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Nelson Mandela Day

Today is Nelson Mandela Day and the 95th birthday of a truly great man. The anti-Apartheid activist and first black president of South Africa changed the course of history, ultimately changing the way we see the world.

His remarkable story of triumph over adversity has also earned him the respect and admiration of millions. 

As a political prisoner on Robben Island, Mandela was confined to a tiny 2.4-by-2.1-metre cell and spent hours arduously working in a lime quarry. But even under those circumstances, his mind was never caged. On the island – nicknamed “the University” – Mandela and his colleagues educated each other about social and political issues, history and languages. He ensured that knowledge was shared. And he captured his thoughts and experiences to one day express them in an influential autobiography.

Mandela was always a passionate advocate for education, knowing that one of the biggest prisons to threaten people was ignorance.

Education is the strongest weapon available to change any society for the better,” said Mandela. And he turned this belief into practice.

Driven by Mandela’s unwavering commitment to equality, UNICEF, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Peter Krämer Stiftung co-founded the Schools for Africa program in 2008. Our aim then was to help 8 million children in 6 countries receive a quality education. Programs were created to reach the most marginalized – namely girls, orphans, children living in extreme poverty, and vulnerable children impacted by HIV and AIDS.

We worked to tear down the figurative barriers to education brick by brick.

Five years later, Schools for Africa has helped over 21 million children benefit from increased access to quality education, improved physical and learning environments, enhanced teaching and learning processes, and child friendly programming. Soon the program will reach children in 13 countries.  

But despite this progress, there are millions of children being left behind. There are 57 million children globally who are virtually imprisoned by the lack of education and opportunity. 

"History will judge us by the difference we make in the everyday lives of children," said Mandela.

Let that be his call to action for all of us.

It’s our time to fight for social justice and equality.  It’s our time to support fundamental rights, like children’s right to education. And it’s our time to make history – educating every child to create a ripple effect of opportunity that will influence generations to come.

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