In my former life and before I responded to the calling to work for children and especially children of the poor, I earned my living as a lecturer in the history of Southern Africa at colleges overseas and here at home at the University of the West Indies, Mona. My love for Nelson Mandela is therefore rooted in my own personal history.
I fell in love with Mandela, affectionately called Madiba, his clan name, at the same time that I fell in love with the history of South Africa, and though I never had the opportunity to visit the country, I spent innumerable days and nights poring over voluminous documents on my way to earning a Master's degree in history from Columbia University in New York City. My enrolment in the MA/PhD programme with specialisation in Southern Africa history meant travelling to London and then on to South Africa to pursue the required original research. It was at that point in my life that I became fully conscious of the power of Almighty God - my intention was to work forever as a history professor - God's purpose was for me to return home and dedicate my life to the children of Jamaica. Having obeyed, it's a pleasure to say that I have no regrets, and while the children are my first love, South Africa remains deeply embedded in my heart.
Naturally, South Africa's anti-apartheid movement became my own, as it did with Jamaicans everywhere. Week after week my newspaper columns focused on the fight to rid South Africa of the scourge of Apartheid. I felt particularly proud of Jamaica's impressive anti-apartheid record, dating as far back as 1944. Our country's role in the political and diplomatic process by successive governments to end apartheid has been widely recognised. In 1978 Michael Manley was among a group of eminent persons awarded gold medals for distinguished service in the struggle against apartheid.
I will never forget the day that Nelson Mandela emerged from prison as a free man. As a little girl I would often hear my mother exclaim, "Lawd, mi head swell". I never knew what that meant until the day I sat in front of the television screen and watched Nelson Mandela walk free. As I watched him my head began swelling until I thought it would burst. I had never experienced a feeling like that ever before in my life, and not since. As my head grew, so did the tears. I never knew that I would have lived to see a free Nelson Mandela and a free South Africa. Today, when I talk to children across the length and breadth of Jamaica, I use Mr Mandela's story as an example of what is possible when everything around them may seem impossible.
Tomorrow, June 18th, Nelson Mandela International Day will be celebrated all over the world in observance of the undisputed world hero's birthday. Mandela Day was officially adopted by the United Nations on November 10, 2009, and was formally launched on March 28, 2011. It is now celebrated around the globe as a day of humanitarian action in celebration of Mr Mandela's life and legacy.
By adopting the UN resolution, the world body expressed its appreciation for "a great man who had suffered for the sake of people everywhere."
In explaining the significance of Mandela Day, the South African High Commission in Jamaica wrote the following, "Nelson Mandela Day not only celebrates Nelson Mandela's life, but it is also a global call to action for people to recognise their ability to have a positive effect on others around them. The day hopes to inspire people to embrace the values that Mandela shared. These values include democracy, freedom, equality, diversity, reconciliation, and respect.
"Mandela Day also celebrates a campaign known as '46664', in reference to Nelson Mandela's Robben Island prison number. The campaign was originally launched to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS. However, its focus expanded to broader humanitarian work. The efforts from Mandela Day support the campaign's ongoing work and other Nelson Mandela charitable organisations.
"The Theme for Mandela Day 2012 is, 'Take Action, Inspire Change, and Make every day a Mandela Day'. People all over the world are encouraged to honour Nelson Mandela through community service and to use the day for awareness activities related to history and values of Nelson Mandela.
"Mandela gave 67 years of his life to fighting for the rights of humanity. On Mandela Day, individuals all over the world are asked to give 67 minutes of their time to serving others, whether its supporting a charity or serving your local community. The day is a global call to action for people everywhere to take responsibility for changing the world into a better place one small step at a time."
As expected, Jamaica has embraced Mandela Day, and through the efforts of the South African High Commissioner Mathu Joyini, the government, private sector, non-government organisations and civil society have all come on board to celebrate the life and work of Mr Mandela on his birthday.
Jamaicans are being asked to dedicate 67 minutes of their time on or before July 18 to do something for children in keeping with the love and commitment Mr Mandela has for the children of the world.
The document circulated by the South African High Commission ended with these words: "Let us make every day a Mandela Day. Let us go out and make the difference. It is only our collective efforts that can see us building sustainable communities."
Says Mr Mandela, "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."