July 18 is the birthday of the late Nelson Mandela. Across the globe, he will be remembered for his sacrifices for and leadership in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and his commitment to service. Volunteers celebrate this legacy on “Mandela Day”, which was created in 2009 to inspire people to serve as he did and as he urged others to do. This year the call to serve on July 18 has inspired over 1,000 activities in 126 countries. While the activities are as diverse as the volunteers, many of them will focus on this year’s theme of food security.
For example, the GenNext group of Brant United Way in Brantford, Canada will spend two hours tending the gardens at Equal Grounds Community Garden, which grows and donates produce to the local food bank. In Nashville, Tennessee, through the generous donations of area Sonics, grocery stores, and Kimbro Water Company, volunteers with W.O.M.E.N., which provides support, education and nutrition services for people infected or affected by HIV/AIDS, will hand out bottles of water to area homeless on Mandela Day.
In Alexandra, South Africa, Tiger Brands food, a beverage and consumer products company, will continue its efforts to alleviate food insecurity and to sustain school children during the long school break by distributing food parcels to students and their families. Through a partnership with the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the South Africa Department of Basic Education, Tiger Brands will distribute nearly 17,000 food parcels to students from 13 schools in celebration of Mandela Day.
Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.” And yet, according to the Brookings Institution, in 41 countries around the world, one in three students who leave school after grade five or six still cannot read all or part of a sentence. Whether they live in Detroit or New Delhi, too often our children are failing to learn the very basics—even after spending years in school.
United Way volunteers are helping children and youth achieve their potential through a good education. They read with children, tutor them in a subject they need help with, and mentor young people who are at-risk for making poor choices and ending up in trouble. They spruce up schools so that children have a good environment in which to learn, and donate school supplies and assemble them in backpacks so students have what they need to succeed in school.
We all have something to give: our time, during a one-time or an ongoing volunteer commitment, a donation, or making time to learn and speak up about social injustices. Let’s make every day a Mandela Day.