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Bringing the humanity back into charity

Mandela Day has become a special day for South Africans. Terence Pillay finds out if everyone embraces the spirit of the day. 

monochrome hands pic pixabay
Monochrome hands, Pixabay, Photographer: moshehar

I’m going to share two stories with you that I came across on Facebook, which is what I believe are polar opposites to what Mandela Day should be all about.

 The first one that I saw was of an affluent community in Durban who decided to do a sidewalk clean up for Mandela Day. In the Facebook post, they invited people to participate in a Mandela Day activity, which was spending 67 minutes cleaning up their neighbourhood. So they are all going to meet at their local country club and disperse with black bags to clean up their neighbourhood. They were planning on spending 67 minutes picking up trash. 

When I read that post, I thought: I don’t know if that is really in the spirit of Mandela Day. The day is all about service to others and not service to self. I mean, they could have said: let’s meet, let’s leverage the community and do something that is going to send a better message, like “We’re in this together; as opposed to we’re in this for ourselves!” 

For me, you can go and pick up litter at any time during the year and in fact you should be doing it if you want to keep your neighbourhood beautiful – or run a campaign to stop people from littering in the first place. Clean in front of your own houses and engage the municipality to clean the public areas, which is in fact their job! 

Read: How much do you really know about Nelson Mandela?

But Mandela Day is all about doing some charitable good deed in service of someone else other than you; to honour a life of sacrifice. It should be about service to others. And this community, by using Mandela Day and making this as their choice of campaign is a little myopic. It’s not to say that they don’t do charitable works at all because I’m sure they do a lot of good stuff. But cleaning your verges and so on in the name of doing 67 minutes of good (for others) is pushing it a bit. 

It’s a strange choice of activity. I understand the value because it’s about making your community beautiful, but you could do that every other day of the year.

 The problem with Mandela Day is that it’s become quite corporatized. Companies do things and they want publicity for it and the selflessness of it has all gone away. It’s like Mothers Day and Youth Day and all these kinds of things that eventually get co-opted by corporate capitalism. And the intention seems to have got lost along the way. It should just be about quietly doing good for the benefit of others in your little corner of the world, not only on the 18th of July but all the time. It should be about having a sense of humanity about your life and making it more about living the values as opposed to just assimilating them once a year.

The other post that I came across on Facebook was about a woman who started an organisation that hands out beanies and blankets to babies that are underprivileged at a state hospital. And the woman who started this initiative also started the family literacy project. In her retirement, she started knitting blankets for babies and went once a month to deliver these to mothers that needed them at the hospital.

And from there it just snowballed. She’s quite a forceful woman and she started encouraging all her friends to do the same. These people then dispatch the knitting to her and she makes sure it’s delivered to the babies – and she does this every week!  

The mothers also get a little care pack with moisturisers and creams and the sort of things new mothers need for that baby, and the babies get a beanie and a blanket. And for me, this is what Mandela Day is all about. This is a woman who has selflessly co-ordinated people from all around the world now, who knit and donate their time – far more than 67 minutes – to make these young children and their mothers feel special. 

And you can do something like this every day. I’m not saying that you have to give 67 minutes every day. But at any given moment if you just stop and think, what am I doing for somebody else, that’s what the spirit of Mandela Day is all about. What am I doing that’s not just about me and then if you can remember that as often as possible that’s a good thing! Try and have a little more humanity, even in the charity work that you do.

You can email Terence Pillay at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @terencepillay1 and engage with him there.

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