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BBT Africa Reports Exciting Year of Increased Outreach

By: for ISKCON News on July 3, 2015

President of Zambia Kenneth Kaunda receives a copy of the Gita

While it may be turning up a little late, the BBT Africa’s recently released 2014 report shows encouraging growth in outreach – especially for a branch of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust established just five years ago to better deliver Prabhupada’s books to the African Continent. 

“The continent has recorded amongst its best book distribution scores ever in 2014,” says managing trustee Govardhana Das.

Kenya and South Africa have led the charge with 82,756 and 69,923 books last year respectively, while dedicated groups of devotees from Mauritius, Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, Togo, Malawi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Botswana, Zambia, Côte d’Ivoire  and Burkina Faso have joined them to distributed a grand total of  222,609 books. 

As a result BBT Africa’s revenue has increased by 43% from the previous year, and the publishing company has been able to contribute a percentage to international ISKCON projects including the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium in Mayapur, India.

Of course, with only 13 out of the 54 countries/territories in Africa actively engaging in book distribution, there’s a lot more work to do.  But the BBT Africa (BBTA) is feeling positive and doing what it can to reach everyone. For instance, they are adapting book covers so that they resonate more with African people’s culture and mindset – often markedly different to those in the West.

The BBTA is also priming people for Prabhupada’s books by producing pamphlets on the philosophy of Krishna consciousness. Last year, they produced four on the topics “On Chanting Hare Krishna,” “Understanding Karma,” “What is Reincarnation?” and “Why Vegetarianism?” The pamphlets were printed in Arabic, KiSwahili, English, French, IsiZulu, IsiXhosa, Afrikaans and Chinese, covering 63% of Africa’s demographic. Nineteen more pamphlet titles are being produced this year.

Meanwhile the books themselves are being published in a steady flow and delivered to book distributors from the BBTA’s main offices and warehouse in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The year 2014 saw Beyond Birth and Death in Afrikaans, The Higher Taste in English, and On the Way to Krishna in Mauritius Creole printed. This year, the Bhagavad-gita As It Is is being translated into Mauritius Creole, and nineteen more titles – mostly small books like Chant and Be Happy, Perfect Questions, Perfect Ansers, and Path of Perfection – are in various stages of editing, layout and design. Languages include SeSotho, kiSwahili, Amharic, and Chichewa.

Various efforts are underway to market the books. Since 2013, BBTA has been an official member of the Publishing Association of South Africa (PASA), which connects it with book fairs and other publishing industry events, as well as other organizations like the South African Booksellers’ Association and the Librarians’ Association of South Africa.

 In addition, the BBTA is marketing its most broadly appealing titles like the Bhagavad-gita As It Is and books on yoga, reincarnation and cooking to major retail book stores across the continent. They’ll start with Exclusive Books, a smaller national South African retailer with 40 stores; then move on to CNA, another South African retailer with over 200 stores. After that, they’ll target similar opportunities in other African countries.

The Sastra Dana program, in which books are placed in institutions such as universities, libraries, and hospitals, is another way of getting books out there. Last year, a full set of Srila Prabhupada’s books, including the entire Srimad-Bhagavatam and Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita, was placed in the Al-Akhawayan University Library in Morocco, with the support and help of associate professor of religion Dr. Connell Monette.

“This is the first full set of books placed in a university library in an Arabic-speaking country,” Govardhan says. “Dr. Monette informed BBT Africa that the books were in use, and that the students were referencing them in their assignments.”

BBT books were also displayed at an exhibit at the Durban Ratha Yatra, which is one of the biggest outside of India and draws tens of thousands of people. The exhibit showcased translations of Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita As It Is in fifty eight different languages from across the world, including twelve in various African languages.

Another success in promoting Prabhupada’s books was the 2nd Annual Bhaktivedanta Swami Lecture, organized by the BBTA at the prestigious University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg on March 20th 2014.

One hundred and forty leaders, academics, and members of society attended Devamrita Swami’s talk on the concept of “Freedom” including Mr. Luvuyo Mandela, the great grandson of former President Nelson Mandela.

With all these outreach efforts, the BBTA has not forgotten to take care of its own.

In 2014, International Book Distribution Minister Vijaya Das presented a seminar on book distribution in Kenya, clearing up a lot of misconceptions on how books should be distributed, and inspiring many.

On November 22nd 2014, Back to Godhead magazine, also a BBT publication, hosted its first annual Gratitude Dinner at the Italian Club in Bedfordview, Johannesburg. The Dinner honored loyal BTG subscribers, raised awareness of the importance of BTG in ISKCON,  and increased new subscriptions and renewals.

Meanwhile on June 21st 2014, over 200 devotees attended the 5th Annual BBT Africa Conference at the Accra International Convention Centre in the capital of Ghana to discuss the status and vision for book distribution in Africa.

Participants at the 5th annual conference in Accra, Ghana

The 6th Annual BBT Africa Conference will be held at the Playhouse Theatre, in Durban, South Africa on August 8th this year and will celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Srila Prabhupada’s first visit to Africa and the progress in book distribution and production made so far. Special guests will include senior BBT Trustee Jayadvaita Swami, GBC for South Africa Bhakti Caitanya Swami, Bhaktivinoda Swami, and Bhakti Gauravani Swami. 

Finally, 2014 also saw the inauguration of the African Authors project, established when the BBTA saw a need for more literature in the form of books and articles coming from the African continent.

The project will provide a platform through which a new generation of writers can learn from experienced Krishna conscious writers. It will also have the best articles submitted by African authors published on the BBT Africa website and in Back to Godhead magazine. And every year, the project will strive to produce at least one book from the continent.

“Looking ahead, reaching out with mobile technology is a high priority,” says Govardhana. “We also look forward to celebrating the 40th anniversary of Srila Prabhupada’s visit to Africa and ISKCON’s 50th in 2016. There are plans to distribute 500,000 books in South Africa for that occassion, and we are ready to play our part in the historic effort.”

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