Oct 02, 2007 04:30 AM Prithi Yelaja Staff Reporter
The kids at Winchester Public School in Cabbagetown have a new hero to look up to.
Surprisingly, it's not a hockey player or a pop star, but Mahatma Gandhi, a long-dead pacifist and key figure in the non-violent movement that won India's independence from Britain.
"All (pop stars) do is entertain, but someone like Gandhi changed the world. That's really cool," said Shashwat Koirala, 12. "He was a smart person with great ideas that can still work in our modern world, like talk it out instead of dissing people up."
The Grade 8 student came to admire Gandhi through a pilot project launched by the World Literacy of Canada charity to coincide with the International Day of Non-Violence, being marked today, Gandhi's birthday.
Winchester is one of four inner-city schools taking part in the program, in which students have emblazoned T-shirts, performed skits and written essays on Gandhi's life and influential teachings on non-violence, compassion and truth.
Mounica Gudivada, 13, used to get into a lot of fights, but Gandhi has "inspired me to be a better person."
"An eye for an eye turns the whole world blind. You must be the change you want to see in the world," she added, quoting Gandhi.
"He taught me it's better to solve conflicts in a peaceful way. If I'm mad, I count to 10. I'm a much calmer person now."
Anesia Baylan, 13, agreed. "No matter how much they pushed Gandhi, he never used violence. That's amazing. In my life, it means stand up for yourself and what's right no matter what."
As part of the project, senior grades will also screen Bollywood blockbuster Lage Raho Munna Bhai (Carry On Munna Bhai), in which lead actor Sanjay Dutt plays Munna Bhai, a gangster who preaches Gandhian principles.
The 2006 movie, in Hindi with English subtitles, was the first of its genre to be shown at the United Nations. Praised by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for capturing Gandhi's message about the power of truth and humanism, the film is said to have sparked a resurgence of interest in Gandhi all over the world.
"I took a chance," Winchester principal Annie Lee said of her decision to have students watch the 2 1/2-hour movie at a morning assembly. "The theme is pretty universal. Whether it's a skirmish in the schoolyard or a dispute in world affairs, diplomacy rather than war is the answer. Plus, it's a way to honour the Indian culture."
The film will also be shown as part of a fundraiser, Eyes On India, for World Literacy of Canada tonight at the Isabel Bader Theatre, with proceeds going to projects in India that encourage reading, particularly for girls, as well as programs in this country.
The Gandhi theme is a natural fit, added World Literacy executive director Mamta Mishra.
World Literacy founder Welthy Fisher was a friend of Gandhi and participated in India's freedom struggle in the 1940s.
"Gandhi said poverty is the worst form of violence. One of the best ways to combat it is through literacy. An education is your ticket out," said Mishra.
"He was a real superhero. We have to find ways to keep him alive so kids don't think he's just some historical icon they read about in a book."
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