By Lisa Dumas
After recently taking a trip on the Gandhi Legacy Tour in South Africa, Yahoda “Hoody” Miller and Malik Thompson, both interns at Rochester’s M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, have returned home with broadened horizons, and lessons in social responsibility, which they said they’ve been only too happy to share with the local community.
The 19-year-olds began their journey May 29, spending 16 days visiting museums and sites related to Mohandas Gandhi, nonviolence, and the history of overcoming apartheid in the country, as well as various community empowerment projects. Arun Gandhi, Gandhi’s fifth grandson and founder of the M.K. Institute, accompanied the pair, along with Kit Miller, director of the organization.
“The Gandhi Legacy Tour is where Arun Gandhi leads a group of people around either India, or South Africa, and, there, they essentially follow Gandhi’s footsteps learning about his life,” Thompson stated. “So, essentially, it’s retracing his grandfather’s footsteps. He is Gandhi’s fifth grandson; he is also the founder of the Gandhi Institute. Earlier in the year, in January, our colleague attended the Gandhi Legacy Tour in India. So, Kit came up with the idea of attending the Gandhi Legacy Tour in South Africa. She emailed Arun, and asked if he’d be willing to give us a grant for myself, and Hoody, to attend the tour. They offered us a grant of around $5,000 per person, excluding the flight. They covered all the fees it would take to participate in the journey; they covered the hotel; transportation; food. And we did some crowd fundraising for the airfare.”
Miller and Thompson have been employed with the Gandhi institute for about three years, and part of their responsibility as interns includes sharing social justice principles, and practices, with students at Northwest Middle School on the Frederick Douglas campus, as part of a team of educators the institute sends every day.
As a result, the pair said the trip was the perfect opportunity to learn more about Mohandas Gandhi, founder of one the most famous nonviolent independence movements in South Africa, and to gather as much information as they could, in order to bring the knowledge back and share it with their students.
According to Miller, one of the most important aspects of the tour had been a visit the two made to the Phoenix Settlement, a small village-like settlement Mohandas Gandhi established in 1904, in an effort to advocate for social change through nonviolent resistance in South Africa.
“We learned about how he grew up, and the area around him, and how he changed as a man,” Miller stated. “He was there for 21 years. He moved to Durban to practice law. He was a lawyer. There, he established the Phoenix Settlement.”
In addition, Thompson said another important discovery he and Miller had made during their trip was that, although the system of apartheid and institutionalized racism in South Africa ended in 1994, for many South Africans today; race is still an issue.
“Something our students are very interested in is race,” said Thompson. “And, what I shared with them about my experience was that; here in the U.S., I would be considered black. But, in South Africa, I would be considered colored. So, I had a very different experience than Hoody, who has a dark complexion. I spoke with Arun Gandhi’s younger sister, and she led us around the Phoenix Settlement. She talked about how Gandhi transformed into a political person who had this commitment to nonviolence. Nowadays, you hear about Gandhi being defamed, and about how he treated the black South Africans when he first got to Durban. Yes, that happened. However, there was another Gandhi, when he no longer embraced that. By understanding his transformation, and his flaws, I was able relate to him as a person. It was important for me to hear that, and I also think it was important for my students to hear that.”
Miller said he also brought back a newspaper for his students to read from Cape Town, the capital city in South Africa. He said the newspaper explained some of the barriers regarding skin color South Africans face today.
“I brought back a newspaper from Cape Town,’ Miller stated. “It’s called ‘Cape Times.’ It basically explains about skin color, and that, what’s happening now is most of the albinos are getting attacked for being albinos, because the people around them believe that albinos are evil.”
Relative to his own experience while visiting South Africa, Miller said, “I really didn’t get treated as equal to Malik; but, the majority of the people down there were my complexion, so I blended in pretty well.”
During the trip, Thompson and Miller also had the chance to meet Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and his daughter Mpho, while on the tour. According to Thompson, although Tutu’s reputation preceded him, he was still especially surprised by the archbishop’s good nature. He said he and Miller even snagged a selfie with Tutu.
“It was amazing. He had a great sense of humor,” Thompson stated. “We had a sit-down with him, his daughter, and his entire staff. I think it takes a lot of humility for someone so renowned to symbolically say, ‘It’s not just me doing the work, it’s everyone here. We’re all contributing.’ He totally took the spotlight off of himself. He’s also a very jolly person.”
In the end, Miller and Thompson said they had both been grateful for the opportunity to take the trip.
And, most importantly, they can now share their experience with the larger community.
“For me, this having been my first time traveling abroad, I’m realizing how important it is for people from backgrounds such as ourselves, to have this opportunity,” Thompson stated. “Having that opportunity just broadened my horizons to an extent that, there’s nothing that could have compared to having that opportunity. It just broadened my horizons. Although we live in an information technology age, it’s very different than reading about something, or seeing a picture of something, than going to a place, and smelling the smells, and eating the food, and actually being there. And, many of the people from my background may not have that opportunity. So, being able to do that, it’s very empowering. And, it makes me want to encourage more people from backgrounds like my own to try very hard to have an experience like that. It’s very necessary to grow.”
Additionally, “It showed me that I should care for my community a little bit more, because there’re people who care for their community,” Miller stated. “It showed me to look at where I came from, and not only to look, but to act on, and be a part of the community, in a positive way.”
Visit http://www.gandhiinstitute.org/ to learn more about the institute, and to read Hoody and Malik’s blog from their trip.
Arun and Sunanda Gandhi founded The Gandhi Institute at Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee in 1991, before moving the organization to the Interfaith Chapel at the University of Rochester in 2007. The institute moved to its current home, at 929 S. Plymouth Ave., in 2012.