Mandela’s Life Inspires Service Community

By Dana Forde


Event celebrates his legacy as ‘voice for the voiceless’

Before he was South Africa’s first democratically elected president, before he won the Nobel Peace Prize, and before he spent 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela was a young boy growing up in the village of Mvezo, Transkei.

Both determination and fate drove a young Mandela to seek opportunities for which he could be a voice for the voiceless. And his legacy and ascension from student to activist to public servant to global icon continues to empower people from all walks of life—young and old, rich and poor, black and white.

Today, on what would have been Mandela’s 96th birthday, the national service family joins the global community in marking Nelson Mandela International Day. Created in 2009, Mandela Day not only celebrates the self-described “public servant of the people,” but it also serves as a way to inspire others to factor service into their daily lives. Because as Mandela once 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.”

Service to others, Mandela believed, should not be defined as a one-time action.  Rather, service should be embraced as a cultural norm.

AmeriCorps member Hannah Huesman agrees.

While volunteering in South Africa last year, Hannah was inspired to join AmeriCorps.

“I was flying home when Mandela passed,” Hannah recalled. “His impact and heart was present in every single person, every experience, (and) every moment I spent in South Africa. I have always been inspired by Nelson Mandela, but being in South Africa made his humanitarian ways a reality for me.”

In her current role as a volunteer coordinator for the Out of the Garden Project in Greensboro, NC, Hannah enjoys sharing the lessons she learned in South Africa with her team. Mandela’s legacy, she added, has “planted the seed” for the kind of person she wants to be and the kind of life she wants to lead.

Like Hannah, other national service members continue to reflect on the kind of contributions they can make to their own communities.

Mandela’s commitment to service and volunteerism is a daily inspiration for Tyler Pearson.

Pearson serves as an AmeriCorps VISTA member with the Huntsville Network for Urban School Renewal where part of his duties include helping to develop an after school initiative.

Mandela’s ability to spark hope, Pearson said, has influenced him the most.

“His actions and commitment to world peace, justice and love is inspiring,” he added. “He has taught me the value of those three qualities and (inspired me) to touch everyone I come in contact with.”

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