Over the years, Mandela Day has been an opportunity for many South Africans and businesses to get involved in their communities, and to support many of the charities that do important work in causes ranging from hunger to education.
But the events of the past few days, coupled with the recently released National Income Dynamics Study data is a stark signifier that this one day is not enough. We should all be doing our part every single day, if we are to really make a difference. The study found that school drop-outs in 2020 have risen to three times the normal rate, with up to 750 000 children aged between 7 and 17 not attending school.
The statistics also showed that child hunger stands at the same level as it was during the harshest period of lockdown in South Africa, and before new social grants and top-ups had been put into place.
The impact of hunger, and dropping out of school early will not only affect these vulnerable children now, but will also have a significant impact on their futures.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been devastating for many other vulnerable groups including women, the elderly and disabled people. The NIDS data suggests that gender inequality has risen further in the country as a result of Covid-19, and that women are most impacted by job losses.
It’s easy to say that the government should step in but the reality is that the need exceeds even their vast resources. Now, more than ever before we all need to be looking for ways to make a difference- no matter how small.
Since our inception, Relate Bracelets has focused on this idea of doing something small, to make a big difference.
Our beaded bracelets are the perfect symbol of this-when tiny individual beads are strung together, they can make something beautiful and give the maker and wearer hope.
And by selling more than 3.5 million of our bracelets, we have raised over R62 million towards earnings for vulnerable people and to donate to worthy causes- including causes which support children and the youth like the Amy Foundation, the Shine Literacy Project, Masikhule and the Tomorrow Trust.
We have partnered with Ikamva Labantu seniors in making the bracelets- creating earning opportunities for young people and the elderly, and most recently, we were able to partner with Protea Hotel by Marriott Kruger Gate, to fund a brand new computer lab at the JJ Matsane Primary School in Mpumalanga.
If this is what we have been able to achieve with a simple beaded bracelet, imagine the impact if everyone who is able to, decides to play their part? Lots of little makes a big impact.
So this Mandela Day, I challenge everyone to commit to making a difference not just on this one day but consistently and throughout the year.
As a South African, I am saddened by the reality of what many of my fellow South Africans experience on a daily basis, from poverty and hunger to gender based violence and lack of access to water, jobs and education. But at the same time, I am so filled with hope when I look at the work being done by the phenomenal health care workers in this country.
When I see communities stand together to make their neighbourhoods safer and to create feeding schemes. When I see charities, and organisations step in to solve problems that have plagued people for months or years.
And when you really think about it- each of these people is a bead in a bracelet. Just one person whose impact on their own may not be that substantial. But, who in a collective, or partnership, becomes mighty. Our strength as Relate similarly lies in the connections we have made and the partnerships we have built.
These are the people we should be emulating and the spirit we should be embodying. Our deeds need not be large. They need not be expensive. It could be as simple as donating clothes that your children have outgrown or supporting a small business or entrepreneur when you do your shopping.
It could be choosing to support a charity or a family in your area on an ongoing basis, or it could be wearing a simple beaded bracelet that supports your favourite cause and allows you to be part of giving people dignity through jobs. What matters is that we are intentional and consistent in our kindness.
At Relate we have a saying, we all need to Relate to recognising the plight of others, respect for human dignity and responsibility.
The need has never been greater.
* Lauren Gillis is the founder of Relate Bracelets, a registered NPO. Relate Bracelets are available for purchase online at www.relate.org.za and at participating retailers.