Gandhi Day draws volunteers to ‘be the change’

The University of Miami hosted its fourth annual National Gandhi Day of Service on Saturday, urging students to “Be the Change.”

Guided by the national organization South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow (SAALT), the event consisted of a day of volunteerism highlighting Mohandas Gandhi’s values of unity, tolerance and selflessness.

Hosted by the newly charted student organization Be the Change: National Gandhi Day of Service and sponsored by the Butler Center for Volunteer Service and Leadership Development, this day of service turned into the largest volunteer effort ever hosted by UM, with over 1,200 individual volunteer sign-ups.

“There’s nothing more satisfying and rewarding than that,” said Shawn Shah, co-chair of recruitment and logistics. “It’s a feat in itself.”

Anjuli Pandit, flagship coordinator of the event, said other schools in the area were encouraged to participate in the event. Volunteers included both individuals and groups from UM, Miami-Dade College and Florida International University. Private and public high schools in the area have already expressed interest to participate next year.

“We definitely want more schools to get involved and make the event their own,” said Amy Sun, co-chair of service for Be the Change.

Sun also stressed the importance of the event, calling it a marriage between service and cultural awareness. Publicity chair Shelly Garg agreed.

“As far as inspiring activism, that’s what our goal is,” Garg said.

After registration, check-in and a free breakfast, volunteers received a t-shirt and name tag and were assigned to one of 30 participating volunteer sites. Large sites included parks and beaches while there were also smaller, more intimate sites, such as hospitals and clinics.

This year’s event happened to fall on National Public Lands Day, accounting for the reason that most of the larger participation sites were outdoors. The Oleta River State Park site had the largest number of volunteers, with more than 250 students.

Natasha Esteves, a freshman, participated in Key Biscayne’s Crandon Park beach cleanup.

“More than actually cleaning up the beach, we learned a lot about the park itself,” Esteves said. “It opened my eyes to how we really do have to keep the parks clean.”

Camila McLaughlin and Oscar Fernandez, both sophomores, volunteered at the Miami River Commission site. As they filled trash bags, they encountered items such as rotting chickens, condom wrappers and broken bottles.

“I felt accomplished after the clean-up,” McLaughlin said. “It was a good cause and it felt good to do it with a bunch of other people.”

Fernandez estimated that he spent about two hours volunteering, and said he will participate in the Gandhi Day of Service again in the future.

Local sponsors provided a culturally diverse lunch for volunteers upon their return to campus.

“Sponsorship was a great opportunity for [the sponsors] to show they support the community,” Pandit said.

National Gandhi Day of Service was also supported by Mayor Don Slesnick of the City of Coral Gables and local businessman Joe Stevens, both of whom were guest speakers at the event.

After a slight rain delay and relocation to the University Center ballrooms, the event concluded with a cultural showcase, which included both musical and dance performances by individuals and other UM student organizations.

Megan Ondrizek may be contacted at