The first “Latin American Congress of Education with ISKCON,” held earlier this month, brought together ISKCON educators from all over South America, along with prospective collaborators.
Their goal was to create effective networks amongst each other, share inspiring reports of educational efforts; identify strengths and challenges faced in ISKCON education in South America; and develop practical proposals for implementation.
The event ran from January 30th to February 1st, at the Padre Hurtado Cultural Centre in Santiago, Chile. Over 100 people from Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Uruguay, Mexico and Chile attended. A further 50 or so participated by webcam through Mayapur.tv, including speakers from India, Australia, and the U.S.
The program began on Friday evening with ISKCON Chile president Amara Gauranga Das welcoming everyone. Mathuresa Das, a member of the Latin American GBC body, then read out a warm letter of regard from the GBC, in which they acknowledged the essential place of education in ISKCON.
The ISKCON Ministry of Education’s Executive Secretary Ramgiridhari Das followed, giving a presentation via webcam from Mumbai on the history of education in ISKCON. He pointed out how serious changes had to be made to the system to help students better find their place in ISKCON. He also spoke about the Ministry’s contribution in organizing events in Europe, North America, and now for the first time, in South America.
The next day, Hanumatpresaka Swami — the event’s chairman and a member of the Ministry of Education’s Executive Committee — gave a presentation on the Philosophy of Education.
The Congress was held at the Padre Hurtado Cultural Centre in Santiago, Chile
Meanwhile Prana Das of Mumbai-based Goloka Education spoke about the company’s work in helping ISKCON schools set up, and developing cutting edge educational resources and teacher training programs for them.
Yadunandana Swami, principal of Belgium’s Bhaktivedanta College and Spain’s Instituto De Estudios Bhaktivedanta, spoke on “Higher Education in ISKCON” via webcam from Barcelona. Bhaktivedanta College is perhaps ISKCON’s leading accredited university, with a B.A. in Theology and Religious Studies. And Instituto De Estudios Bhaktivedanta, set in New Vraja Mandala, offers Bhakti Sastri and Bhakti Vaibhava courses on Prabhupada’s books in the Spanish language.
Continuing the theme of higher education, Dhanvantari Swami spoke about his Instituto Jaladuta in Campina Grande, Brazil, which teaches the Bhakti Sastri course to 22 resident students every year along with classes on communications, public speaking, and the art of serving the Vaishnavas. Some 500 students have received Bhakti Sastri diplomas since the institute’s inception in 2001.
Aravinda Das followed with a presentation on Colegio Bhaktivedanta in Cueramaro, North-Central Mexico, which has taught courses on Srila Prabhupada’s books to forty students from all over South America since 2007 and is about to move into an environmentally-friendly new building.
Other presentations throughout the rest of the conference included Isvari Dasi on Bhakti Sastri in Peru and Bolivia; Param Padam Das on the development of his sophisticated online education program “Escuela Vaishnava”; Aruddha Dasi on homeschooling in Krishna consciousness; and Gopi Gita Dasi of the TKG Academy in Dallas, Texas on the workings of a formal primary school run by ISKCON devotees.
Participants also heard from veteran ISKCON educator Urmila Dasi on “creating a scholar system of Education in ISKCON”; respected academic and university professor Radhika Ramana Das on “Navigating Academic Waters as a Krishna devotee”; and Anantasayana Dasi on educational programs in Latin America.
A panel including Hanumatpresaka Swami, Bhakti Sundar Goswami, and Dhanvantari Swami speaks
Later in the conference, ISKCON Argentina Communications Director Baladeva Das was chosen as the Latin American representative for the Ministry of Education. He will also help coordinate the different educational efforts throughout South America such as sastric education, homeschooling, primary school, and adult education. And he will help establish the formal accreditation of several Bhakti Vaibhava programs.
Meanwhile Chile was again chosen as the location for the next Latin American Congress of Education, which will be held on the last weekend of January 2016 as part of ISKCON’s 50th anniversary celebrations.
During the Congress, participants were treated to a concert by Chile’s popular Krishna Sambandha kirtan band. The event concluded with celebrations for Lord Nityananda’s appearance day.
Feedback from attendees was positive, and organizer Jagad Guru Das is excited about the future. “This was the first of its kind in 25 years,” he says. “It is important because it is a precedent for the future, and shows us that we can do great things as a multi-country community to keep close to each other, inspire each other and improve together. Hearing about such good examples of educational efforts in different parts of the world was an unbelievable source of inspiration for all the devotees who attended.”
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