, I did not think the artworks would have an impact on the kids’ lives, but I learned that it can take a gallery like this to show kids that their passions can lead to something so magnificent.
These kids taught me that your past does not define your future and that something beautiful can come from trauma and struggle. The light in Joseph’s eyes may lead him to a brighter future because he is ready to make the world his canvas.
Initially I wasn’t sure how my short visit was going to help; however, this internship experience has opened my eyes to what a long-lasting and positive effect the projects can have on a child.
I realized that my visit is part of a well-constructed puzzle that has a ripple effect not only on the children but on me as well.