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Nelson Mandela International Day occurs on July 18 in recognition of Nelson Mandela’s  birthday. It was inspired by a call Nelson Mandela made for the next generation to take on the burden of leadership in addressing the world’s social injustices. It is more than a celebration of Madiba’s life and legacy. It is a global movement to honor his life’s work and act to change the world for the better. VVLead Fellow Eugenie Drakes honored his life through the 67 Blankets movement.

On the outskirts of Ulundi, KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, we turn off onto a dirt road leading to the Maqiyana Primary school.  As we drive up to the school, we see that a tent had been erected. The children are lined up outside their classrooms and we can feel the excitement in the air. I look at these children waiting to go into their classrooms and notice that they are ready to take off their shoes and leave them outside. Many of the students are wearing shoes with no heels, no toes, and some with barely any material at all on their feet. Many of the children’s uniforms are threadbare but spotless – and this in an area where there is no running water; water needs to be carried to homesteads.

VVLead Fellow Eugenie Drakes (R) handing out blankets at the Maqiyana Primary school. 

Staff and board members from Siyazisiza Trust, an organization formed to benefit the poor in South Africa, have arrived at the Maqiyana Primary School to deliver handmade blankets to children in need. The senior pupils help carry the Stuttafords boxes containing handmade blankets from the 67 Blankets for Mandela Day movement, which provides blankets to those in need.

Upon arrival to the school, we are guided to the homestead of one of the grade 6 pupils, Nomcebo Mncube. There we find that her family members are mourning the loss of Nomcebo’s grandmother, whose meager pension was the family’s only source of income.

I speak to the family about the 67 Blankets for Nelson Mandela Day movement and how many people have made blankets in Madiba’s (Nelson Mandela) name to be distributed with love. More women join us and amongst them are two other children, one extremely thin and wrapped in a towel for warmth. I promise them that I will find blankets for them.

When we return to the school, many dignitaries have arrived, including Mntwana (Prince) Zuzifa Buthelezi, as well as a group of parents and other tiny children. While waiting for the proceedings to begin, the children burst into song. The Master of Ceremonies, Mr. Buthelezi, starts the proceedings and the children listen intently, standing quietly.  

It is time for the blankets to be distributed. The children’s faces light up as they each receive their blankets. The women from the community are celebrating. It is amazing how the brown grass of the playground is transformed into a place of color as the children wrap themselves in their blankets with much laughter and merriment. 

A brave young pupil from grade 8 gives a heartfelt speech thanking all for their contributions and highlighting how this day would stay with them forever.

To all those who knitted and crocheted, I assure you that each stitch is a blessing and that your love and warmth will be felt for a long time going forward. The warmth of your love has gone straight to the hearts of those who have received your blankets. I know that Madiba is looking down and smiling, because we are spreading Madiba Magic and we all know how powerful that is.