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ISKCON and GEV Get UN Environment Programme Support to Teach Eco-Friendly Values Using Bhagavad-gita

By: on Aug. 14, 2021
Events

Students at a Delhi school refer to the Bhagavad-gita while taking an offline exam in 2019

ISKCON temples all over the world are being invited to reach out to their local private and public schools to ask them to register students for the Value Education Olympiad 2021.

This year, the popular Olympiad, started by ISKCON in India, will be held online and will focus on environmental themes due to the current urgency around climate change. Using a series of study guides, seminars and workshops from August 1st to September 26th, followed by an exam on October 17th, the Olympiad will teach students age 10 to 18 to imbibe values that make them sensitive to caring for the environment, using teachings from the Bhagavad-gita. The program is presented by Govardhan Eco Village (GEV) and ISKCON in collaboration with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) under the Faith For Earth Councilor initiative.

In India, temples who are already involved include ISKCON of Punjabi Bagh, Delhi, which is organizing the Olympiad, as well as Pune, Bangalore, Sri Rangam, Meerut, and Nagpur. Internationally, temples involved include ISKCON of Vancouver in Canada; Sydney and Brisbane in Australia; and temples in South Africa and Malaysia.

“We are presenting an environmental education program for children, because that is the need of the hour,” says Project Lead Karuna Chandra Das, who is also a member of the Vice Presidential Board at ISKCON Punjabi Bagh. “For this cause, schools, parents, teachers, and principals would be happy to welcome such a program.”

He adds, “People always ask how the Gita is relevant to our practical problems. So this program is an answer to those questions. Climate change is affecting people all across the globe. Education is an important part of addressing it, and because we are from ISKCON we’re using the Bhagavad-gita to address the issue.”

Organizers of the Value Education Olympiad will provide each ISKCON temple with a special link to promote to schools in their area. When students register through the link, organizers will see that they were sent by that particular temple. The Olympiad organizers will also then return the small $5 USD / 50 rupee registration fee per student to the temple, so that they can gift a paperback copy of Bhagavad-gita to each student and their family. This will also give temples a chance to connect with their community, and to distribute Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita As It Is during his 125th birth anniversary celebrations.

Value Education Olympiad poster

The Origins of the Value Education Olympiad

Since 2013, individual ISKCON centers across India have been independently conducting Value Education Contests, teaching values from the Bhagavad-gita to over eight lakhs (800,000) school students. Three years ago, however, ISKCON Punjabi Bagh relaunched their contest as the Value Education Olympiad – in India, Olympiads are a common way of teaching and testing students on a variety of extra-curricular subjects. Besides the name change, Dr. Suruchi Mittar, a member of the ISKCON Punjabi Bagh communications team and a university professor for over twenty years, felt it was a chance to refine the eduational elements, and to teach students how to integrate Bhagavad-gita values in a more holistic way into their lives.

“The first year, we reached around 6,200 students, and some 22 schools,” she says. “The second year, when the Covid-19 pandemic started, was a big challenge for us – but we felt that amidst the crisis, values like positivity, resilience, self-confidence, and self-awareness were even more critical. So we created a booklet on these values, and taught online sessions led by learned educators and well-known preachers. We reached around 15,000 students across India and 78 schools in 2020, and got a very good response. Students felt uplifted, and schools and principals gave us very positive feedback.”

Reaching 250,000 Students

This year, the Value Education Olympiad aims to reach 250,000 students aged 10 to 18 across India and the world. So far in India, 203,000 participants from over twenty thousand schools have already registered since July 15th, and there are 300 to 500 new registrations every day.

Two hundred thousand of those who have already registered are from Ekal schools in tribal areas across the state of Uttar Pradesh, for which ISKCON is offering the program for free. Other schools participating include private schools, international schools, Saraswati Bal Mandir schools, and government schools.

As far as international participation is concerned, the registration process has only recently started with twenty-five registrants, but is picking up steam. Registrations will close on September 15th.

