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Bringing a MESSAGE of PEACE

Photo Credit: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTOS: KATHY FULLER - Arun Gandhi shared his message of peace and nonviolence with students at Century High School last week, and he posed for photos with students after his address. Freshman Celeste Cosio was one of the first in line. Arun Gandhi’s serious manner got a thorough test last Wednesday when he opened the floor to questions from students at Century High School.

The grandson of the Indian peace activist Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi, Arun Gandhi couldn’t help but smile when he was asked by a student, “Frozen yogurt or ice cream?”

“I like anything that is sweet,” he replied with a chuckle.

But most of his message to freshmen and social studies students at Century and, earlier in the day, at the Hillsboro Civic Center, took a more somber tone.

He spoke of respect, understanding, acceptance and appreciation among human beings.

Gandhi’s visit to Hillsboro — and to Portland earlier in the week for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration — was a collaborative effort between the World Arts Foundation, the city of Hillsboro and the Hillsboro School District.

Having experienced bullying as a youngster living in South Africa, Gandhi told the assembled students: “I was a victim of prejudice. The white kids thought I was black and the black kids thought I was white.”

He was sent to live with his famous grandfather for two years when he was 12.

“The lessons my grandfather taught me made a big difference in my life,” Gandhi told the students.

At age 81, Arun Gandhi still travels the world to share those lessons of peace and non-violence with young and old alike.

Especially pertinent to teenagers was Gandhi’s message on bullying.

“Our duty,” he said, “is to give [the bully] help and understanding. Bullying is not something new, it’s something we have become more aware of recently.”

What we understand now, Gandhi said, is that those who bully others are, in fact, asking for help.

Anger toward bullies, he said, is a normal reaction.

“Using that anger intelligently … for the good of humanity,” is the key to creating a more peaceful and better world.

When we attach labels to people according to color, race, religion or economic status, Gandhi said, “we forget that behind those labels is a human being.”

Students questioned Gandhi for nearly half an hour, ranging from the concrete to the philosophical.

“How do you orchestrate peace?” one student asked.

Another queried him on the depth of his belief: “Do you think world peace is realistic?”

“Yes,” Gandhi replied. “Anything is possible when human beings are committed to it.”

He left the students with several pieces of advice for their future.

“Your education is incomplete,” he told them. “Your real education begins after you graduate from college. Learn from yourself and from other people you meet.

“Transform your weaknesses into strength. Keep learning from each other. It’s only then we can become good human beings.”

Century senior Madison Heldt said Gandhi’s message about bullying resonated with her.

“His message was empowering,” she said.

Earlier in the day, Gandhi had lunch with several Hillsboro dignitaries and four students from the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council, a group of high school students from around the city.

“We asked him some questions about bullying and violence,” said Ashwin Datta, a sophomore at Glencoe High School.

“I also spoke with him about the social and political changes in India, and what effect the new party and prime minister has on India,” he added.

Much of Datta’s extended family lives in India.

“The policies there are very large-scale actions being taken to try to make India a developed nation,” Datta said, including infrastructure investments in high speed rail, airports, roads and cleaner cities.

“I’m not sure how much they will be affected. My grandparents and aunts don’t really travel much, and many of these initiatives won’t be finished for decades, so it’s more of a next generation concept,” Datta said.

On Twitter: @ReporterFuller

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