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230,000 Schoolchildren Learn Environmental Values From Bhagavad-gita
By Madhava Smullen   |  Nov 20, 2021

With the recent COP26 climate conference in Glasgow a current hot topic of discussion, ISKCON will be holding the Felication Ceremony for its biggest Value Education Olympiad yet on November 22nd. There it will recognize hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren from across India and the world who studied environmental values based on the teachings of the Bhagavad-gita.

The Olympiad, organized by ISKCON of Punjabi Bagh, Delhi, is presented by Govardhan Eco Village and ISKCON in collaboration with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) under the Faith For Earth Councillor initiative. This initiative invites faith-based organizations to be part of the solution to perhaps the biggest concern of our time. And ISKCON has jumped at the opportunity to present the Gita as a viable solution to climate change, working with the support of government and environmental institutions, NGOs, corporates, and schools.

Attending the Zoom ceremony will be Dr. Iyad Abumoghli, Director of the UNEP Faith For Earth Initiative; Atul Bagai, Head of India’s UNEP office; and Laxmi Narain Goel, trustee for Ekal schools; along with ISKCON leaders like GBC Gopal Krishna Goswami and Govardhana Ecovillage Director and Faith For Earth Councillor Gauranga Das. Every student will receive a participation certificate, while there are six prize winners from private / public schools who will receive first, second and third prizes of a laptop, Firefox brand bicycle, and Kindle. There will also be fifty consolation prizes in this category, with 171 students from 57 sectors of Ekal schools receiving prizes of a school bag, water bottle and stationary.

The Value Education Olympiad was launched on July 15th, with final exams on October 17th and 31st. Thirty thousand students from 250 private, government and international schools registered online. Meanwhile 200,000 students of 20,000 different Ekal schools, which bring education to children in the remotest rural and tribal villages, were sent study materials in person, as they do not have Internet connectivity.

Students aged 10 to 18 studied a booklet teaching six values that make an invidual more sensitive to caring for the environment, according to a UN study: 1) Altruism, 2) Trustworthiness, 3) Equity, 4) Justice, 5) Integrity, and 6) Honesty. They learned how to integrate these values into their lives, along with teachings about the values from Bhagavad-gita and other scriptures.

Tree plantation drive

Ekal schools participated in a tree plantation drive, planting 200,000 trees

Students also took seven online seminars, one on each of the six values, and one on how “inner climate change leads to outer climate change.” Teachers included Dr. Livleen Kaur Kahlon, Associate Director of Environment Education and Awareness at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and Gauranga Das. They also took two practical skills workshops on making bio household cleaners and growing microgreens.

Because students of Ekal schools could not participate in the online workshops, they instead participated in a tree plantation drive, planting 200,000 trees.

The Value Education Olympiad has also distributed 50,000 copies of Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita As It Is. Thirty thousand of these were sent to the students who registered online, while twenty thousand were sent to each Ekal school that participated. Eventually, Project Lead Karuna Chandra Das and co-organizer Dr. Suruchi Mittar hope that funds will be raised to send each of the remaining 200,000 students their own individual copy of Bhagavad-gita.

The project has drawn the appreciation of Bhupender Yadav, the Indian Government’s Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, who wrote in an official letter, “ISKCON is making a remarkable contribution in spreading the awareness of environmental issues and educating children about the values that will protect the environment.”

Students have also expressed appreciation, with 10 year-old Myra from Singapore commenting, “I believe in God more now after doing this.”

The Value Education Olympiad has progressed from reaching 6,200 students in its first year in 2019, to 15,000 in its second, to 230,000 this year. Next year, Karuna Chandra Das and Dr. Suruchi say, they are expecting even bigger numbers, with the central government school system Kendriya Vidyalaya likely to make the program compulsory for 25% of its students across India, and Ekal (who participated in Uttar Pradesh only this year) hoping to participate in the program countrywide with 3 million children.

“Not only ISKCON, but also bodies like UNESCO and UNEP strongly believe that in order to bring about a change in behavior in society, we have to start with educational programs for the youth,” Karuna Chandra says. “Bhagavad-gita is a recognized authority on such ethical value education, so it can be used to bring a positive change in society. That, I feel, is the success of this program.”

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