Making a Difference on Nelson Mandela Day

Hard at work replacing broken glass panes.

High Commission volunteers painting a classroom at Viva Daycare and Pre-School.

Pre-schoolers colouring butterflies.

Patiently waiting in line at the face-painting station.

Fixing broken windows at Hope Alive.

High Commissioner Barban and Paul Watson of Hope Alive with High Commission volunteers.

On the eve of Mandela Day, the High Commission in South Africa kicked off Mandela Day commemorations with the screening of the award-winning Canadian documentary by Jason Bourque called Music for Mandela.

The film is an exploration of the role that music played in the remarkable life of former South African President Nelson Mandela, and also explores what music meant to South Africans and how it became both a unifying force and a weapon against Apartheid.

"It is music and dancing that make me at peace with the world." – Nelson Mandela

On this occasion, High Commissioner Gaston Barban underscored the special connection that Canada and Canadians have with Nelson Mandela, who visited Canada on three occasions. In 1998, Mandela became the first foreigner to receive an honorary Companion of the Order of Canada, Canada’s highest honour, and in 2001, he was awarded honorary Canadian Citizenship. The relationship was given further evidence by the large delegation of eminent Canadians led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to Nelson Mandela’s funeral in December 2013.

Nelson Mandela dedicated 67 years to fight for justice. To honour that commitment, Mandela Day is a global call for people to give 67 minutes of their time to volunteerism and community work based on the principle that each individual has the power and ability to make an impact, no matter how small.

“I believe it is vitally important that we take time to remember the great Nelson Mandela and how best to do so than by helping those less privileged around us. Today, I am pleased to join over thirty employees of the High Commission today to do just that.” - High Commissioner Gaston Barban

On Nelson Mandela Day, staff of the High Commission and their families returned to Viva Village, a project run by the Viva Foundation of South Africa. One of the primary goals of the Viva Foundation is the establishment of service hubs within informal settlements, with the vision to transform high priority poverty areas by meeting the expressed needs of the community.

Being instrumental in transforming the informal settlements into thriving neighbourhoods where young and old can find education, recreation, work and business opportunities is the solution-driven approach of the Viva Foundation. The unique Viva Village concept in Alaska Informal Settlement, Mamelodi East, was a pilot project and a concept that has evolved from its seed phase into what it is today.

The High Commission volunteers this year chose to give a coat of paint to brighten one of the classrooms at the Viva’s Early Learning Daycare and Pre-School.  Staff also provided playtime and entertainment to the pre-schoolers with painting activities, pass-the-beanbag game and face-painting.

The daycare and pre-school are crucial support programs for the community. The goal of Viva Foundation is to provide the best possible quality Early Learning, Day Care and Pre-School experience with the Viva Kids Early Learning programme and concept. The Viva Kids ‘Stations of Learning’ programme was developed specially for children in informal settlements, who have been found to be behind in school-readiness as a result of a lack of movement and mental and social stimulation.  At Viva Kids each developmental challenge is met at a “station”, e.g. numeracy, literacy, fine motor skills, large motor skills etc.

In the afternoon, another group of staff went to help a new project run by Hope Alive South Africa. The organisation was set up by Paul and Ale Watson from Canada with the objective of providing compassionate, holistic care to vulnerable people suffering of HIV and AIDS, especially to people receiving Antiretroviral (ARV) treatment and counselling.

The organisation was recently given two buildings on the grounds of a high school in Mamelodi. Due to vandalism, many of the windows were broken and High Commission employees set about replacing the broken glass panes. Once restored, the two buildings will house a development centre that will teach various practical skills such as welding and sewing. The centre’s aim is to provide trade skills that would allow young people to be better equipped to earn a living and hence, better able to manage their health.

“It was like a dream having High Commission volunteers along our side making a difference that will change many lives. As you know, those buildings will be places where underprivileged youth will have a chance to learn a skill that will give them hope for their future.” - Ale Watson of Hope Alive.