Ela Gandhi


“We all have power…and when we get together, we have more power.” – Ela Gandhi

In 2013, I was planning to bring my exhibit to the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire. Ela Gandhi, granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi, had written the foreword to my first book. In one of the exhibit planning sessions, we discussed what the programming should look like. One of us (I can’t remember who) said, “We should see if Ela Gandhi would fly from South Africa to join us for the program.”

We both laughed.

Then we both said, “Wait…we should ask her.”

And we did.

She said yes, and in 2014, she joined me for a few days on the UW-Eau Claire campus to talk about peace. Don’t be afraid to aim high.

I remember asking her what people didn’t understand about her grandfather and she said, “People thought he was born a great leader.”

In fact, she said, he spent years learning the skills he put to work in his nonviolent movement toward Indian independence.

Ela Gandhi is not only the descendant of a famous peacemaker, she has proven to be a great leader, herself. She was under house arrest for a decade while resisting apartheid in South Africa. She worked on the transitional task force with Nelson Mandela, and she served for a decade in the South African parliament.

She is committed to resisting injustice, and she is committed to doing it through nonviolence.

But, if I’m honest, perhaps the thing I’ll remember her best for, is the gentle way she connected with my father. His health was failing at the time. He was on oxygen and he tired easily, but he wasn’t going to miss this chance.

I finished a session and visited with people afterward. Then I wondered where my father was. I looked across the room to see Ela Gandhi and my father visiting at a table…laughing…and enjoying life. A social worker and a social activist, from two different continents, finding common ground.

Great leadership…rich compassion…come in big and small packages. No gesture is too small.

From Ela Gandhi’s foreword for our first book:

“John Noltner takes us on a unique journey filled with revelations of courage and commitment, resilience and hope. It is a beautiful journey that speaks to our innermost being. It touches us in a way that allows us to see the world from a different perspective. As we read about the diverse experiences of people from many different parts of our world, we begin to identify with them. Their experience, in a microcosmic way, is also our experience. But too often we are not conscious of it.

Reading this book places us, for fleeting moments, in the position of those people who are horrified by the atrocities of war, and the many who are concerned about the plight of the poor and the deprived of our world. In fact, many people are ready to assist in changing things.

We begin to learn the deep pain and humiliation suffered by people who have been oppressed in various ways. We see how their spirit remains intact through all the trials and sorrows they endure. We see their generosity and forgiveness.

The lessons we learn from these experiences are indeed important for humankind today. Important, because they are proclaiming to us, loudly and clearly, that enough is enough. We must not repeat the mistakes of the past ever again. Let us begin to heed this message.

In my own life, I have found that peace does not only mean protesting and resisting injustice, but also living our everyday lives doing big and small things to bring greater harmony to the world. Helping sick and injured children, protecting the voiceless animals, preserving the plants and trees that are being eliminated by development, and contributing in little ways to save the world by conserving, reusing, recycling, and reducing both what we need and what we discard, in the hope that the already distended Mother Earth will absorb it.

We need to appreciate the richness of our diverse heritage and begin to see the value of global citizenship, so that peace and social and political justice may prevail in the world. Perhaps it will inspire us to become peacemakers.” – Ela Gandhi

Ela Gandhi Audio


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