People across South Africa seem to be getting into the spirit of Mandela Day, ahead of Madeba’s 94th birthday on Wednesday. It is inspiring to see people embrace the spirit of service and do their little bit by taking action and inspiring change in whatever way that they can – big or small.
In the last 4 years, my biggest lessons in service have come from the rural communities and outreach staff involved in some of the social development and upliftment projects implemented by the NGO I worked at before l left to make a go at starting my own business. One of the most poignant moments came a couple of years ago, when I had the opportunity to visit some communities in rural Mpumalanga. My colleagues and I made a trip to some of the projects to meet the project staff, outreach offices, volunteers and community members. We were in the process of compiling a booklet to showcase the success of these projects. We wanted to tell their stories and to get a better understanding of how the project had impacted on their lives and on the community as a whole.
Over the course of a few days, I met and interviewed many amazing people, the majority of whom grew up in poverty in the very community where they now worked. Despite the challenges and hardships, they still dedicated their time and energy to uplifting, educating, caring for and supporting the young, the old and every single person in their community. Many of the project staff worked long hours, practically 7 days a week for a tiny stipend. Yet, none of this deterred them from passionately pursuing what many of the people who I interviewed described as their calling in life.
About 90% of the people that I spoke to said that spending their days helping people in their community gave them an incredible sense of purpose. With no transport, many of them walk from door-to-door, distributing information on HIV and AIDS, counselling people in distress, caring for the ill, distributing food parcels, identifying orphans and getting them the necessary help and connecting people with the relevant government departments for healthcare, resources, social grants and support in situations where the outreach officers themselves cannot assist.
One of the most precious moments was on the last day of the trip when we met a little girl who was scarcely 11 years old. We were accompanying a group of health outreach officers to one of the communities where they had set up mobile testing units to encourage community members who had no transport of their own or who could not afford to pay for public transport to get to the nearest clinics, to get tested for HIV. A group of young school girls walked passed the mobile testing unit and were curious as to what was going on. We explained what the mobile testing campaign was about.
One little girl was quiet for a moment. Her eyes reflected a state of deep thought. Then she asked my colleague who was holding the video camera we had been filming some of the interviews with if she could recite a poem. She said that AIDS was killing people in her community and that she wanted to share a message of hope.
I don’t recall the exact words of the poem, but I remember very clearly the emotion that witnessing her strong sense of compassion as she recited it stirred in me. My colleagues and I were all moved to tears. It felt as though the Universe had orchestrated for all of us to be in the right place and time for this beautiful experience to come into being. Moments like these are so precious. It is always amazing to meet people who are the real face of South Africa. People who live in hope of creating a better South Africa despite the frustrations of having a cleptocratic government, the violent nature of crime, the anger and lack of respect for life displayed in too many people in this country and on this continent. These people who have had hard lives, who have so little of their own, yet who tirelessly give so much of themselves are the truly extraordinary people in this world. Their spirit of ubuntu or contributionism and their compassion inspire me. These are the people who a living up to the legacy that Nelson Mandela envisaged for us.
Ignite your own spirit of service
So at the outset of this exciting week, I encourage you to take a moment to consider how you can do the same. How can you draw on your own compassion and give of yourself as a means of contributing to the greater good of your family, your community and of your country? How can you build a legacy based on the spirit of service?