Talking about the Mahatma

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Ela Gandhi, teacher for the day at Ashbury Public School

As the primary school students sang the number Hum honge kamyab (We shall overcome), an emotional Ela Gandhi related how she sang this very song to herself when she was incarcerated in a South African prison during the days of the anti-Apartheid struggle.

The particular song was a favourite of her illustrious grandfather Mahatma Gandhi, and became an anthem of the movement he led for India’s independence from British occupation.

The students at Sydney’s Ashbury Public School welcomed peace activist Ela Gandhi at a special school assembly, as part of a program on Indian studies. Called ‘India Calling’, this innovative educational program is aimed at developing an understanding of India and its culture among primary school children. With five other schools in the area, 520 students in Years 3 and 4 celebrate India’s festivals and learn the Hindi language, as well as songs and dances from India. The project was launched by the Sydney Region of the NSW Department of Education and Communities in 2008, as part of its ‘Expanding Horizons with Asia’ initiative.

At the assembly, Ms Gandhi interacted with the students, the blue of her sari in sync with the blue of their uniforms. She spoke to them about her grandfather, describing in particular his iconic Dandi Salt March. (The students learned that with this 24-day walk on which thousands of people joined him, Gandhi triggered off the peaceful Civil Disobedience Movement that ultimately ended the British colonization of India). The other participating schools joined in via video-conferencing.

Ms Gandhi also watched a special presentation in which a young student read out a peace poem. This was highlighted by a Powerpoint presentation made up of illustrations created by the students. And of course, this was a perfect opportunity to present that Jai Ho dance number yet again!

As well, Ms Gandhi planted a tree in the school’s Peace Garden.

Earlier on, she was welcomed in true Indian tradition by Ashbury kids, who marked her forehead with a tikka.

Relieving Principal Mrs Sally D’Arrigo said later, “It was a beautiful day. The students got to see Ela Gandhi’s peaceful nature first hand and learned of the value of non-violence”.

Mala Mehta, founder of the IABBV Hindi School in Thornleigh who helped devise the India Calling program, also attended the event and was thrilled with how well it went. “I was quite overwhelmed, not only with the fact that the kids responded so well, but also to note that the program has come so far as to be able to host a personality of the stature of Ela Gandhi,” she said.

Ela Gandhi was in Sydney speaking as a guest of the University of New South Wales.  Details of the article here.

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