by Kevin Varkey
The first time I heard about the M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence was around three months ago. I distinctly remember frantically talking to anyone and everyone about possible summer internships, while at the same time writing papers for grad school and studying for my exams that were fast approaching. Needless to say, it was a very stressful time for me, as I was finishing up my first year of a Masters in Theological Studies at Boston University.
Thankfully, Brother Larry, the chaplain of BU’s Marsh Chapel got me in touch with Kit Miller, the director of the Gandhi Institute. I remember being slightly terrified but very excited, when Kit surprised me by calling me randomly during the day and then telling me that she had the other three staff members with her and that they were hoping to conduct a group interview via speakerphone. And so I heard the voices of George, Shannon, and Anna for the first time. They asked me about my views on Gandhi, nonviolence, my past experiences, and what I hoped to gain from working at the Gandhi Institute. I can’t really remember what exactly I told them in the midst of going through this verbal gauntlet (just kidding), but there was one thing in Kit’s questioning which really stood out to me. She kept asking me what I could teach them and what I could share and whether I had any particular skills or knowledge that I would be willing to teach to others. I’ll be honest: this confused the hell out of me, because I had never been asked such a question before. Obviously, every other employer and internship wanted to know what my skill set was so I could help them complete assigned tasks, but Kit wasn’t asking me about my technical skills. Rather, she wanted to know what I knew about nonviolence, Gandhi, and social justice, and if I could teach others. Still a little confused, but very impressed, I said yes. I had just gotten a first glimpse of the love, humility, and respect that the staff of the Gandhi Institute projects outwards as they work towards their goals. They truly look at everyone as equal partners in their quest for a just and better world; this is what made me want to intern there, and be a part of the Institute.
Only several days after getting here and meeting Kit, George, Shannon, and Anna, I was referring to the Gandhi Institute as if I had worked there all along. This is a testament to the loving and inclusive environment that they work hard to provide at the Gandhi house, and which I’m sure is felt by countless others who visit.
Another surprise was how much I would learn and be a part of in my two months’ time with the Institute. Within three weeks of my arrival, I had participated in a workshop on “Nonviolence and the Problem of Evil” led by George, walked alongside hundreds of other Rochester residents as they partook in Teen Empowerment’s peace march, and sat in on a meeting of Pathways to Peace as they discussed the problem of gang violence in Rochester and at-risk youth in the community.
Soon after this George and I participated in a weeklong seminar at Nazareth College entitled “Train the Trainers in Understanding World Religions and Interfaith Relations.” Led by Dr. Muhammad Shafiq and Rev. Gordon Webster, this workshop included lectures and presentations on different religions, dialogue between religions, and the rules and etiquette for discussing matters of faith between members of different faith traditions. We also visited a different house of worship on each day, including a Hindu temple, a Sikh gurdwara, a Mormon chapel, and an Orthodox Jewish synagogue. It was an incredible learning experience and I truly felt humbled to have been a part of such wonderful dialogue and understanding between people of different faiths.
Soon after that I was exposed to Joanna Macy’s “The Work that Reconnects” at Anna and Shannon’s community building barbecue that was a great success. It was the first time I had ever really heard of Joanna Macy and her incredible work, but the idea that all beings are radically interconnected and interdependent was a view that appealed to me immediately. The exercises and conversations we had further instilled the sense of this truth in me.
I had another taste of Joanna Macy and her work during the Gandhi Institute’s 4-day Nonviolence and the Work that Reconnects Summer Intensive. During the first two days, I learned even more about Gandhi and nonviolence from George, as well as listening to guest lecturers Dr. V.V. Raman and Bob Good. I also had the honor of presenting for an hour and a half on my own topic, “Nonviolence and Religion.” Although I was a little nervous, I was incredibly grateful to be given the opportunity to present on a topic that I had studied and learned about for so long, and which I was very passionate about. The third and fourth days of the Intensive were spent learning more about Joanna Macy and The Work That Reconnects. Anna and Shannon’s exercises and activities brought our entire group closer together and led to some incredibly emotional scenes as we shared our pains, worries, and joys with each other. It was a beautiful experience that I shall never forget.
I also greatly enjoyed the work party that we organized in the time that I was here. It was really inspiring to see so many people from the neighborhood working together to dig up dirt to create garden beds, mow the lawn, and even pull weeds. It felt like a real community effort. It was a group of people coming together for the common cause of making the Gandhi Institute’s little plot of land a little more beautiful. As I looked out at everyone working hard, I could imagine how beautiful it would look in the coming years. By coming together to create something as simple as garden beds, the people of Rochester were taking control of the destiny of their city and the direction in which it is heading. As an outsider from Boston, I could see that they were saying that they had the power to affect positive change. Despite all their city’s problems, they had come out to do something positive because they still believed in their city and its people. This was a beautiful thing to be a part of.
I’m incredibly thankful to everyone who helped make my time here at the Gandhi Institute such a wonderful experience. To Erinne, Zeek, Marian and Brenda, thank you for your laughs and friendship- I will miss you. To my amazing landlords, David Knoll and David Skinner, thank you for all your help and kindness throughout my entire stay. You are both a shining example of the kind of community that is possible if we all take our part in this world seriously and are willing to lend one another a helping hand. Thank you David Dornford for your stories, wisdom, and friendship. Thank you for being so kind and for listening to me. Thank you Debrine, for being another shining example of the kind of positivity that we can bring about in our communities through hard work, an open mind, and an open heart. Keep fighting. Thank you to Anna and Shannon for being such kind and wonderful people and for teaching me so much. I will miss your sincerity and laughter. Thank you to George, for taking me under your wing, and for sharing yourself and your learning with me. From the time you picked me up at the airport, you helped make me feel welcome and I sincerely appreciate that kindness and friendship. And finally, thank you to Kit, for believing in me and seeing within me the possibility for growth and learning. Thank you for always encouraging me to do more, and for treating like I was a member of your family. Your genuine kindness and concern has touched me, and many others, and I know that it will continue to guide you and the Gandhi Institute in the time to come.
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- August 19, 2013 10:00 am2013 Nonviolence Summer Intensive
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