The Beautiful Things Nelson Mandela Did for Children

With the passing of Nelson Mandela, the world lost a hero and leader, a world icon and revolutionary. For children in South Africa and everywhere, they lost a father.


Around Africa, youth referred to the Great Madiba as "Tata," meaning father - father to all, father to the nation, father to them. Among Mandela's many missions on Earth, children were at the heart and focus. In his own words, "The true character of a society is revealed in how it treats its children."

We remember what the revered leader did for children in South Africa and across the globe…

A huge part of Mandela's anti-apartheid activism focused on breaking down the walls of difference so youth felt empowered and significant. He knew young people would be just as important to this fight for freedom and self-determination as adults. One of his biggest and earliest accomplishments was establishing the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL), which bred a new generation of leaders dedicated to championing the cause.

In the modern battle against HIV/AIDS, a plague that left many South African youth as orphans, Mandela boldly faced what others were to afraid to address. He first established the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund, which assisted youth from birth to age 22 and focused on those affected by the epidemic. As president of the nation, he donated reportedly half of all his earnings to the foundation, and when he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, he similarly contributed his prize money to help street children.


Later, Mandela would use the foundation to concentrate not only on children's medical needs, but building schools around the country. He believed education was the most "powerful weapon." In 2003, he created the Mandela Rhodes Foundation to provide postgraduate scholarships to African students.

Mandela was a champion of sports, and understood the role athletics could play in bridging those of different cultures and beliefs together under a common interest. After the fall of apartheid, he united black and white rugby players and their young fans in South Africa, celebrating a mutual love for the sport. His campaigning was also a big part of the reason South Africa hosted the World Cup in 2010.

Beyond the more tangible actions, Mandela's force gave hope and courage to youth everywhere. He stood for forgiveness, compassion, understanding, bravery, unity and truth. He taught them not to hate, but to move forward with kindness.


Jonathan Sibandi, a 12-year-old in South Africa, told Voice of America, "If it wasn't for him, we would still be there, where I would be scrubbing the floors… to see how he came out of prison, and actually still love the people who put him in prison, it's pretty amazing."

Thirteen-year-old Daniel Singh added, "It shows that us South Africans are capable of doing something. You shouldn't judge us by the way we look, the way we say things and about the way that we do things… we are capable of changing the world and we've done so through Mandela and he's proven the world a point, that we can do anything."

For those young people unfamiliar with Madiba's triumphs and victories, teachers have already planned lessons to incorporate his story with today's studies.


Educator Ken Black writes in a column on Huffington Post, that the greatest lesson Mandela gave the world was "ubuntu," an African term that guided his vision. Black will tell his students of its meaning, "We say, 'a person is a person through other people.' I am human because I belong, I participate, and I share."


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