Reflections on Mandela Day

17 July 2015 | Tracey Henry | Opinion

Mandela inspired our nation to celebrate the gift of giving and practice acts of kindness. The 18th of July is a great opportunity for employees, who don’t encounter the harsh reality of poverty and/or inequality on a daily basis, to experience what it may feel like to walk in the shoes of someone less fortunate.

Mandela Day is not about pity; it is an opportunity to experience and celebrate the extraordinary resilience and enterprising spirit of the many individuals and communities who, despite their adversity, are able to create centres of opportunity and hope. Every volunteer participating in the Mandela Day experience will, hopefully, not only experience the power of giving, compassion, kindness and humility but also take the lessons learned back to our work and home environment.

For many people Mandela Day does not begin or end on 18 July. We are, regardless of wealth or resources, a giving nation. Many people support an immediate family member or employee, whether it is through educational support, food, medical assistance, clothes, or sharing of social grants amongst needy family members. Many people contribute time to assist non-profit organisations to enhance their operations and improve their sustainability through professional pro bono advice or active participation on board committees. Others volunteer time on a regular basis to assist in soup kitchens, collect blankets during winter, prepare gifts for children during the festive season, provide counselling and support to people in distress or participate in community initiatives such as school governing bodies or community police forums. Many schools also actively participate and strive to create a sense of giving amongst school children, whether it is through regular collections for feeding schemes and animal shelters or actively spending time at organisations.

Every opportunity to create a greater understanding of the disparities in our communities and to embrace our diversity is vital for nation-building and should be encouraged and recognised.

For corporates engaging in Mandela Day programmes it is important to remember:

  • Prepare employees prior to the event to treat everyone with respect, regardless of economic or social standing and to be gracious, authentic and grateful for the opportunity to be part of a special occasion
  • Although once-off gifts are always welcomed, a more holistic and longer-term relationship should be encouraged to think beyond 18 July and how to interact on a more regular basis
  • Engage with the community or organisation prior to Mandela Day and remember that what you think is needed may not be a priority for the community. Aim to work within the confines of the community and to cause as minimal disruption to their daily activities as possible
  • Be sensitive about taking pictures, especially when it comes to children. Permission must be obtained before distributing any photographs
  • Engage with professionals beforehand to see if they have the necessary skills. If you are going to paint a classroom or plant a veggie garden, ensure that the final outcome is a long-lasting one
  • If you donate second-hand goods, make sure they are usable and in good condition
  • Debrief post 18 July to discuss what worked and what didn’t and how to enhance future engagements

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we lived. It is what difference we have made in the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead” – Nelson Mandela.

May we all strive to use our time wisely each and every day to make a positive difference now and for future generations.