On Monday 18 June, in celebration of International Nelson Mandela Day, volunteers from across Johannesburg came together at to add a bit of colour to Sparrow Schools campuses in Melville and Sophiatown.
Brand South Africa and GEM (Going the Extra Mile) Project volunteers spent 67 minutes, or more, painting walls, benches, pillars and posts all in the name of making a difference for those children with learning disabilities.
“For us to take this 67 minutes, or the day, to give back makes us stop and think,” said Jackie Gallagher, the founder and general manager of the Sparrow Schools Education Trust. The schools offer students with learning difficulties a chance to continue their education.
“As South Africans I think that we’ve got a lot to learn about volunteering and giving back,” said Gallagher. “South Africans are very giving people but I don’t think we’ve really formalised.
“People don’t know where to go, what they can do and how they can help. There are a lot of people who want to help and I think that’s where GEM plays such a vital role so the volunteers know where they’re going, why they’re going and what the purpose is.”
With so many hands present on the day to help, they made short work of painting the premises and soon had the schools looking refreshed.
They cater to students from grade one to nine at their two Johannesburg campuses. Beyond the teaching staff, Sparrow employs therapy professionals to help their students.
Gallagher says that the main aim of the organisation is to provide affordable quality education to disadvantaged learners. “Originally we started working to bridge the gap between the kids in Soweto and the kids in suburb schools,” she explains.
“But it has really evolved now to where we work with children with learning disabilities. On the FET (Further Education and Training) side of the school we work to assist young people to be up-skilled and have a qualification. Then we try and assist them in finding employment.”
The GEM social development drive in partnership with Brand South Africa aims to get the public to donate some of their free time to help non-profit organisations across the country. The partners share the goal of fostering a sense of community and making a positive difference to people’s lives.
GEM offers incentives for volunteers through its app. They earn “gems” for every good deed, which can be redeemed for airtime, prepaid electricity and even movie tickets.
“GEM has been amazing with the quality of volunteers,” said Gallagher. “The reason I say quality is, every single person I’ve met through GEM’s involvement so far knows why they’re here.
“They know why they’re volunteering. It’s not just because they’re bored or haven’t got something to do for the day, it’s people that really want to be involved in making a difference and paying it forward.”
GEM volunteers also have the option of donating their gems to the cause of their choice, helping in the day-to-day running of organisations like the Sparrow Schools Education Trust.
To download the app, have a look at the GEM website for more details and links to your relevant app store.
PLAY YOUR PART
Are you playing your part to help improve the lives of those around you or the environment? Do you know of anyone who has gone out of their way to help improve South Africa and its people?
If so, submit your story or video to our website and let us know what you are doing to improve the country for all.