Thinking of Mandela

Profile of Nelson Mandela smilingNelson Mandela is indubitably an admirable leader who will forever be remembered for the incredible contributions he has made to the world. A fighter for equality and an advocate for human rights, Mandela has demonstrated a lifetime of selflessness by always choosing to pursue the cause of the collective at the cost of his personal well-being. Although the news of his deteriorating health is disheartening, sadness does not overshadow what an astonishing figure Mandela has been and will continue to be for the world. At Firelight, Mandela is a true inspiration and an archetype for our mission. We admire his compassion for others, and strive to emulate his enthusiasm for support and advocacy as we aid African communities. As we hope for his recovery, we’ve been reflecting on what Mandela means to us personally, and how he has been an inspiration. Here are some thoughts from our Staff...

“For me, Nelson Mandela represents wisdom, compassion, humility and a quiet confidence that even the most challenging problems and conflicts can be solved.  These are qualities we see in many leaders of the community organizations we work with, but alas they are rare in the national and world leaders.  The way Nelson Mandela showed these qualities both when he was powerless and when he was powerful makes him, for me, one of the best examples of personal integrity in the world today.” -Peter Laugharn, Executive Director

Nelson Mandela

In the 1950’s, Mandela began a courageous movement with the African National Congress and Defiance Campaign against the vindictiveness of apartheid. This dangerous political stance resulted in a life sentence in prison. However, Mandela continued to advocate for his people with a ceaseless resiliency despite the hardships that were incited by such action. After 27 years he was released, and soon became South Africa’s first black and democratically elected president.

“When Mandela was released from prison and toured the U.S., I went to see him at the Oakland Coliseum. There was this extraordinary sense of optimism and his personal power was almost palpable; you could feel all these people being uplifted by him. There was just a sense that if you believe hard enough, things will ultimately prevail.” -Jane Stokes, Finance Manager

Color photo of Nelson Mandela smiling

Despite the cruelty and injustice that Mandela suffered, his spirit and passion remained unbroken. He never strayed from his purpose of servitude and advocating for the people. In 1994, his dedication to peace was recognized when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

I know Mandela resisted being idolized. But he lived his life so incredibly well. It is hard to overestimate the impact he had and will have, forever on millions of people. The terms hope, forgiveness, and reconciliation have so much more meaning because of him. My favorite quote from Madiba explains him well, I think: ‘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.’ (Walter Sisulu Hall, Randburg, Johannesburg, South Africa, May 18, 2002)” -Joop Rubens, Director of Development

Black and white photo of Nelson Mandela with his first raised

Mandela has led a life of purpose and significance, his primary goal has been to make a positive difference in the lives of others. At Firelight we are wishing this great leader health and comfort while we continue to celebrate his everlasting contributions to activism, equality, and peace.

Mandela’s influence emanates from the heart of South Africa to all corners of the globe, and he has affected each of our lives in some way. What does Nelson Mandela mean to you? In what ways has he inspired or taught you?

Color photo of Nelson Mandela smiling in a crowd of people

This blog was written by Hannah Thiemann, a volunteer at Firelight. She’s from St. Louis, MO and a junior at Stanford University. She’s pursuing a life of writing, philanthropy, and adventure.