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Learning to Be the Change   

On a sunny summer afternoon, my brother and I pack industriously, getting ready for another exhilarating week at Gandhi Camp, which has become an annual ritual for the last three years. As I drive into the familiar campgrounds, I see that nothing has changed from the year before. The beautiful campsite nestled in the mountains of Olema, Calif., has pastures of green grass. Cows and deer graze near the neat little cottages. Still, something made me feel that this year’s camp was going to be unique.

The goal of Gandhi Camp is to teach youth to use Gandhi’s principles of truthfulness, tolerance, and self-help in our everyday lives.  The camp was founded by a popular and dedicated Indian youth leader, S. N. Subba Rao, who is also the chief of Gandhi Peace Foundation.  Campers and counselors affectionately call Subba Raoji, Bhaiji, meaning “Elder Brother.” Bhaiji believes that building inner strength is the best way to build character. He inspires all the young campers to learn Gandhian values like ahimsa (non-violence), love, peace, and harmony, and teaches us that the world’s fortune lies in the youth.

I learned early on that the camp includes plenty of fun but also requires discipline. I realized this when I had to wake up at 6 a.m. for meditation and had to finish my karmayoga (community service) before having lunch. Morning treks, yoga, and the much-looked-forward-to kitchen duty mixed in with the talent show and the final day skit requires a lot of organization and leadership. Without the discipline that counselors and Bhaiji give us, we would never learn the true meaning of applying Gandhi’s principles.

Every year, guest speakers come to meet the campers. We also have the privilege of talking to the swamis about the Vedanta Society. This year, we learned about the Peace Garden at Fresno State, recycling, and global warming. One of the most exciting events was the talent show, during which we got to meet the extraordinary MC Yogi and Matt Love. MC Yogi enthralled us with his rap songs about Ganesha, Gandhi, and even Hanuman from the Ramayana. In no time at all, he had all of us campers chanting, “Go Hanuman Go Hanuman, GO!”

My brother and I are often asked why we look forward to attending Gandhi Camp each year. For me, there are several reasons. Gandhi Camp has taught me essential values such as religious tolerance, respect for others, non-violence, leadership, and the value of community service—values that I will use now and in the future. It has also been a great place in which we kids can be ourselves and make friends. Every year, I learn something new. In Gandhi’s words, I am learning to “be the change that I want to see in the world.”

Shefali Agarwal is an eighth grader at Chaboya Middle School in San Jose, Calif.