Students celebrated a birthday with community service this Saturday, helping children and the less fortunate in honor of Mohandas Gandhi. The National Gandhi Day of Service, as the event is called, drew Yalies to service events around New Haven.

The event, organized by Yale’s South Asian Society, drew 16 volunteers, including members of the society and interested nonmembers. The students met in Dwight Hall to hear a speech by South Asian Studies professor Faisal Devji on Gandhi’s ideals before splitting up to serve the community at four different sites across New Haven.

Sabrina Khan ’07, the organization’s outreach coordinator, went with two other students to All Our Kin, an early education program that prepares parents to enter the workforce as early childhood educators. Khan said the three students painted the playroom where the children spend most of their time.

“It’s been proven that neutral colors provide a better environment to learn in,” Khan said.

Keerthi Madapusi ’05, who also went to All Our Kin, said he enjoyed the experience.

“It’s a good way of seeing New Haven,” Madapusi said. “I’ve never been to that area of the city before.”

Amit Mahadevia ’08 said he and other students went to the Eli Whitney Museum to put together kits that children will use to build small boats, an exercise designed to combine education and play. Mahadevia said the talk was both entertaining and rewarding.

“This is exactly the kind of service I want to be doing,” he said. “Even if I hadn’t been a member of the South Asian Society, I’d still have wanted to be a part of this.”

The event involved two other sites as well. Some volunteers went to the New Haven Book Bank where they shelved books and handed out free books to passersby in front of Shaw’s Supermarket.

Others went to Leeway, an HIV/AIDS nursing home, where volunteers kept the residents entertained, playing games such as Bingo.

Yale has had a strong involvement in the National Gandhi Day of Service, Khan said. The South Asian Society started putting on events in its honor four years ago, almost as soon as the day went national. In addition, recent alumnus Sid Kumar ’01 was in charge of coordinating proceedings for the day across a multi-state region, including Connecticut.

Khan said she acknowledged the importance of community service, but she also stressed that there was a benefit for the South Asian Society in supporting the day’s events. She said she hopes such proceedings will open students’ minds about the breadth of her organization’s contributions to Yale and New Haven.

“The day of service is important because SAS is known more for annual cultural shows and entertainment than anything else,” Khan said. “They’re very successful, but that’s not all we have to offer. There are so many parts to our group, but the rest, especially outreach, gets less notice.”

The National Gandhi Day of Service is a relatively new event. It was first celebrated by 200 people at the University of Michigan in 1997. Not long afterward, the South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow (SAALT) came onboard to make it a national day, one which was celebrated this year by 218 different organizations with thousands of participants.

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