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Everyone saw him as the father’

Meg Handelman | Monday, December 9, 2013

The legacy of Nelson Mandela spreads so wide that Notre Dame students, professors and social justice organizations connected to the University felt personally touched by his work.

Paul Horn, former communications director for Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns, has spent 13 years living in South Africa and currently works in Johannesburg.

“Nelson Mandela showed the world that a nation can be built on a foundation of dignity, restorative justice and compassion,” Horn said.

Horn first became a volunteer teacher in South Africa in 1997, he said.

“This means I have had the opportunity to live through much of South Africa’s first generation of democracy,” Horn said. “Much has changed from the early years, where there was great uncertainty about how long peace would last.

“Nelson Mandela’s leadership in those early years was critical to laying the foundation for a lasting peace, and to creating a framework for truth and reconciliation.”

Horn said he spent Friday evening following Mandela’s death with the crowd gathered outside the former president’s home in Johannesburg.

“The reaction to Nelson Mandela’s life has been largely celebratory,” Horn said. “Mandela was 95 years old at the time of his passing and lived a full and accomplished life. Hundreds danced and sang in the streets, while others took a moment to light a candle and write a message to ‘Tata’ on a memorial wall that had been set up.”

Horn now works as executive director of the Kgosi Neighbourhood Foundation, an organization that seeks to empower families from one of the most challenged neighborhoods in Johannesburg. He said a number of Notre Dame students have completed International Summer Service Learning Programs (ISSLP) in the region.

“Johannesburg is a city of socio-economic extremes,” Horn said. “I work in a community where families often do not have food at home, and their home is a small room shared by many people without adequate sanitation, water or electricity.”

Horn said the Foundation’s initiatives include educational programs for over 150 children from birth to six years old, a community garden, a sewing project and the together+ Anti-xenophobia campaign.

Horn said the region is greatly affected by xenophobia-fueled violence. He said the segregation and inequality that Mandela devoted his life to changing still exist in South Africa today.

“When I leave that community after a day of work – literally going right over a hill – I enter a community with large homes, good schools, shopping malls, restaurants, public parks and excellent hospitals,” Horn said.

Horn said Mandela brought these diverse groups together, united them and inspired the campaign.

“Mandela’s belief in the transformative power of education has also inspired my years of work to offer orphaned and vulnerable children free schooling,” Horn said.

Notre Dame ISSLP participants reflect

Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns (CSC) funds International Summer Service Learning Projects (ISSLP) for students interested in broadening their views about economic disparity in the world, according to their website.

Kelsie Corriston, a senior sociology major, spent eight weeks volunteering at a children’s home called Open Arms for Children in Komga, South Africa, this summer through the CSC.

“ISSLP lets you serve while fully entering communities and building cross-cultural connections,” Corriston said. “I think that’s just such a fundamental part of the human experience – being able to enter the lives of others and create relationships that are meaningful.”

Corriston said she chose to do an ISSLP in South Africa because she would be able to live and serve at a children’s home, and because of her interest in the way apartheid operates today.

“The legacy of apartheid is still evident in Komga today,” she said. “Across from the Open Arms property is the Location, where the black people live. So segregation still exists. It consists of small homes in tight quarters. We only went there while driving twice … we were really restricted to staying on Open Arms property due to safety concerns.”

Following the death of Nelson Mandela, Corriston said she wrote a reflection about her time in South Africa and how Mandela’s legacy impacted the South Africa she knew.

“South Africa still suffers; so do the children that I lived with and cared for,” Corriston wrote. “This past summer was incredibly difficult. I saw how structural poverty shapes the lives of children; I witnessed the inequality and socioeconomic apartness that remains post-apartheid.

“Yet the beauty of a country brought together by its past of separation which is committed to a shared future is undeniable. Nelson Mandela personified unity in a post-apartheid world. He was a hero, in ways that we can’t possibly begin to understand; he was a father, South Africa’s Tata.”

Mandela’s work touched the lives of each of the children at Open Arms for Children by giving them an opportunity to grow into themselves, she wrote.

In her reflection, Corriston said Mandela’s tribal birth name, Rolihlahla, means troublemaker.

“Mandela made trouble – he fought injustice and bigotry, he brought a nation of systematic and deep-seated apartness together through justice and reconciliation. He helped made South Africa a place where children can dream,” she wrote.

Through the CSC, junior sociology major Jackie Paul completed the ISSLP along with Corriston.

Following the former president’s death, Paul wrote a reflection about Mandela’s legacy. “One does not have to look far to realize that Mandela’s influence was not bounded by the borders of South Africa,” Paul wrote. “The world continues to mourn the passing of this international figure who continues to be a heroic example, and I continue to pray for the hopeful country of South Africa.”

Contact Meg Handelman at mhandelm@nd.edu