In a model similar to that of Gainesville’s Krishna House, thirty-five students from local universities are currently living and developing their spiritual lives at the Hare Krishna Training Centre (HKTC) in Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya. Meanwhile 10 to 15 each are staying at satellite centers in nearby Eldoret and Juja, while many more attend on a daily basis.
So far the HKTC has connected around 400 students with Krishna consciousness and helped them build character guided by Srila Prabhupada’s teachings, an effort appreciated by both parents and the government, who recognize ISKCON as an educational movement. Plans for more Hare Krishna Training Centres in Kenya are underway.
Director Govinda Prema Das first began student outreach in Nairobi and other Kenyan cities in 2011, distributing prasadam at students’ hostels and making friends with them, before offering courses about character-building from Srila Prabhupada’s books such as Science of Self-Realization.
Wanting to give students the full taste of Krishna consciousness including an ashram experience, Govinda Prema then established the HKTC in Nairobi, three minutes from the ISKCON temple, in 2015. The project was a major breakthrough. Soon, many local students started to become devotees. In the wake of the first centre’s success, a second was established in the town of Juja, one hour away from Nairobi, in September 2020. In January 2021, a third was started in Eldoret, a town Srila Prabhupada visited while in Kenya. All three are located near major universities.
Before moving into a Hare Krishna Training Centre, students must first attend its weekly “Simple Living, High Thinking” classes for four months. These classes teach them how to develop qualities that build character, and how spiritual life can make them happy, based on Srila Prabhupada’s books.
“At the end of the year, they get a certificate saying that they’ve passed the character training program,” Govinda Prema says. “Because ISKCON is a reputed educational society, when they go looking for a job, it adds weight to their resume.”
As well as passing this training program, to live at the HKTC, students must be enrolled in a university course, have an interest in Krishna conscious philosophy, follow the four regulative principles, chant a set number of rounds daily, and attend the morning and evening programs. They also pay for their own accommodation and expenses.
While staying at the centre, students rise early for the morning program, which includes kirtan, Bhagavatam class, and japa. During the day, they cook and do service, as well as Harinama Sankirtana and book distribution. In the evenings, they have Bhagavad-gita classes and kirtan nights. And on the weekends, they visit the temple and participate in a small retreat during which they reflect on the week and share what they’ve learned. They also attend classes on the Srimad-Bhagavatam and learn self-improvement lessons from the lives of the Vaishnava Acharyas. During the pandemic, although Covid cases in Kenya are very low, masks, social distancing, and sanitization protocols are used throughout.
“Some students live with us for four or five years, while attending university, and graduate without having touched drugs or eaten meat,” Govinda Prema says. “They get the benefit of living in good association, and become happier and better people. Some of their parents work in government, and they’re very appreciative. And the government also recognizes us as an educational movement that is trying to help the youth.”
Looking to the future, plans are underway to open another Hare Krishna Training Centre in Mombasa, where Srila Prabhupada also stayed, in 2022. Centres in Thika, about two hours’ drive from Nairobi, and other cities in Kenya, are set to gradually follow. Eventually, Govinda Prema hopes to open more in other countries throughout Africa when borders that have been closed due to Covid reopen.
Jan 23, 2022
Anandini Tikunov (8th-grade student)
Jan 22, 2022
Sunanda Das, tovp.org