Students taking an offline exam in 2019

Students taking an offline exam in 2019

Values That Will Drive the Future of the Planet

After registering at www.veolympiad.com, students are able to download the study booklet in Hindi or English. Entitled “Futurethics: Values That Will Drive the Future of the Planet,” the booklet comes in an 80-page version for the junior group of 10 to 13, and a 120-page version for the senior group of 14 to 18.

The booklet covers six values in detail, reportedly taken from a UN study citing values that make an individual more sensitive to caring for the environment: 1) Altruism, 2) Trustworthiness, 3) Equity, 4) Justice, 5) Integrity, and 6) Honesty.

“Each chapter explains how a particular value can be integrated into the student’s life, the relationship between the value and the environment, and examples and teachings from the Bhagavad-gita and other scriptures about the value,” Suruchi says.

For instance, the Gita verse 5.18 about how the humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees everyone with equal vision, is used to explain equity. Lord Krishna’s instruction in the Gita to perform one’s duty for the sake of it without considering happiness or distress, loss or gain, victory, or defeat is given as an example of integrity. The story of King Harischandra is told as an example of honesty. And Srila Prabhupada is cited as an example of transcendental altruism.

There are also case studies related to protecting the environment, such as that of the Chipko movement, farmers in Uttar Pradesh who hugged trees to protect them from loggers. And Krishna conscious teachings that support an environmentally-friendly approach, such as the worship of Tulasi Devi, care for cows, and the story of lifting Govardhan Hill, in which Lord Krishna talks about caring for all living beings.

As well as studying this booklet, students are attending a series of seven online seminars and two workshops by influential environmentalists, educators, and preachers, given on successive Sundays from August 1st until September 26th. The first, given on August 1st by Gauranga Das, Director of Govardhana Eco Village, was on the topic of how “inner climate change leads to outer climate change.” The second, by Dr. Livleen Kaur Kahlon, Associate Director of Environment Education and Awareness at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in New Delhi, spoke on August 8th about the value of honesty. And on August 15th, ISKCON Communications Director Anuttama Das will speak on the value of integrity.

Other speakers will include Rukmini Devi Dasi, a disciple of Srila Prabhupada and founder of Urban Devi, who will speak on altruism; Ripu Daman Bevli, a well-known environmentalist and social activist; and Subah Jain, CEO of the Satvic Movement. The seminars will be followed by a workshop by SOWGOOD on growing microgreens on September 19th, and one on making bio-enzyme household cleaners from fruit and vegetable peels on September 26th.

Finally, on October 17th, students will take a one-hour online open book exam on the contents of the study book and seminars. The application-based questions will test their ability to apply the knowledge and concepts they’ve learned in practical day-to-day life.

Upon completion, every student will receive an internationally recognized certificate that adds to their portfolio. Meanwhile the first, second and third rank holders in both the junior and senior groups will win a laptop, Firefox brand bicycle, and a Kindle respectively.

“I strongly believe that we will create a movement, by creating awareness about the environment, and generating an intrinsic value in students to take care of what is being given to us by nature,” Suruchi says. “We had a UN “Code Red for Humanity” warning report today which actually tells us that we need to shake ourselves, because what is happening to our environment and climate is very concerning. So this will be a small step towards the change we need, by creating awareness and bringing that concern to students’ conscious minds.”

“I think this is a very big step for ISKCON,” Karuna Chandra adds. “And I must appreciate all the ISKCON leaders I approached, who instantly agreed to participate, and were so open and thoughtful about this. Krishna consciousness, and the teachings of the Bhagavad-gita, are bringing us together on this concern.”

 

For more information and to register, visit: https://veolympiad.com/

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Registration Helpline Number: +91 8587943933

Tags:
[ bhagavad-gita ] [ environment ] [ environmentalism ] [ olympiad ] [ punjabi-bagh ] [ un ] [ united-nations ]
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