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Tania is currently the Founder & Editor-in-Chief of The Hudsucker, and Senior Editor at the Nashville, Tennessee based PopCulture.com. With past writing and editing credits with Womanista, Quietly, the International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF) and NBC Newsvine, she is currently a member of Indianapolis based, Society of Professional Journalists — one of the oldest organizations in the U.S. that promotes and represents journalists. She is an avid Indianapolis Colts, Elvis Presley and baseball fan as well as a lover of pancakes and fine cheeses, film, and music. Tania is a Hoosier at heart with a passionate wanderlust for always traveling and giving back to those in her community. She is currently studying at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Follow Tania on Twitter: @westlifebunny.

Remembering Madiba: What Nelson Mandela Taught Me

Image Credit: Nelson Mandela Foundation

Nelson Mandela: July 18 1918 – December 5 2013. Image Credit: Nelson Mandela Foundation

“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.”

— Nelson Mandela

In life, character doesn’t develop in ease and quiet. It is only through the experiences of hard trials and suffering that the soul can be strengthened enough to inspire our personal ambitions and achieve success in all that we pursue.

This past Thursday, the world lost a global icon who worked towards making our world a better place with his fight for peace and justice for all. Nelson Mandela, who died at the age of 95 from complications of a recurring lung infection, was a man who cast a bright light not only over his native South Africa but across humanity with his resolute determination to create harmony while leading his country out of decades of apartheid and racial oppression.

As the country looks ahead to Mandela’s funeral this Sunday, it has been an everlasting moment for generations to come as world leaders arrived in South Africa this morning to attend memorial services at FNB Stadium in Soweto for the former South African president. The world collaboratively mourns the death of the anti-apartheid leader, lovingly known as Madiba who became a beloved figure all over and a symbol of resolution from a country scarred with a history of brutal and violent racism.

Mandela has been called Madiba by close friends and family, in a term used to reclaim his South African heritage and downplay the colonial history of Nelson. The term has grown into a rather intimate form and is used as a sign of respect and affection by many for older men which is quite befitting for a man who was known as the father of the South African nation.

Born Rolihlahla Mandela into the ‘Madiba’ clan in Mvezo, Transkei on July 18, 1918, Mandela is quite possibly the only political figure in the 20th century to be revered so deeply and loved by all. Mandela’s wholehearted moral compass led many around the globe to grow inspired and work towards the right path in life for the betterment of mankind. The fact that many world leaders today, even from opposite sides of the political spectrum have spoken of Mandela’s virtuous deeds is a true testament to the impact this great leader had on our world and the fingerprint he has left behind for many generations to come.

Mandela was a civil rights leader who fought against apartheid and served a large portion of his life in prison for his protesting as a leader in the African National Congress (ANC). In 1962, he became a political prisoner, serving 27 years in prison on Robben Island, a barren and bleak spot of land surrounded by the splendor of Cape Town. Mandela refused to give in on his principles, while constantly stating he would die for his ideals. Such determination and resolve brought international prominence to the anti-apartheid movement. He was later released as a result of great international pressure in 1990. Once out of prison, he did not show any rancor and hatred towards anybody and continued his crusade to end the brutality and violence against non-whites in a spirit of reconciliation.

His hard work paid off when all citizens of South Africa were allowed to vote in the 1994 election and his efforts brought forth much success in justice and humanitarian ideologies. Mandela became a symbol of peace, progress, and hope for his people and many around the world. A year before his election win, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work “for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa” and went on to receive many more awards like the Order of Merit from Queen Elizabeth II; the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush; the Nishan-e-Pakistan, the country’s highest civil service award; and the Ataturk Peace Award by Turkey in 1992 which he refused at first, citing human rights violations committed by the country at the time but later accepted in 1999, a year after his presidency term ended.

Mandela has always meant something to me growing up and his death hit me hard this past week. He was the first politician I cared for, understood and greatly admired. He was the crucial and indispensable founding father of South Africa’s democracy. His climb from hopeless conditions in a desolate prison cell to becoming his country’s president and a key figure on the world stage, is admirable, inspiring and moving. Mandela’s life was remarkable and filled with an unending hope and faith.

Nelson Mandela and his wife Graca Machel in the SkyDome in 1998. Image Credit: Toronto Star/Ken Faught

In many ways, he taught me the value of the power of a dream and the power of continuously educating yourself. He sparked my interests in the various strands of philanthropy and the efforts made in working towards a better life for all of us. Up until the age of 12, I had only read about Nelson Mandela and studied him; understanding what he did and how he did it, why he had to do it, while understanding but  not fully grasping the concept of racism and apartheid.

It was September 25, 1998 when I got the chance with three other students from my grade eight class to attend a gathering of 50,000 teens at the Skydome in Toronto (known now as the Rogers Center) in an event welcoming Nelson Mandela for the launch of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund Canada. The foundation was one of his greatest acts of philanthropy; donating one third of his presidential salary to the fund, though his interests always remained very extensive and included other causes like HIV and AIDS, helping to eradicate hunger and promote local artists in hopes to help promote South African culture and the arts.

As I sat in the stands, I was in awe watching Mandela enter the stadium on a golf cart, smiling so gently with immense warmth, waving to the many children as he was clearly in reverence for the genuine outpouring of love he saw they had for him. The then President of South Africa jumped out of the golf cart, began to dance with the children from the field and soon joined the others on stage for singing our Canadian national anthem. He spoke for about an hour, holding the attention of many students, teachers, politicians and encouraging them all to celebrate life by singing and dancing in the aisles, while conveying the importance of our lives. He spoke of many things, including education and children, with a speech I won’t forget. Mandela told us that we were the future and had the opportunity to make good in this world by helping others, empowering poor and sick children in other nations and create our own path for life. I will particularly remember how he spoke to us about our dreams and that they are all beautiful, valid and achievable. He assured all of us that we could dream anything and achieve whatever we set our hearts and minds on. You could tell Mandela was a man who spoke only from the heart and great integrity, both key ingredients that helped him achieve his own dreams for a brighter, warmer South Africa.

Growing up and understanding the adult world is very hard, but that was one of my favorite days as a young girl because it showed me something that I will always appreciate and remember–something that I took with me all these years because it awoke my own efforts and potential for achieving success for a better society. I was inspired from that day on and maybe I wasn’t one of the students lucky enough to sit on the field or shake his hand, but it’s not every day you get to be in the same room as an icon of absolute greatness and live to tell about the experience. If Mandela’s journey has proved anything, it’s that if you set your mind to something and keep a strong faith in not just yourself but your beliefs, nothing can come in your way. Life is about belief and pushing yourself to make a difference in everything we do, while enriching the lives of others. That is the significance we lead and the purpose we will find.

Nelson Mandela may no longer be with us in this world, but his deeds, hard work and steadfast moral compass will always echo in our lives, our history, and well into the path for our brave new world.

If you would like to send your condolences to Nelson Mandela’s family, you can do so by visiting the Nelson Mandela Foundation. For information on how you can donate and keep in the loop to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, visit their website.

Connect with Tania Hussain on Twitter and Google+!

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