Name: ISKCON Arusha Preaching Center
Address: The center is on a rural dirt road off the main Njiro road in Arusha, Tanzania, so does not have a specific address. The mailing address is P.O. Box 2151, Arusha, Tanzania.
The address of the Govinda’s sweet shop 15 minutes’ walk away is: Govinda’s, Njiro Road, Mount Meru Petrol Station, Shop Number 1. From there, visitors can get directions to the center.
Phone: +255 757 283 145
Presiding Deities: Sri Sri Gaura Nitai.
Managers: Venu-Madhurya Das and Draupadi Rani Dasi (husband and wife).
Opened in: Late 2011, although it was officially registered in April 2013.
Temple Style: The preaching center is located in a large rented house, with a living room / temple room that’s home to small six-inch brass Gaura Nitai Deities as well as a brass Srila Prabhupada murti. There are two rooms for guests to stay in, a Deity kitchen, and a prasadam hall.
Location: Tanzania, a country in East Africa, borders Kenya but is much more rural and about thirty years behind in terms of modern development. The small town of Arusha, two hours’ drive from the Kenyan border, is popular with tourists for nearby wildlife reserves like Arusha National Park, Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti, as well as for mountain climbing on the nearby Mount Meru and Mount Kilimanjaro.
The preaching center itself is located on a dirt road off of the main Njiro Road in Arusha. Close to rural villages belonging to the Masai and other tribes, it caters mainly to local Africans.
Although people in Kenya speak English, Kiswahili is the main language in Tanzania. The locals are simple village people working on the land. The landscape is green with regular rainy seasons.
Number of residents: Just four to five full-time residents – Draupadi Rani Dasi, her husband Venu Madhurya Das, his mother, Savitri Devi, and one or two cooks. Five other devotees stay on rotation as needed.
Number of visitors: 300 locals come to the center to receive Food for Life every week. Twenty to thirty devotees and Indian congregation members come weekly for other festivals and programs.
Best time of year to visit: While Arusha is a pleasant 25 to 32 degrees Celsius (77 to 89 Fahrenheit) throughout the year, May, September and December are the peak times for tourists.
The world-famous Ngorongoro Crater, three hours drive from ISKCON Arusha
Tanzanian people were first introduced to Krishna consciousness in the 1970s by Srila Prabhupada’s early disciple Brahmananda Das as well as then Nairobi temple president Ajamila Das. In the 1990s, the late inspirational traveling preacher Tribhuvanath Das visited the country’s cities Dar Es Salaam and Tanga and made a major impression.
“He used to do a festival tour in Tanzania every year, and even to date whenever we go out with our car which has the maha-mantra written on the side, people just come up and start chanting Hare Krishna,” says Draupadi Rani. “They say, ‘Where have you guys been?’ and some people mention that they had been life members for the past 15 or 20 years.”
More recently, the GBC for East Africa Gopal Krishna Goswami, regional secretary Umapati Das, and Gudakesha Das have been visiting Tanzania. A center in Dar Es Salaam, on the country’s east coast, was shut down recently but a new center is being built and will be completed in 2016.
Wildlife in Ngorongoro crater
Meanwhile Draupadi Rani and her husband Venu Madhurya moved to Arusha in 2011 to run the country’s second center. A simple, rural Tanzanian town, it was a unique challenge for the devotee pioneers.
“The locals were very superstitious and fearful,” Draupadi Rani says. “When we first moved here, they would stay far away from us. They didn’t know what we were about – where we practicing black arts or some sort of voodoo?”
Their attitudes changed when the couple began preparing and distributing free sanctified vegetarian food to locals in need both at their center and out in the community.
ISKCON East Africa Regional Secretary Umapati Das does Harinam at a village on the slopes of Mount Meru
“At first, they they would look at the prasadam with so much suspicion, and smell it, and wonder if they should eat it,” says Draupadi. “But when they saw us honoring the prasadam, they would say, ‘Oh, nothing is happening to them, so the food must be okay.’ And they’d start eating too.”
Today, ISKCON Arusha feeds about 1,300 people every week with traditional Tanzanian dishes like Ugali, made from maize flour, water, and salt; Marage (kidney beans); and Makande (maize seeds cooked with beans). They also occasionally serve fancy rice with vegetables, a luxury for locals.
A large part of the recipients are the 600 to 700 Masai children from surrounding clans who attend the government-run school in Ngaramtoni, on the outskirts of Arusha. These children do not speak either English or Kiswahili, but only their own Masai language, which presents its own challenges. Venu Madhurya and Draupadi Rani also feed 100 children at a Muslim “Madrasam,” or religious school, and 100 at a school for the deaf and dumb. The remainder of Food For Life recipients are locals who visit the center three times a week.
700 children line up for Food For Life at a local Masai primary school
With sixty per cent of Arusha’s population Muslim, and much of the rest Christian, Venu and Draupadi have to be careful about looking like they’re trying to recruit. Ocassionally, when there are visiting devotees from Nairobi, they’ll have a full kirtan, which the locals watch shyly rather than join. And locals who come to the center for Food For Life are occasionally treated to a short talk by a visiting Kiswahili-speaking devotee.
But mostly, Venu and Draupadi see integrating into the community and gaining the trust of their neighbors as their greatest achievement.
“They’re familiar with us now, and know that we’re not bad people,” Draupadi says. “When we pass them on the street, they wave and say ‘Hare Krishna!’
Masai cowherd boys herd their cows home in Ngaramtoni, outside the Masai school
ISKCON Arusha also holds festivals and regular programs for its small Indian congregation, including major supporters the Jani, Lodhia, and Verma families. And Venu and Draupadi have distributed about 20,000 of Srila Prabhupada’s books in the Kiswahili language in towns and universities all over Tanzania.
“Tanzanians are very sweet and simple people,” says Draupadi Rani. “They have a lot of time. They’ll always stop, hold the book, look at it, and ask you questions about it and yourself. They’re also very generous. When you ask for a donation, they will very happily share whatever little they have. It’s very refreshing.”
Prasadam distribution, however, remains the main focus of ISKCON Arusha. Govinda’s Sweet Shop, which sits in a commerce area fifteen minutes’ walk from the center, sells nearly fifty varieities of prasadam milk sweets made from local organic cows’ milk, as well as Deity worship paraphernalia and Srila Prabhupada’s books. Its sales support both the center and the free Food For Life program.
Draupadi Rani Dasi and her husband Venu Madhurya Das distribute books at Oyster Bay in Dar Es Salaam
In the future, Venu Madhurya Das and Draupadi Rani Dasi want to keep increasing both book and prasadam distribution. But most urgently, they are working on shifting from renting to owning their own permanent property.
“We’re looking at moving closer to the city center, so that we will be more accessible to both the Indian community and a larger cross-section of Tanzanian people,” says Draupadi. “That’s our priority right now.”[ africa ] [ tanzania ]