Today is Nelson Mandela International Day! In honor and remembrance of him, Aimee N'simire Manimani, former World Vision communications officer in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, reflects on how Nelson Mandela influenced her career as an aid worker.
“There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.” —Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom.
As a child, my parents talked often of this man. They told me he was a hero, a man whose courage amazed the world. As I grew up, Nelson Mandela was no longer just a hero — he had become my example to follow.
Today, I can say that I didn’t understand Mandela’s legacy story in a book. I understand him daily through my job as an aid worker on the frontline of oppression and injustice.
So often I get discouraged, scared, and frustrated, but then a second later I can also be amazed by the little victories and changes that I have seen our teams making among the children, parents, and women we serve.
Like Mandela, I learned not to give up, but to have an ideal and to make it real. All those words seemed to me a bit unrealistic when I started my aid career, but today they make total sense to me. All my life turns around these values — his values.
Like Mandela said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Life is tough for everyone in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but as a woman it is doubly so. My country is nicknamed the rape capital of the world because here rape is a weapon of war. Thousands of Congolese women face assault and violence daily.
Mandela stood for all minorities and for universal justice. An African patriarch, he understood what it is to be a woman. Till the end of his life, he stayed friends with his ex-wife Winnie, because he said he understood how hard it was for her while he was in prison for 27 years.
Recently, I met an 8-year-old girl from the town of Minova. She had been forced to watch as her parents were brutally murdered in front of her. I was rendered speechless as she told me: “I have forgiven those who killed my parents, not because I am weak and powerless to revenge, but because I am stronger than what they did to me.”
Human weakness, greed, and hatred kill. This is what is killing countries like mine, like Syria, the Central Africa Republic, and so many other countries in the world.
What do you do when you meet an 8-year-old girl whose life was torn apart by people who will never pay for their crime?
Or what do you say to a 15-year-old girl who lost her parents after they were forced to flee their home to escape the fighting, and who is now forced to look after her 3-month-old baby sister?
Every day I face challenges like this. I wish the whole world could hear what I hear and meet the victims I meet.
Last December, we lost Mandela; today is Nelson Mandela International Day. In our joint grief and as we honor him, my greatest wish is for everyone to stop for a minute to think about the world’s victims. Think about those who are hurt by weapons and wars. But also think about those we ourselves hurt daily with our words or thoughtless actions.
Think about what he would do. What he would want us to say. That way, the answers may just become clear to us.
From the Democratic Republic of Congo, I say, thank you, Mr. Mandela.
Aimee N'simire Manimani is a former senior communications officer with World Vision in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.