Thought Seeds

Nelson Mandela Speaking Out for Justice

Written by
Ciara Byrne
Published on
July 17, 2023

Forgiveness is the Foundation for Community

1988. Ash Wednesday a few days before Easter Sunday.  I was sitting in a pew in Ballyfermot Church in Dublin next to my Mom. Incense was thick in the air. There was a sharp breeze outside and it penetrated the drafty church. I pulled my thick sky blue highschool blazer emblazoned with our school logo tightly around me.  This day was 35 years ago and yet it is seared in my memory because it was the first time I heard a story about Nelson Mandela that changed my life forever.

The young priest shared with the congregation how when Nelson Mandela got out of jail the first thing he did was forgive his oppressors who had imprisoned him for 25 years. The priest shared how an incredulous woman asked Mandela how in the world could he forgive his captors, the men who had destroyed his life for so long. Mandela replied because if I don’t forgive them then they still hold me captive.  Mandela understood that to build a thriving united South Africa he needed to forgive those who had harmed him.  He understood that to build a community starts with forgiveness.  It was a lesson I hold dear in my heart.  We all make mistakes.  We all harm those around us. Others harm us. Sometimes intentionally and sometimes without knowing it.  So to create caring and enduring communities we need to forgive ourselves and others everyday.

This July 18, Mandela Day,  I am grateful to Nelson Mandela for teaching me that powerful lesson.

Making a difference by empowering communities

On 18th of July every year, we are all invited to mark Nelson Mandela International Day by making a difference in our communities. Kim and I set up Green Our Planet with the idea of doing this every day! We set out to inspire others by uplifting and empowering them to rediscover their connection to life through their mind, body and soul and the pursuit of happiness through the quiet revolution of getting back to nature.

The next generation changing the narrative

Everyone has the ability and the responsibility to change the world for the better! Mandela Day is an occasion for all to take action and inspire change. Our actions at Green Our Planet are helping to create the next generation of young scientists, future chefs, future farmers, future conservationists, engineers and entrepreneurs. Engaging students with their food, where it comes from and the impact its production has on health and planet is fundamental to a sustainable society.

Championing Education Through Doing

Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Green Our Planet fully embraces this sentiment by championing education through hands-on, experiential learning.

Through its garden-based learning programs, Green Our Planet creates immersive environments where students can engage with the natural world and gain practical knowledge. By planting, nurturing, and harvesting crops, students develop a deep understanding of environmental processes, agriculture, and the importance of conservation. Our programs not only enhance academic learning but also cultivate a sense of responsibility and connection to the planet.

Tackling Inequality in Society

Green Our Planet empowers communities to grow their own food, optimize their own nutrition and health and, in doing so, tackles inequities in society through education. The children who are learning in the outdoor and hydroponics gardens will affect positive changes in our communities, in our legislature and in our society. Our ten years of successes with the school program and local authorities are testament to this.

In service of humanity

Nelson Mandela devoted his life to the service of humanity — as a human rights lawyer, a prisoner of conscience, an international peacemaker and the first democratically elected president of a free South Africa. Green Our Planet is a growing movement – a community of educators, policymakers, business people, elected representatives, farmers, children and creatives – who are marching towards a common goal, that of nurturing thriving, sustainable communities that will prosper and share that prosperity with everyone in the community. This is a We movement.  Just as Mandela might have imagined.

Championing STEM subjects and empowering the next generation

Nelson Mandela understood the transformative power of education in lifting up individuals and communities. He believed in the importance of providing equal opportunities for all, regardless of their background. Green Our Planet shares this belief and focuses on empowering the next generation through STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).

By integrating garden-based STEM education into school curricula, Green Our Planet equips students with the necessary skills to thrive in a rapidly evolving world. Through hands-on learning experiences in school gardens and hydroponics laboratories, students develop critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity. These skills not only prepare them for future careers but also enable them to contribute to society and find innovative solutions to pressing environmental challenges.

The program’s mission is to increase student academic performance in STEM subjects as well as to conserve and protect the environment through project-based STEM education, which includes nutrition, financial literacy, and conservation education in PreK-12 schools and beyond.

Nutrition and Food Justice

As a leader, Nelson Mandela recognized the importance of addressing social inequities and the need for food justice. Green Our Planet shares this commitment by promoting nutrition and ensuring equitable access to healthy, sustainable food for all.

Through its initiatives, Green our Planet educates students, teachers, and communities about the importance of healthy eating and sustainable agriculture. By establishing school gardens and hydroponics programs, the organization empowers people to grow their own food, fostering self-sufficiency and reducing reliance on unhealthy, processed options. This focus on nutrition not only improves physical well-being but also enhances academic performance, as research shows that healthy eating positively impacts cognitive function. A well-run school garden program can transform a school or an entire school district’s culture and learning to take care of a school garden is the first step in learning to take care of the  planet. Every child should learn where their food comes from and school gardens connect students to the wonders of nature.

‘Farmpreneurs’: fostering entrepreneurship and environmental stewardship

Nelson Mandela believed in the power of entrepreneurship to drive economic growth and create opportunities for marginalized communities. Through its programs, Green Our Planet encourages students and community members to become farmpreneurs, fostering a new generation of environmentally conscious entrepreneurs. By providing training, resources, and mentorship, the organization equips students with the skills and knowledge necessary to start and manage successful school garden businesses.

Garden-Based Learning for Better Engagement with Students

Nelson Mandela understood the importance of engaging students in meaningful ways to foster a love for learning and a sense of purpose. Green Our Planet shares this vision and employs garden-based learning as a powerful tool for student engagement.

By creating outdoor classrooms in school gardens, Green Our Planet provides students with a unique learning environment that stimulates curiosity, creativity, and a sense of wonder. Through hands-on activities, students explore various subjects, including science, mathematics, and environmental studies. This interactive approach to education not only enhances academic performance but also builds confidence, resilience, and a love for lifelong learning.

Join the movement!

Nelson Mandela’s values of peace, equality, and justice continue to inspire individuals and organizations worldwide. Green Our Planet, with its mission to create thriving, sustainable communities, aligns closely with Mandela’s vision. Through STEM education, nutrition and food justice initiatives, support for farmpreneurs, championing education through doing, and garden-based learning, Green Our Planet empowers individuals and communities to make a difference in the world.

As we celebrate Nelson Mandela’s legacy on his birthday, let us remember his words: “It is easy to break down and destroy. The heroes are those who make peace and build.Join the school garden movement and embrace Mandela’s values as we work towards a brighter, more sustainable future for all. Together, we can create a world where peace, justice, and environmental stewardship thrive.

Love and gardens,


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