Nelson Mandela lived his life by three rules: Free yourself. Free others. Serve every day.
As a lawyer and then as a political prisoner, the great South African leader lived by those rules as he worked to free others and himself. Even from his cell on Robben Island, he served others as he fought – through his letters -- for justice for the victims of apartheid.
On his birthday – celebrated worldwide as Nelson Mandela Day – I am thinking about how we can apply his credo to our own lives. Service is its own form of freedom, because it is freeing to give of ourselves. When we give, advocate and volunteer, we can free others from poverty and fear.
For example, United Way and the Mandela Foundation both aim to mobilize volunteers to improve early childhood development. Why? Investing in proper nutrition and educational development can free children from poverty later on. Research shows that children who enter school ready to learn are more likely to achieve early reading proficiency by third grade, and consequently more likely to graduate high school on time. Those benefits stack up: students who graduate high school are more likely to find a job that pays a livable wage, live healthier lives, stay out of the justice system and have children who also graduate high school on time.
As Mandela Day inspires people throughout the world to serve – even in small ways -- today and every day, consider connecting with your local United Way for a myriad of ways to help children get a good start in life. Many offer opportunities for volunteers to read with and tutor young students, assemble literacy kits, build a Born Learning Trail and more. All these good works stack up, too.
Mandela said, “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” What difference will you make today? And tomorrow?