for ISKCON News on Jan. 14, 2013
January 13, Houston, Texas---The third and final day of the North American ISKCON GBC and Temple President Meeting was a half-day session that focused on Child Protection, Communications and strengthening the Brahmacari ashrama (celibate monastic student communities) in ISKCON temples in North America.
Lila Sukha dasi, Director of the North American (NA) Child Protection Office (CPO) explained the role of the office and how it serves local communities and families in ISKCON. Lila Sukha visited 11 NA temples in 2012, and provided on-line resources and other training materials for temples throughout the year.
“It is important to educate all members of our communities about child protection,” said Lila Sukha. “We need to train parents, children, volunteers and administrators. The best protection is to be proactive.”
Dr. Piyush Gupta, MD from Columbus, Ohio said of his temple’s recent experience, “I was apprehensive about organizing a training because families are uncomfortable about the topic. But Lila Sukha gave practical procedures how to better protect our kids. We took her advice right away, including installing a large interior window in the children’s classroom so its always visible and thus safer,” he said.
Lila Sukha stressed the need for every community to apply ISKCON’s international child protection policies including screening procedures, annual training, reporting any allegation of abuse to proper ISKCON and secular authorities, and maintaining a local Child Protection Team.
“We must also assure parents don’t neglect their children while at the temple,” she said. “Sometimes parents bring their kids to the temple and let them play unsupervised while they attend lectures or kirtan. This is not acceptable and potentially dangerous for our children.”
For more information regarding child safety, Lila Sukha guided leaders and parents go to www.safetemple.org. Allegations of abuse must be reported to the CPO at firstname.lastname@example.org or the international CPO office at email@example.com. She also recommended phoning the non-profit information resource 1-800 4 A CHILD in the US and Canada, for additional information, including how and where to report abuse.
On another subject of importance to North American leaders, Anuttama dasa, ISKCON’s International Director of Communications spoke on behalf of Keshava Sharma, NA Director of Communications, who was unable to attend the meetings, due to a family member’s illness.
Keshava’s accomplishments in his first year as Director were described, including and update of ISKCON media kits (introductory materials prepared for reporters), creating an ISKCON Communications website (to be launched end of January), representing ISKCON at a half-dozen professional conferences, leading a training session at the Festival of Inspiration, updating a NA list of major media contacts, and distributing media releases (press announcements) for eight events during 2012.
“Starter Kits” were distributed to all the Presidents and GBC members with information how to build better, mutually beneficial relationships with five “key audiences”---the Media, Interfaith, Internal Congregation, Neighbors, and Yoga communities.
Mahat-tattva dasa, President of ISKCON San Diego, led the last presentation of the day and spoke about the need to strengthen brahmacari and brahmacarini ashramas. He highlighted the importance of creating a sacred space for those devotees who wish to make a full time commitment to Prabhupada’s society within the brahmacari ashram.
Mahat-tattva noted, among other things, the importance of separating brahmacari/ini facilities in temples from guests and short-term volunteers in order to maintain a sacred environment for that ashrama. He also stressed that brahmacari life must be centered around education and training.
The meetings ended with election of the 2013 NA officers and planning for next year’s meetings, again to be held in Houston in January 2014.