Names often trigger certain ideas in people's minds. Personally, Mandela is a euphemism for hope, equality and freedom. Arguably he is one of the most well-loved and respected politicians. Being a current history student, I can justify that this is no easy feat. He is a rarity among 20th century politicians, but perhaps this is not unexpected? He was, after all, no ordinary man.
This is why three students at UWC Atlantic College, Ffion Mitchell, Maria Murias and I decided to organise and run a Nelson Mandela Focus Week in his honour. We were brought together and inspired to do this when we heard the news of his peaceful passing on December 5th of last year. Nelson Mandela had been the honorary President of the UWC movement from 1999 till his death last year, and we thought he definitely deserved to be honoured.
United by our admiration for this great man, we came together to plan a Focus Week - a week of after codes (classes) optional activities for students to participate in for the purpose of learning from, honouring and spreading the beliefs of this great man. My own highlights of the week were the Write for Rights (completed in conjunction with Amnesty International) and the closing ceremony we held on the Sunday to conclude the week.
Write for Rights was extremely meaningful to me, never had I written a letter for the preservation of someone else's human rights. The realisation that the letters I was writing were either going to provide solidarity for a person whose rights have been compromised; or go to a political leader to appeal for a person's preservation of human rights was slightly bizarre. The first letter I wrote was a solidarity card to an Ethiopian journalist who was prosecuted for his articles against the Ethiopian government. I too, would one day like to become a journalist, and this made the experience particularly emotional. I like to think of this experience as a reminder; there are still many injustices taking place in what we consider a developed world, and the fight for everyone's basic human rights, is still on-going.
To conclude the Focus Week, we decided to hold a short ceremony in his honour. Guests included Kathi Scott and Barbara Grillmaier from the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund's London office, as well as link families of students from the College. It was an honour to have been able to meet Kathi and Barbara, two ladies who work tirelessly to keep Mandela's mission alive. Moreover, Kathi having worked personally with Mr Mandela for 18 years was able to answer much more personal questions we had about him. It was fascinating to see this remarkable man, who to me is almost more hero than human, come to flesh through the anecdotes she shared. The link families also played a big role in the event. Since the conception of the Focus Week, we had always discussed how to ensure his beliefs and ideals could be spread beyond the College walls. With the participation of the local families, not only were we able to share our thoughts on Mandela and encourage others to continue his good work, but we were also able to come together as one community, something Mandela was an active supporter of.
Many lessons were learnt this week, however, the greatest lesson I learnt was that we are all human beings, even Mandela who too had flaws. What distinguished him from most other people was his humble admittance of his mistakes and his willingness to learn from such experiences and change his stance and views. I believe that this is exactly what inducts him into most people's households as a remarkable man and leader - embracing his flaws rather than denying them, and striving for better.