Students organize projects to commemorate Gandhi’s birthday

Students helped organize community service projects in D.C. Saturday for a national service day to commemorate Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday.

The national organization South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow sponsored the event, called “Be The Change.” SAALT focused the day on commemorating the famous non-violence leader, and its title is derived from Gandhi’s words, “We must be the change that we want to see in the world.”

Community service events in 50 cities nationwide, including San Francisco, St. Louis and New York, attracted over 1,000 volunteers. Students from GW, Georgetown and University of Maryland, as well as recent graduates and other community members, participated in D.C.

“What better way is there to practice Gandhi’s ideals of giving to the people?” said senior Divyesh Lalloobhai, co-coordinator of Be The Change 2006 for Satyam, a Hindu student organization.

According to SAALT, the event is “to inspire and foster civic engagement through volunteerism and community service . and to evoke and remember Gandhi’s legacy of compassion and unity.”

The event was kicked off by Rohini Anand, senior vice president and chief diversity officer of Sodexho Corporation, a nationwide food-service company with 300,000 employees in 80 countries. Sodexho operates the dining services in the Marvin Center

“At the core of service is the giving of yourself,” Anand said. “Go out and seize the moment. We’re counting on you to make a difference in everyone’s life.”

“Mahatma Gandhi serves as a role model for a lot of us, including myself,” Padma Shah added. “He is your average person that did some extraordinary things.”

One of the five D.C. volunteer options was helping a twice-monthly program for disabled children called Kids Enjoy Exercise Now at Payne Elementary School in Southeast D.C. KEEN’s mission is to provide recreational opportunities to children by pairing them with trained volunteers for fun, non-competitive activities.

Mary Rosenstein, program manager for KEEN, said the free program benefits both students and parents.

“The parents get a break to go do their grocery shopping, or go get a cup of coffee,” she said. “When you have a child with this level of a need, it’s constant physical and mental energy.”

Rosenstein started bringing her son, Koby, to KEEN when he was 5 years old, nine years ago.

KEEN is modeled after a program established by Elliot Portnoy, who brought the program to D.C. in 1992. The over 100 child participants have disabilities such as autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and various development and intellectual disabilities. No one is turned away from the program, according to organizational flyers.

“The kids need people to play with and look up to,” said Amit Kapoor, a graduate student in systems engineering. “It’s important to get the heart pumping and muscles working … This has been a pretty awesome experience.”

Amit taught his play-partner, Dimani, the touchdown celebration dance he called “the dirty bird.”

Be The Change started five years ago at the University of Michigan. The other D.C. projects included Joseph’s House, a home for men and women with terminal illnesses; the Gospel Rescue Ministries, a shelter which needed to be painted; Health on Wheels; and the Capital Area Food Bank.

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