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October 1, 1999
3,000 Indian Students To Offer Service In Mahatma's Name
Debasish Mishra in Washington
When Mat Thomas, a molecular biology student at Princeton University leads a group of students to repair a dilapidated house in Trenton on October 9, he would ask the group to think for a few minutes about Mahatma Gandhi's fight to insure a better tomorrow for the poor.
"As a second generation Indian American, I take immense pride in Gandhi's fight for humanity," Thomas says. "Depending on the response for our call, we would like to continue doing service every month and spend some time thinking about Gandhi's challenge to us to create a better world."
Thomas says his group will also involve non-Indian students.
Elsewhere, some 3,000 students from 20 universities nationwide will unite to perform public service in their local communities to honor and commemorate the life and philosophy of Gandhi in an inaugural event: the first National Gandhi Day of Service. Most events will take place this weekend; the Princeton event is scheduled for a later date to logistic reasons.
"What is truly inspiring is how much will be accomplished for the betterment of this country," says Neil Kataria, co-ordinator of NGDOS and a senior at the University of North Carolina.
"At the end of the day, NGDOS participants will have planted trees in Salt Lake City; built homes for the homeless in Durham, New Haven, and Philadelphia; visited and assisted the elderly in Detroit and Bloomington; aided HIV prevention in New York; cleaned up parks and provide a helping hand in children's hospitals and domestic violence shelters throughout the country," he said.
Kataria adds: "They will dramatically improve the lives of thousands of people within the span of one day; imagine if service becomes a regular part of their lives."
Students from Dartmouth College in the east to Stanford University on the west will aspire, as Gandhi did, "to realize the highest in life through the service of humanity".
"Just as Gandhi demonstrated throughout his lifetime, we hope that this project will demonstrate to students and to all Americans that a small group of committed and inspired individuals can make a tremendous impact in improving society," says Vikram Sarma, national NGDOS co-ordinator and a junior at the University of Michigan.
National Gandhi Day of Service is a quintessential expression of the American immigrant experience. We are taking something from our heritage and adding it for the betterment of this country.
The goals of the National Gandhi Day of Service are:
Each campus will follow a basic formula: Students will gather in the morning to hear from an inspirational speaker talk about the life of Gandhi and the value of service. They will then separate to work on various service sites in their local communities. Later, they will spend time reflecting on their service and its value to the community.
Among the guest speakers at various campuses are Congresswoman Louise M Slaughter (D-NY), who will speak at the University of Rochester; and Arun Gandhi, the Mahatma's grandson and director of the M K Gandhi Peace Institute, who will speak at the Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan.
The organizers plan to make a more dramatic impact for next year, with 43 schools already interested in signing up.
Below is a list of participating schools accompanied by the local press contact:
Debasish Mishra, executive director of the India Abroad Center for Political Awareness, an Indian American non-profit organization that is helping to co-ordinate the event nationally. A P Kamath contributed to this story.
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