Discovering Ubuntu

Erica Pence and Corps at Basic Training Retreat

Erica Pence and Corps at Basic Training Retreat

The unfortunate passing of Nelson Mandela led me on a journey of discovery about this amazing individual’s life. I have always admired Mandela, specifically his insight concerning social issues. City Year tackles the social issue of education. At the beginning of our year of service, we establish “I Serve” statements that summarize why we decided to dedicate a year to national service. My “I serve” statement is about the power of Ubuntu. Ubuntu, a term borrowed from the Zulu tribe of South Africa, means “I am a person through other people; my humanity is tied to yours.”

The theory conveys an indispensable spiritual certainty about the world: We are all connected to each other through invisible webs of interdependence. We share a collective world and a mutual purpose, and the small struggles of the few effect the population as a whole. I believe that the power of interdependence can truly change the world. However, we must get past the basic barriers that hold us back from being one humanity; race, religion, etc. Practicing cultural humility is essential for our own awareness of the world and ethnic education.

As stated in Mandela’s autobiography, he believes that “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.” Mandela proved this web of interdependence and love when he held a conference on Civil Society in Cape Town in 2001. Mandela extended an invitation to Clinton, who accepted and brought along a delegation from the US, which included representatives from City Year Inc. From this, City Year South Africa was established in 2005. This is a concept I am trying to engrave into my work with students. Most students have preconceived feelings towards certain cultures, which is only holding them back from genuine appreciation of the world around them. If I can open up that barrier of acceptance, there are countless possibilities to what they can achieve.

— Erica Pence, first year corps member


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