Georgina Guedes

Making Mandela Day matter

2013-07-18 14:27

Georgina Guedes

This year, I was organised. My daughter’s preschool had arranged to visit a children’s home near where I live in Orange Grove, and had distributed their menu and other items that they needed, so that we could all make the right contributions.

I had asked if I could come along to do my 67 minutes, and bring my daughter along for her first clear lesson in how privileged she is. Everything was good to go. Then Heidi, the owner of our school, told me that the children’s home had said that they would actually be inundated with visitors on 18 July, and had asked if it would be possible for us to come another time.

I have no problem with that. I would rather give the home what they need, rather than what I want them to have. Heidi and I also discussed that it might be nice if we made our visits and contributions a regular thing, having a lasting impact, rather than just doing it on one day.

This got me thinking about the whole Mandela Day idea. I do a lot of writing for big companies, and so often I hear that people plan their once-off charitable gig, and then end up going back time and again, because there is such a great need.

In the same way as I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day on the actual day, because I don’t like having to wade through all the other couples doing their darndest to create a romantic atmosphere, it also makes sense to me to take the intention of Mandela Day, and apply it at other times of the year as well.

I truly believe that any contribution, no matter how big or small, fleeting or permanent, is a significant one, and I applaud everyone who is making an effort today. But while I’ve been thinking about our local children’s home’s request, I’ve been thinking of ways to make a lasting difference. Here are some of my ideas:

1. Find out in advance what’s needed. For example, if a charity supports children over the age of six, don’t donate baby clothes to them. Or ask for a list of the food items that they are commonly short of so that you can give them exactly what they need to make their regular meals.

2. Visit in advance to get a sense of the place. Some institutions have lists of what they need every day, but don’t think to ask for the bigger things. If you get a sense of where you’re going, you’ll know what it is that you can do for them.

3. Think of ways to make a lasting difference. Of course food and clothes are vital, but if there’s a room that needs painting, a roof that needs patching or electrics that need rewiring (if you know how), try to do that with your 67 minutes as well as making any donations.

4. Remember that the greatest gift is your time. Many institutions are staffed by caring people who just don’t have enough hours in the day to give those in their charge proper attention. Anyone in an institution will appreciate a bit of focus, some interest, and someone to listen to them, or read to them.

5. Don’t underestimate the gift of joy. While it’s important to focus on things that people really need, there is also a lot to be given in just making them happy – think of ways to entertain or amuse, as well as to help out.

6. Keep coming back. Mandela Day is great because it motivates us and gets us going, but a true tribute to Nelson Mandela, who dedicated his whole life to the struggle, is our ongoing commitment to uplifting those less fortunate. We should try to find ways to work charitable acts into every day of our lives, to make a lasting and ongoing difference.

Whatever you do today, I wish you well. And I wish Madiba a blessed 95th birthday, and 15th wedding anniversary. We didn’t think you’d see this one, Tata, but we’re so glad that you did.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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