“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
The words of Mahatma Gandhi, the famous Indian leader who advocated for non-violent political protest, kicked off Gandhi Day of Service on Saturday, a one-day community service event co-sponsored by the Indian American Student Association and Students Promoting Awareness Reflection and Knowledge, a community service organization.
More than 275 students wearing blue and yellow T-shirts given out free to participants gathered at the Chemistry Building, where they were divided into groups before leaving to participate in a wide variety of community service projects in the Ann Arbor area. Sites included the Ann Arbor Hospice, Ozone House, the Ann Arbor Civic Center, Nichol’s Arboretum and Recycle Ann Arbor.
“Every year you do something new. I guess you find out ideas about helping other people that you wouldn’t even think of,” LSA junior Aditi Saxena said. “I did it freshman year and it was just a pretty cool experience. You meet a lot of people and you get to help out too.”
Gandhi Day of Service, which began at the University in 1997, takes place around Oct. 2 every year in honor of Gandhi’s birthday. The vision of its creators was that it would “unify people through the common goal of serving communities in need.”
“I feel like living out Gandhi’s legacy is an important job that everyone should be responsible for,” said Engineering freshman Anika Kumar.
The event has now expanded on a national level. In 2001, 5,000 volunteers from 40 different universities did 25,000 combined hours of community service.
“This event is so important to us because it began at this campus and has since then spread to every corner of the country. It is amazing to carry on a tradition that started just five years ago but has impacted so many college campuses across the nation in such a short time,” said LSA sophomore Katya Melkote, a service coordinator for IASA.
Melkote said aside from spreading the Gandhi’s legacy, one of the day’s goals is to encourage a variety of students to meet and interact with each other.
“A lot of times, non-Indians and non-IASA members feel as if they aren’t allowed or shouldn’t participate in Gandhi Day, but the ideas and philosophies that Gandhi preached are universal to all people across the world, not just Indians,” Melkote said.
Melkote’s co-coordinator, LSA junior Avani Patel, said they worked very closely with SPARK this year in order to send participants to sites that really need the use of volunteers.
“It was a successful partnership because we were able to bring a lot of different and diverse ideas to the table by combining the goals and visions of a cultural organization with the goals and visions of a community service based organization,” Melkote said.