Students meet, assist Indian poetry activist

“Poverty is but the worst form of violence,” Mahatma Gandhi once said. Over the last two years, Muirlands Middle School students in Susan Minnicks’ seminar class have worked to combat that violence against members of one the most disenfranchised groups in the world - India’s Dalit, or “untouchable” caste.

The students work with the local chapter of Friends of Land for Tillers Freedom, or LAFTI, to help fund micro-grants so Dalit people can become self-sufficient and rise out of poverty.

On Nov. 5, many of these students had the rare opportunity to meet Krisnammal Jagannathan, who with her husband S. Jagannathan founded LAFTI in 1981. Like Gandhi, the Jagannathans were confounded by a social system Krisnammal called a disease, and, like Gandhi, they felt compelled to do something for the 74 percent of India’s population living in poverty in rural villages.

‘Chance to serve’

“When we have the mind to do something good for society, then we will get the chance to serve,” Krisnammal said, adding that service is the “great delight” of her life.

Krisnammal is in the United States to receive an Opus Prize Award in Seattle on Nov. 18 for $100,000 to $1 million. Krisnammal and her husband will also be granted a Right Livelihood Award in December in a ceremony at the Swedish Parliament.

Since 2006, students in Minnicks’ classes have raised funds to provide micro-grants to buy 14 goats, a cow for a girls’ dormitory, six vocational and academic scholarships, seed for a rice crop and construction of a family home for Dalit people living in southeast India.

“It feels really good to help people who don’t have as much as we have here,” said seventh grader Michael Mitchell, who is in his second year in Minnicks’ Language Arts Seminar.

Convincing plea

Michael convinced his parents to fund a micro-grant for a house after he learned about LAFTI from Minnicks last year. He and his mother Betsy Mitchell presented the money to Krisnammal Wednesday after a presentation about the work LAFTI has done.

“He was very stubborn about wanting to do a house, not just a goat or cow,” Mitchell said of her son.

Minnicks’ seminars focus on social issues and action. Students also raised $600 for UNICEF this Halloween.

"(The students’) sense of justice, their sense of fairness is in tact,” Minnicks said. With that, their sense of what they can do to combat injustice and discrimination becomes clear to them, she said. Minnicks sees her students as future leaders.

For more information, visit