Whole lotta love and a whole lotta Gandhi-ji in Zellerbach over the weekend! The occasion was Ekatva ("oneness"), a performance put on by the non-profit Manav Sadhna associated with the Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad. Manav Sadhna has chosen 16 children from the slums in Ahmedabad and educated, supported, and trained them to perform a 90 minute dance drama about Gandhi's message of oneness and non-violence. 1 in 6 human beings on this planet live in a third world slum, many of them children. Instead of chasing the popular non-profit dream to scale programs to reach massive numbers of people, Manav Sadhna has instead chosen to focus intensive attention on these 16 children in order to catalyze a major change in their lives.
Manav Sadhna started in 1990 with a group of volunteers who began playing with street children in the Gandhi ashram. This effort blossomed into programs that daily serve 8,400 children and women in and around Ahmedabad. And for the first time in 10 years Manav Sadhna has chosen 16 children to tour with Ekatva throughout the US and UK. Through these 16 children Manav Sadhna has directly tackled poverty, hunger, violence, illiteracy and health and sanitation issues. While challenging these children to rise above society's low expectations them, Manav Sadhna has also given them an opportunity to bring Gandhi's message to the wider world.
And there was a whole lotta Gandhi on Sunday evening. Gandhi being thrown off a train in South Africa, Gandhi returning to India, Gandhi's message of non-violence and removing untouchability... and all the philosophical inheritors of Gandhi's message from Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela through a photo montage of pretty much everyone recognized as being an amazing human being. There were a lot of globes tossed in the air, some funky lighting special effects and an astonishing number of props and costume changes. The result was pretty amazing, considering these are children with no previous arts or dance training, and as you can imagine, little or poor previous education.
Manav Sadhna definitely has a method. The children involved in Ekatva live at the ashram full-time. Although their families are involved in their education (to a greater or lesser degree depending on circumstances), Manav Sadhna has made the decision that removing them from the slums and immersing them in an entirely different environment is the best way forward. The children get up at 5 every morning, finish school at 5 or 6 every evening, then have several hours of rehearsal before heading to bed and starting over again.
The question is whether it works. For these children it will be years before we know. But we do know that their lead choreographer and dance instructor was one of them, 10 years ago. Manav Sadhna volunteers pulled him off the street where he was shining shoes, and an education later he's back supporting children in this year's production. All of this, however, is possible only with incredible amounts of support, including Project Ahimsa and Compassionate Chefs Cafe to mention a few I know amongst many, many others. Add a whole lot of heart cutting and support from John Silliphant and an enthusiastic row of Dholrhythmers saying "Wow. Maybe we should include kites as props in our next performance?!" and you know it was a pretty amazing time. It's heartening to know that 64 years after Gandhi's death he's still inspiring others to work non-violently to improve the lives of others. As Gandhi said, "The law of love could best be understood and learned through little children." From the slums of Gujarat to the streets of Berkeley, it clearly still resonates.