Arun Gandhi visits Athey Creek during Season for Nonviolence

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Athey Creek seventh-grader Miles Noscato reads a poem he wrote to Arun Gandhi. To his right was a painting of Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi and over his left shoulder was one of Martin Luther King Jr. In front of him, filling the Athey Creek Middle School gymnasium nearly to capacity, were his farmers.

“Peace farmers,” to be exact.

This was how Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and a world-famous peace advocate himself, described the estimated 1,100 students, faculty and outside visitors who gathered at Athey Creek on Monday for his lecture, “Lessons I learned From My Grandfather.”

“I think we must all become peace farmers like I am,” Arun Gandhi said. “Not to expect to change the world by ourselves, but just to plant seeds in the minds of people and hope that those people will nurture those seeds and it will grow and spread, and very soon we could have the world become peacemakers.”

Gandhi spoke for about 20 minutes as part of a student-led program that included an early morning tea ceremony, a choir performance, short speeches about Athey Creek’s “Hands and Words Are Not for Hurting” project and the Wholistic Peace Institute, and the presentation of the Athey Creek Middle School Spirit of Unity Award to Gandhi himself. by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Sara Pauline VanNiekerk, an eighth-grader, read a poem she prepared to Arun Gandhi.

Gandhi’s appearance was timely — just about halfway through the Season for Nonviolence, which he cofounded in 1998. Put in place to celebrate the lives of both Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., the season is bookended by the anniversaries of their deaths (Mahatma Gandhi’s on Jan. 30, 1948, and King’s on April 4, 1968) and meant to promote the same nonviolent ideals Arun Gandhi promoted at Athey Creek.

For Athey Creek Principal Joel Sebastian, who played a key role in organizing the event and helped shepherd in the school’s own celebration of the Season for Nonviolence this year, the morning couldn’t have gone more smoothly.

“I’m thrilled,” Sebastian said. “A lot of what you saw out there was student voice around taking action to improve their community. So, I’m thrilled with student voice and student leadership and the learning that went along with that.

“And then also the opportunity for lots of folks in the community and organizations outside the community to hear his message around nonviolence.”

Among those attending from outside West Linn was Leela Thomas, who traveled 120 miles from Olympia, Wash., to hear Gandhi in person. Thomas is a native of India who moved to the United States in 1963. Though she was just 7 years old when Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated, she still remembers it vividly — an “indelible memory,” as she put it.

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Leela Thomas came all the way from Olympia, Wash., to see Arun Gandhi. She was 7 years old in India when Gandhi's grandfather, Mahatma Gandhi, was shot and killed.

She came to Athey Creek on Monday to create a new memory, her American-born son, Ranjy, at her side.

“It’s a great honor,” Ranjy Thomas said. “It’s really cool to see how generations have embraced what (Mahatma) Gandhi had achieved.”

At 9:45 a.m., when the program officially began and Arun Gandhi was greeted in the gymnasium by a standing ovation, the Thomases took their seats next to students and teachers from eight different schools. Upon entering the gym, attendees were asked by Athey Creek students to take a “pledge for nonviolence” and place a purple handprint on large sheets of white paper hung from the walls, each representing different schools.

Gandhi’s “seeds,” then, were planted even before he took the lectern. Yet by virtue of both his namesake and his gentle, calming speaking voice, Gandhi was the true driving force behind the sense of admiration that filled the room.

He spoke of a lesson imparted by his grandfather — that “anger is like electricity. It is just as powerful and just as useful, but only if we use it intelligently. It can be just as deadly and destructive if we abuse it.”

That notion struck a chord with Athey Creek eighth-grader Evan Kohne, who vowed to live more “passively” after hearing the speech.

“I’ve been kind of a violent person,” Kohne said. “Sometimes I put people down, not trying to be very hurtful but just trying to be more funny. But now I think I would have not done that.”

Others were moved by Gandhi’s words on the merits of sustainability. He related another memory of his grandfather scolding him for casually tossing away a pencil, and being forced to search nearly two hours for it in the dark. When Arun Gandhi finally found it, Mahatma Gandhi had a lesson for him.

“Even in the making of a simple thing like a pencil, we use a lot of the world’s natural resources,” Gandhi remembered his grandfather saying. “And when we throw them away, we are throwing away the world’s natural resources. And that is violence against nature.”by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Gandhi.

Seventh-grader Carson Steinbrenner thought about his own version of the pencil story. He has thrown away plenty of things without re-using them but never had to go searching for them in the dark. Gandhi’s anecdote altered Steinbrenner’s perception of resources.

“I probably will recycle more than I usually do — just not throw away things as much, donate most things,” he said, “because usually I just throw away stuff I don’t need anymore.”

In the end, it was a healthy dose of perspective for students who spend their weekdays tucked into a school building on the hills of West Linn.

“It’s a good opportunity for us to all kind of come together,” said eighth-grader Sophie Bohley. “There’s so many little things that go on in middle school that you get worked up about and that you make a big deal (of), but then today it’s kind of special because we can kind of forget about that for a little while.”

For more information about Season for Nonviolence, visit Click here for video of Gandhi's speech by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Left, Arun Gandhi watches on an iPad a video that, from left, Clara Adams, Rebekah Pinoli, Theresa Li and Cailee Ito created for him. Above, seventh-grader Miles Noscato reads a poem he wrote. TIDINGS PHOTOS: VERN UYETAKEby: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Jaime Etheredge, language arts teacher at Athey Creek, presents Arun Gandhi with an anthology of poems students had prepared.

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