“We want every leader in ISKCON to take this course,” says Bala Govinda Das, teacher of the Devotee Care Course “Embedding Care in Krishna Conscious Communities.”
Twenty-six such leaders attended the most recent presentation of the GBC-recommended course, offered from March 5thto 8thin the Chaitanya Bhavan building in Mayapur, West Bengal, India.
They included zonal supervisors, temple presidents, yatra leaders, namahatta group leaders, counselors, and mentors from Panama, the Middle East, USA, Bangladesh, Bengal and all over India.
The course was specifically designed for devotees in such positions who are interested in practically instituting devotee care within ISKCON, and within their local, regional or national communities. It was meant as part two in a series that began with a one-day course entitled “Responsibly Meeting Our Needs.”
The course was taught by Bala Govinda, who is a member and teacher at the GBC College for Leadership and Development and the Vice President of ISKCON Pune; as well as ISKCON Kanpur president Prem Harinam Das.
Caregiver Nrsingha Tirtha Das of the Mayapur Vaishnava Care Team tends to stroke victim Naresh Parekh
On the first day, the teachers motivated participants to take to devotee care by raising their awareness of it and detailing a vision where “every devotee is spiritually happy and materially well-situated, positively identifying with ISKCON as a caring society.”
Teachers then gave a framework within which devotee care can operate. They outlined twelve areas of devotee care: spiritual; physical healthcare; mental and emotional healthcare; marriage, sex and relationships; child-rearing and childcare; education; career and employment; financial; housing; travel and immigration; consumer and lifestyle; legal and civic; and mediation advice.
They then listed twelve recipients of care: women; brahmanas; children and youth; the elderly; cows; brahmacharis; grihastas; vanaprasthas; sannyasis; other temple residents; leaders; and senior devotees.
“Leaders must figure out which permutation combination is important for their particular yatra,” says Bala Govinda. “For example, let’s say in my yatra, the current major concern is, care of older devotees’ health; or, care of youth through education.”
Six principles and six values that underpin devotee care were also presented on the first day. The six principles were: Srila Prabhupada’s teachings and example; Vaishnava seva; loving relationships; attentive listening; positive sense of belonging; and spirited leadership.
The six values, which each corresponded with the principles, were: wisdom and realization; expertise; affection and love; empathy; gratitude and generosity; and responsibility.
ISKCON leaders gather to take the devotee care course in Mayapur
On the second and third days of the course, teachers equipped participants with skills to apply devotee care, such as strategic planning skills to properly care for one’s yatra; how to get a buy-in from co-leaders to make decisions and get resources such as people and finances; and coaching skills to help devotees solve their own problems rather than spoon-feeding them solutions.
On the fourth day, participants formed teams and designed presentations that they could make to their respective yatra leaders (if they were not the leaders themselves).
“For example, one devotee from Lagos, Nigeria figured out a very nice system with his team to take care of the health of temple residents there,” says Bala Govinda. “Because there is a poor standard of living and poor health care systems in his area.”
Teams were assessed on their presentations, before a concluding session which called for participants to collaborate and communicate with each other going forward, and offer various services to devotee care in ISKCON. They were then given certificates from the GBC Committee.
After the course, Bala Govinda hopes devotees will be ready to engage with local leadership to create practical systems for devotee care in their yatras; and of course, that they will have learned to be more caring people themselves.
The GBC Devotee Care Committee has so far conducted twelve courses in India, and trained thirty-three facilitators to give courses in their areas, thus certifying more ISKCON leaders in devotee care.
“The next plan is to go global – we have already identified one devotee care course coordinator in each continent,” says Bala Govinda.
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