THE BLOG
04/07/2018 11:41 SAST | Updated 04/07/2018 12:03 SAST

OPINION: Mandela’s Centenary: His Legacy In Education Lives On

'The former president and anti-apartheid revolutionary brought universal primary education to South Africa.'

PA Archive/ PA Images

Five years ago, Craig sat under the South African sun at a funeral and joined an entire nation in mourning a hero.

Gallo Images via Getty Images
Portrait of Nelson Mandela. (Photo by Graeme Williams/South Photographs/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Nelson Mandela would have turned 100 this month. Though his legacies number too many to capture here, we think of his most enduring gift to the children Craig saw running through the crowds in Mandela's ancestral village that sad day.

The former president and anti-apartheid revolutionary brought universal primary education to South Africa, giving a generation of South African children the same gift that forever changed his own life.

shutterstock
Time magazines displayed with the portrait of Nelson Mandela on the cover page.

Although his parents were illiterate, Mandela's religious mother sent him to a church school. He was lucky as, under apartheid, education for black children was rare. As we celebrate Mandela's centenary, imagine how many other potential Mandelas are out there right now, ready to accomplish great things empowered by education. These are just a few that we have met who are changing their families, communities, and the world.

In the remote villages of India's Rajasthan province, girls' education is often considered a frivolous waste of time. Mamta Lohar's parents disagreed in a decision that paid off for the family. After learning about waterborne diseases in class, 10-year-old Mamta convinced her parents to boil well water before drinking it, noticeably improving the family's health.

Although she's not yet reached high school, Mamta has her sights set on a medical degree. She wants to help heal as many people as possible.

At age five, Francis Naimodu taught himself basic electronics and rigged up a lighting system to protect his family's cattle from nocturnal predators in Kenya's Maasai Mara. As he grew up, Francis became the village handyman, capable of fixing anything.

Through these and other inspiring young people, the spirit of Nelson Mandela lives on. Madiba would be proud.

When Ngulot High School opened near his home in 2017, the first secondary education to be offered in the region, Francis studied hard to earn one of just 33 spots at the school, beating out more than 350 applicants. Now in Grade 10, Francis plans to become an engineer, to keep fixing structural challenges in his community.

In Canada, it's easy to take education for granted. But even there, some are still fighting for a chance at proper schooling.

Chelsea Jane Edwards spent her high school years advocating for a new grade school in her remote First Nation of Attawapiskat, in Northern Ontario. In 2014, she cried tears of joy as she watched her niece start kindergarten at the newly opened KattawapiskakElementary School. That victory was just the start.

As co-founder of the non-profit Shannen's Dream, Chelsea is demanding equal rights to education for all indigenous youth and is now studying law to gain the knowledge to make it happen.

And in Bourget, Ontario, 17-year-old Mariam Sabbah says her education has empowered her to create positive change.

Mariam mentors students at a local elementary school and successfully lobbied her own high school to raise awareness of energy consumption and climate change. She's also rallied her peers to collect donations for Syrian refugees settling throughout Canada. Mariam will begin studies in international management at McGill University next year "to continue my lifelong journey of helping to improve our global village".

Through these and other inspiring young people, the spirit of Nelson Mandela lives on. Madiba would be proud.

Craig and Marc Kielburger are the co-founders of theWE movement,which includes WE Charity, ME to WE Social Enterprise and WE Day. For more dispatches from WE, check out WE Stories.