Acting on our Responsibility on Nelson Mandela Day

Mandela Day logby Grace Bickers

On July 18 communities and organizations around the world will celebrate Nelson Mandela International Day in order to “take action and inspire change” through “service to one’s fellow human.” Sharing the date of Mandela’s birthday, the day commemorates his over 67 years spent fighting for human rights by taking seriously his charge for a new generation of leaders to take responsibility for making the world a better place. Volunteers participate in locally-organized activities for 67 minutes, showing that small actions can be the first steps to making a meaningful difference.

Nelson Mandela Day began after Mandela’s 90th birthday celebration in London in 2008. During his speech Mandela told the crowd, “it’s in your hands” to enact global change. In November of the next year the UN General Assembly passed a resolution officially marking the annual observance of Nelson Mandela International Day on July 18th. Started by the Nelson Mandela Foundation and promoted by the United Nations among others, this year marks the fourth celebration of Mandela Day. In past years the UN has celebrated with an interactive exhibit for visitors to learn about Mandela’s legacy and pledge their own 67-minute activities of service, and in 2012, UN staff members volunteered at local New York homeless shelters.

In addition to its observance at the UN, and while most activities are organized or facilitated by NGOs, the emphasis is on individual- and community-level engagement and support instead of large, institutionalized events. For example, on the Nelson Mandela Day website is list of 67 ideas for activities including helping out at animal shelters, organizing a time for litter clean up, mentoring a student at a local school, donating food or clothing, visiting nursing homes, or helping your neighbor by taking his or her dog for a walk.

The thought of global change—change that necessarily includes altering complex social, historical, or economic systems and change that will probably take years or generations to enact—is daunting. But any attempt at improvement must begin somewhere. The message of Nelson Mandela Day is an encouragement that such beginnings often are and should be accessible and local. One of the slogans used by the Nelson Mandela Foundation is “Make everyday a Mandela Day.” Small actions do make a difference, one day at a time, one hour at a time. It’s our responsibility to begin anew the work started by others, like Mandela. It’s all in our hands, now.

See a list of registered activities sorted by type, beneficiary, or region for how to get involved, or for ideas to start your own activity in your community.

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