More than 400 students set out bright and early for various parts of Miami to volunteer their time and efforts and celebrate National Gandhi Day of Service on Saturday. The event, planned by the Council of International Students and Organizations and LINK, celebrated its largest volunteer turnout in its three-year history at UM.
“We attained flagship status, which means that we had an enormous amount of participants,” Nikki Aggarwal, logistics chair, said. “Next year we can invite the Miami community and get them to participate with us as well, which would make it even bigger.”
Among attendees was Coral Gables Mayor Don Slesnick, who addressed the students at the opening ceremonies shortly before 9 a.m.
“We are a force today in Miami,” he said, thanking students for participating and noting that they would touch the lives of many people in the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi.
“The question today is not who is Gandhi,” Slesnick said, “but what is Gandhi.”
Students were bused from campus to 22 sites in Miami, including Overtown, north of downtown Miami, Kendall Lanes Bowling Alley, Camillus House, Community Rehab Center and the Ronald McDonald house.
“A lot of our sites had a lot of creativity,” Amy Sun, co-chair of Gandhi Day, said. “We tried to pick out sites that touched upon a variety of issues in Miami.”
One group of students trimmed bushes, righted trees downed from the hurricanes and placed topsoil in order to maintain Overtown’s volunteer-maintained garden. The garden, on the embankment of I-395, now has colorful rose bushes growing along with many other plants.
“I made a difference by helping restore a garden to make the community look better,” Christian Cobb, freshman, said.
Sophomore Magda Abdel Fattah said she signed up for the National Day of Service because it was an unusual chance to make a difference.
“I find that the school has fewer big volunteer opportunities,” she said. “If you play a part in the big events, that’s when you’re doing something important.”
In another part of Overtown, students worked on the roof of a house for Habitat for Humanity.
“It was a great environment working together with others for one common goal,” Graham Osberg, junior, said. “I think we were helped more than [those in need] were.”
Students at Kendall Lanes spent the day showing off their bowling skills along with some of Miami’s special needs citizens.
“We let them know there are people who care, that the community is there for them,” Roseland Marcellon, sophomore, said.
Among the lessons learned during the day was the ideal of non-violence taught by Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Teresa, which was passed on to students at Madison Middle school by volunteers at the site.
“It was a non-violent and international sort of lesson that we were trying to teach them,” Sun said. “We wanted our participants to have meaningful service, reaching out to a lot of pockets in Miami.”
Sam West can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.