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Nelson Mandela devoted 67 years of his life to public service and human rights. On July 18th join Vital Voices and the VVLead Fellowship Program in honoring Mr. Mandela’s legacy by taking just 67 minutes to help someone in need. In honor of Mandela’s birthday, VVLead Fellow Eugenie Drakes provides us with her firsthand account of this movement.

A casual conversation has evolved into a global movement, all in the name of Madiba.

This past February, Zelda la Grange, Mandela’s personal assistant for over 20 years, and South African actress Carolyn Steyn  decided to honor the spirit of Nelson Mandela by launching a campaign on Facebook called  ‘67 Blankets for Nelson Mandela Day.‘ As the page grew with fans, the campaign grew into a global movement with chapters in Australia, Cyprus, India, the United Kingdom and the United States encouraging people to make a difference.

Here’s the idea: Reserve 67 minutes on July 18th (Friday) to serve others by distributing blankets to those in need. July 18 is Nelson Mandela’s birthday, a day we in South Africa dedicate to honor his life’s mission by channeling his generosity and compassion to make a difference in the lives of others.

Why 67 minutes? Nelson Mandela spent 67 years of his life dedicated to championing justice, equality and dignity of all people in South Africa and the world.

Since February, we in South Africa have distributed nearly 4,000 blankets in Johannesburg, with other centres across the city avidly collecting blankets to distribute to the needy. What makes this day special is its ability to bond members of society under a common purpose:  to do good. The entire operation is volunteer-driven. Companies also demonstrate their civic interest by donating wool to those who have the will but not the means to knit blankets to give to charity. Along with knitting, collecting and packaging donated blankets, several people have shown their support to the campaign by teaching the elderly and children of their communities how to knit.

This past Sunday we experienced a gathering of ‘Knitwits’ and ‘Happy Hookers’ at the Nelson Mandela Square in Johannesburg where an additional 1,000 blankets were collected. This day was a true reflection of the power of our Rainbow Nation as a diverse group of people participated: young and old; rich and poor; men, women and children gathered together to celebrate Mandela’s energy, perseverance and fight for freedom in song and dance.

I have personally made seven adult blankets and three children’s blankets and will spend Mandela Day this year volunteering to revamp a crĢ¬che in Soweto.

The man with the hat was one of the teachers. He knits in a taxi going to and from work and in this way spreads the word.

What I want people to realize today on July 18th is that no one needs to aspire to be a hero. However, if we can aspire to champion even one quality of what we think makes a hero we can be sparks of social transformation. These past few months have brought me tremendous joy in seeing how my contribution is making a tangible difference to someone who has so much less than me. I have had fun and met inspiring individuals in the process.

I will continue to knit, as it is a great way to deal with stress, relax and keep the love flowing stitch by stitch. I encourage all those who can spare 67 minutes this Friday to reach out to their community organizations and churches and lend a hand.