The YAGM program in Southern Africa is in its sixth year. All of the participants have been influenced by the work and witness of Nelson Mandela. Now with his death, a few alums share their reflections:
from Elise Anderson (YAGM in Southern Africa / MUD 2011-2012):
Nelson Mandela was a person I have had a great amount of respect for all of my life, my parents protested apartheid and they kept up with the events in South Africa. Hearing my parents talk about those things I never thought that I would spend a year of my life in that beautiful country. When I found out that South Africa is where I would spend my YAGM year I became more interested in the history and politics and the legacy of Nelson Mandela. It wasn’t until I was there and had lived among the people of South Africa that I truly started to understand what the books and documentaries were saying. The history was no longer just words on a page, it was emotional. I could relate stories I had heard and things I myself experienced to the history. Every conversation led to the past and to either how far South Africa had or hadn’t come since the end of apartheid. The country was covered with the scars of apartheid and many of the wounds left were still open, it truly felt hopeless at times. But, along with the scars there was also a feeling of love and healing and the hands that were responsible for that healing were Mandela’s. His face was everywhere, his name in every conversation, his spirit felt by all.
Mandela taught everyone in South Africa what it was to love, to forgive, but more importantly what it was to walk along side not just your friends, but your enemies. What he taught us all was the ultimate lesson in accompaniment. As YAGMs we focus on the idea of walking along those who we are hosted by. Not to lead, not to follow, but to work in a partnership of love and understanding. Is there a better example to follow than Nelson Mandela? His lessons in forgiveness and cooperation are what have always stuck with me and after living among the people of South Africa it is what I feel has stayed with them as well and continues to work in and through them. Nelson Mandela’s death is terribly sad but with death does not come darkness. The light that shined in Mandela will only burn brighter now. And we will continue to walk along with each other, until the great peace and understanding, for which Mandela was prepared to die for, is realized.
from Nicole Holtz (YAGM in Southern Africa / MUD 2011-2012):
I remember learning about Nelson Mandela in school. He would be compared to Gandhi and Martin Luther King. I saw him as a world leader, someone able to influence men and women of any color. He was a symbol of resilience, freedom, and forgiveness.
During my year living in Kimberley, South Africa I learned about the personal influence that Mandela had on my South African friends and family. Descriptions about Mandela didn’t just include, “he is the universal symbol for social justice” but also, “he helped free my grandparents and my parents. He freed me and all my people.”
Upon hearing of Mandela’s passing, my South African brother wrote, “Rest in peace Madiba, thank you for your immense contribution to my future.” While I was learning about Mandela in school, my South African brother thanks him for his very presence in higher education and the successful future he will most certainly have.
My prayer is that Mandela’s life continues to influence my own, freeing me from selfish and angry ways into a life of forgiveness, compassion, and understanding.