ABU DHABI // Dozens of local diplomats and residents have promised Nelson Mandela they will volunteer 67 minutes to community projects - one for each year he spent doing humanitarian work.
Ambassadors from countries including Venezuela, Nepal, Ireland and Iran will write personal messages of admiration on a 20-metre canvas unveiled yesterday at Khalidiya Mall for Mr Mandela's 93rd birthday.
The tribute to the anti-apartheid activist who went on to become president will be on display until his birthday next Monday, when it will be sent to him in South Africa.
The campaign was launched by Nahtam Social Responsibility, an organisation that works to address the social needs of people in the UAE and poor people around the world.
The canvas also lists 67 suggestions for community work in the emirate. They include spending time with terminally ill people, donating sporting equipment or educational toys, and volunteering at an animal shelter.
"He was an inspiration not only to South Africa, but all over the world including the UAE, which has different cultures and people from different countries who could benefit from each other's support," said Kevin Oosthuizen, counsellor for the embassy of the Republic of South Africa.
Dr Elissar Sarrouh of the UN Development Programme called the event a perfect opportunity to spark long-term community engagement and volunteering.
"This is a great way to encourage everyone in the society to give back, and looking to the strong values of this man for inspiration," Dr Sarrouh said.
Mr Mandela became his country's first black head of state after serving 27 years in prison for his defiance against the racist apartheid system.
K Vinayaki, the vice principal of the Emirates Future International Academy, said Mr Mandela's life story had become a focal point for the school's community volunteering programme, which has already taken food to hundreds of labourers in Abu Dhabi.
Ms Vinayaki and some of the school's teachers took about 25 students to the event yesterday to write messages to the Nobel Peace Prize winner.
"The way that he bridged a gap and changed the lives of so many people is something that we want to teach to our students, to the youth of the UAE," she said.