Lessons from Mandela: A Life of Love, Giving, and Triumph

On Thursday December 5th the world lost a great leader and peace activist – Nelson Mandela. Mandela was born as Rolihlahla (translates to “troublemaker” in English) on July 18, 1918 in the small village of Mvezo in South Africa. Mandela’s paternal great-grandfather was local royalty, but his family was ineligible to obtain the throne. Mandela attended a Methodist school as a child where his teacher named him “Nelson.” Mandela studied law at the University of Witwatersrand where he became involved in politics while living in Johannesburg. He became the founding member of the ANC’s Youth League. Over the years Mandela ascended to high-ranking politic roles and while working as a lawyer, he was repeatedly arrested for seditious activities.

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In 1961 he cofounded the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe. In association with the South African Communist Party he help lead a sabotage campaign against the apartheid government, which led to his sentence to life in prison. Mandela served 27 years in prison. He was released in 1990. Mandela became the first black South African President in 1994. He formed the Government of National Unity in attempt to defuse racial tension in the country. During his Presidency he focused on land reform, combating poverty and expansion of healthcare services. Mandela unsuccessfully ran for a second term. He became an elder statesman and focused on charitable work to end extreme poverty and combat HIV/AIDS through his Nelson Mandela Foundation. Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. Mandela is often referred to as “Madiba” and as “the father of the nation.”

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I don’t often talk about my real job and interests on this blog because frankly, most of you would probably be bored out of your mind. I have a Master’s degree in Public Health and currently work in healthcare technology and policy, which I absolutely love. However, my real passion and interest lies in international healthcare development. In the next few years, after getting my feet underneath me (and paying back SallieMae), I plan to go back to school to each my PhD so I can work in the field of international public health.

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Nelson Mandela is one of the people that inspired me to follow my dreams and make a difference in the world. Unfortunately to many people today about the world, especially within the United States, we are extremely materialistic. We have to have the latest technology, clothes, etc. We take for granted the house over our heads, the water that comes out of our taps, and the food we put on our tables. Billions of people (including millions within the US) do not have many of the luxuries that we have been afforded by just being born within a developed country. As we go into the holiday season we spend our times fighting the crowds to get the best deals on the latest toys and technology for ourselves and our families.

Of course, I’m guilty in this too. No one is perfect. However, as I get older I realize that money can’t buy you happiness. Happiness must come from within. I find happiness in giving back to my community and making a difference in someone’s life. We, as human beings living on planet Earth, can learn many lessons from Mandela. He may be a controversial figure, but I think we can all agree that he was a great humanitarian activist giving a voice to the billions of people around the world that live on less than a dollar-a-day, lack access to basic human rights such as water, access to life saving medical care, and the ability to put clothes on their back, food on the table, and a roof over their heads.

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This holiday season (and the other 365 days a year) consider doing the following in your community:

  • Donating or volunteering at your local food pantry or soup kitchen
  • Donating blood to your local Red Cross
  • Donating winter jackets, hats, mittens, etc. to homeless shelters and organizations collecting them
  • Donating money or volunteering to your local United Way
  • Volunteering at a Nursing Home and spending time with the elderly
  • Shoveling your neighbors driveway or sidewalk

Consider donating to:

  • A local food bank or charity
  • Water.org, where you can give water for life to a family without access to clean water
  • Provide a cow, goat, rabbits, etc. to a family to help bring them out of poverty through the Heifer International Fund
  • Partners in Health, an amazing organization cofounded by Paul Farmer to bring healthcare to communities in developing countries that need it the most
  • A favorite charity of your choice

No matter what you do this holiday season, remember the real meaning of the holidays. In the words of Albert Einstein, “I believe in one thing – that only a life lived for others is a life worth living.”

~ Happy Training!

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