Nelson Mandela and wife Graca Machel received honorary degrees Saturday at Ryerson

Photo: Tim Fraser

Students take action call to heart

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RACA reps moved to help needy after Mandela speech

By Natalie Alcoba

When Nelson Mandela and Graca Machel were presented with honorary degrees at Ryerson on Saturday, one student group felt a personal connection with the recipients.

The Ryerson African Caribbean Students Association was allotted 10 tickets by the university the ceremony.

Five tickets were given to the executive, which included president Bukola Okuribido, vice president Fathia Are, treasurer Linett Brown, events coordinator Elizabeth Naibhati and secretary Judith Craig. The rest were distributed to other RACA members, who had to submit letters detailing why they wanted to attend.

After the historic occasion, the five-member executive chatted about what the visit meant for them.

Okuribido said she was especially touched by Mandela’s words about how change starts with the individual.

“You cannot influence and change others if you yourself are not prepared to change,” said Mandela at the ceremony.

“I really took that to hear,” said the third-year social work student and volunteer with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, read the citation for Machel at the ceremony.

She said she has been inspired by Machel’s relentless work on behalf of women and children and would like one day to go to African countries, including her native Somalia, and work to affect change.

After receiving her degree, Machel stressed the need to invest in children. “Why is it that we can mobilize vast resources to fund wars, but we cannot mobilize adequate funds to protect children?” she asked.

Machel said Canada is part of a long list of countries that have not met the official development assistance target agreed to by industrialized nations — 0.7% of the Gross National Product. She said Canada currently contributes 0.25% of the GNP to help impoverished countries, down from 0.34% in 1997.

“I learned something, I didn’t know those figures. She opened my eyes,” said Naibhati, a fourth-year retail management student.

“Everyone thinks Canada is so great, we’ve been ranked number one by the UN so many times… and we’re so lacking in those areas,” said a shocked Craig.

Naibhati heeded Machel’s call for a greater commitment from governments and individuals.

“If you’re going to commit to helping children, do something about it,” she said. “Don’t make false promises.”

She said people can affect change with small actions, volunteering at local agencies and mentoring children. The group wants to put on fundraising events to raise money for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and is considering starting a mentorship program to help black youth.

“If you’re successful in anything you have to start with the children because they’re going to be the leaders of tomorrow,” said Okuribido.

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