From January 8th to 14th, 38 youth aged twelve to sixteen years old had the experience of a lifetime at the Radha Krishna Summer Camp in Brazil. Ditching their smartphones, they embraced spiritual life and simple living – and liked what they found.
Run by Brazilian ISKCON Youth Secretary Vaikuntha Murti Das, and his wife Subhadra Dasi of ISKCON Education, the camp is now in its fourth year and has just reached a new milestone. This year, it opened its doors for youth outside of Brazil, with participants from Chile and Canada attending.
For English-speaking youth, translators made the camp comfortable and welcoming. “It’s my first year at Radha Krishna Camp and although I don’t speak Portuguese, I have made so many new friends,” says Vanamali Fournier from Saranagati, Canada. “They were very helpful, and I had a great experience!”
January is Brazilian summer, and host Goura Vrindavan Eco-Village was the perfect setting for the camp. A paradise-like Vaishnava community located near the historic city of Paraty – 250kms from Sao Paulo airport – it’s surrounded by dense rainforest, mountains, and waterfalls, and is just 30 minutes from the coast.
Radha Krishna Camp makes the best of this setting with a unique practice. On the first day of the camp, all cell phones are handed over to the camp coordinator, so that participants have the opportunity to interact more deeply with each other.
“At first, some of the youth find the idea crazy – ‘Oh my God! You’re taking my iPhone 7 away from me?’” laughs Vaikuntha Murti. “But after the second or third day away from Facebook, they’re used to it. Because no one has cellphones, they interact more, and the results are amazing.”
Youth end up thanking camp organizers for the realization that they can live without their phones; while parents are especially grateful for help with what is a major challenge at home.
Taking distracting technology out of the equation also helped participants focus on the spiritual component of the camp. Every morning, all the youth attended mangala arati, chanted japa and took part in the full morning program at the beautiful Goura Vrindavana temple.
“That was another unique aspect, because most of the youth are from big cities and don’t usually go to the morning program at home,” Vaikuntha Murti says.
Youth especially appreciated the Bhagavatam classes by Goura Vrindavana leader Purushatraya Swami, in which he fielded a variety of questions about their concerns on the future of ISKCON, leadership and more.
Meanwhile every evening for one hour, the youth organized and led kirtans, to the delight of the local devotee community.
Camp participants also enjoyed learning about and having fun in nature. Biologist Sesa Das took them on treks through the jungle, teaching them the importance of preserving the rainforest and respecting different indigenous animals. And the group spent one whole day in the stunning Bay of Ilha Grande, taking three boats out into the ocean and exploring the many tropical islands in the sunshine.
Youth and parents alike are effusive with positive feedback after the camp. Parents have called it “an oasis of Krishna consciousness.” Youth, who attend by their own choice, appreciate the chance to build their own spiritual identity away from their parents and create relationships with other young devotees and with the Holy Name.
Vaikuntha Murti says he is open to assist devotees from other communities around the world in setting up their own similar summer camp. However, he says, “There are no secrets. We just give them the opportunity for sadhu sanga, and provide them the best of Krishna consciousness in a way that respects their limits. Start with just one weekend, and build from there.”
The most important thing, he adds, is enthusiasm. “You need the desire to do something for our future. Because these kids are the future of ISKCON – our future leaders, temple presidents, pujaris. So we definitely have to take care of them right now. Otherwise it will be too late, and they will go away to do something else.”
The Radha Krishna Camp will continue to be held every January; and new enrollments for the 2019 Camp will open in August 2018 for youth from all over the world, and especially South America.
“This is a very rich experience and an important effort to keep our children inspired in Srila Prabhupada’s mission,” Vaikuntha Murti says.[ brazil ] [ camp ] [ youth ]