While playing barefoot in the Gandhi Ashram one afternoon, a thorn pierced the sole of Chandani’s foot. Her playmates carried her, short and petite, into the shade without difficulty. Her naturally glossy eyes gave the impression of tears as she cringed.
As Chandani bent over her foot in pain, her younger brother Kamal hurried over with concern. But as his expression began to crumple in worry, Chandani put on a brave face and shooed him away, reassuring him that she was not hurt badly.
Although Chandani is small, she is strong. When she and Kamal walk side-by-side through the ashram, the 12-year old stands barely a hair taller than her younger brother. Still, she manages to pack great confidence and compassion into her petite four-foot frame.
When Chandani left home to live in a children’s hostel two years ago, she initially felt very lonely. The Ashramshala is a hostel in Gandhi Ashram for children from the so-called “untouchable” communities. Most children, like Chandani, come from uneducated families that have done cleaning jobs for generations.
“I decided that I want to learn, even if I have to stay away from my parents,” Chandani said, “but at first it was hard.”
One year later, her parents sent Kamal to the hostel as well, with the hope that the brother and sister would support each other while getting a good education away from home. Chandani immediately assumed the role of her brother’s protector from larger, bullying boys, and advocate to teachers who overlooked his quiet nature.
“People tease him because he is small,” she explains, “but I just tell him to forget about it. I say, ‘Just because they say something mean doesn’t mean you will become that way.’”
These small grains of Gandhian insight she has gathered during her EKATVA journey have made Chandani even stronger.
“Before when anyone teased me, I would feel bad about myself and tease them back,” Chandani says. “Now, I see there is no point. I’ve learned to let go of my anger when others say mean things.”
After nursing her sore foot for a few minutes, Chandani dove into dance practice. Thorns, like unkind words, may sting for a moment. But along with EKATVA, Chandani has developed the confidence to persist toward her goal despite what others may have to say.