Hindu Heritage Camp aims to empower the communities

 Hindu Heritage Camp aims to empower the communities

Photo : Raviji engages pupils in discusion

Five year old Veer Rampersad, a pupil at Montrose Government School, is among the participants at the Hindu Prachaar Kendra Heritage Vacation Course. The five-week long training camp in progress is a prelude to the rehearsal for the annual Baal Ramdilla.

Veer is in the 5-7 age group and has an elder brother, Ganesh at the camp. The other children called him Ganesh Baba. The names of some of the other children are Trista, Samaya, Sarva etc.

“And what are you learning at the Camp?” I asked.

“We learning yoga,” one said. Another said, “I like writing.”  A third raised his hand and said “colouring.” 

“I like the upside down V,” one shouted. I was taken aback and turned to Lakpatji for clarification.

Lakpatji said: “She means yoga.”

Another said: “And I like dancing Ramleela.”

“And what about the food?” asked.

All of them shouted: ‘Yeah…we like the food.”

“Are you getting chicken?” I asked.

“No. I don’t eat chicken. I don’t know what is meat,” said a girl.

Veer said: “I eat fish and shark.”

Another said: “I used to eat chicken.”

Photo : Participants sit around Lakpatji

Rooknath Lackpath coordinates the sessions with the children between the ages of 7 to 8 years. He said that “the theme of the Ramdilla is sanskar, that is, imparting Hindu values in the child at an early age.”

Lackpatji continued: “This year the children are younger than last year. The older children have some impressions that are difficult to change.”

Lakpatji teaches basic stories from the Ramayan and draws lessons from those stories. The stories are also dramatized and vocabulary is learned. “We make learning fun and the children are always excited and happy.”

The Heritage Vacation Camp is a 30-year project that is now in its 15th year.  Lakpatji started in the 2nd year of the program. “The syllabus is not fixed and is very dynamic and evolving to suit the changing needs of the society,”

Simran Jaggesar of Raghunanan Road is a student at the Saraswati Girls’ College and is awaiting results for CSEC. She has been a participant in the Heritage Vacation Camp for the past eight (8) years.

 “Last year I was the director of Baal Ramdilla,” Simran informed me.

“Were you pleased with your performance?” I enquired.

“Certainly; I think I did well. I am confident that I would be given the opportunity to be director again and hopefully be able to correct my mistakes and improve,” she responded, beaming with confidence.

“What was the response from the public?” I enquired.

“Everyone was surprised that at this young age so much can be achieved,” she said.

Vasel Ramharrack, age 16, is a student at St Mary’s College, Port of Spain. “I recently wrote CSEC and I’m awaiting results.”

Photo : Young teens at Hindu Heritage Camp

“My family is involved in the Kendra. I first played Baal Ramdilla in 2008. I played the role of a rakshasha,” said Vesel. “In 2015 I played Lakshmana. My performance was good. I see room for improvement.”

Vasel enjoys acting. He has not been assigned a role for 2018 but leaves that to the director. “The training gives me the confidence to take to the stage and perform.”

Ishanna Harry is also from Cunupia. A form four pupil at Lakshmi Girls’ College, Ishanna said: “2018 is the 9th year I am participating in the Heritage Camp.”

 “I started as a child and I enjoy the directing and narrating,” said Ishanna.

“How do you benefit from the camp?” I asked.

Ishanna responded: “I make a lot of friends. Also, I learn to speak out and I learn more about my culture.”

Raviji conducted a session with the 8-10 year group.  He was trying to instil in their minds the reasons why they must love and respect all. He did not deliver a lecture but posed questions and invited the students to give responses. In the search for answers, all were encouraged. No answer was deemed wrong and all participated with much zeal and enthusiasm.

Photo : Krishna Ramsingh conducts yoga class

The lesson reaffirmed respect for all, not only mother, father, and teacher but also guests, even strangers. Listening to this noble teaching of Hinduism, I wondered if other groups in society teach their young ones to respect all because “God lives within them.”

 And one student summarised the lesson: “Good deeds make us Hindus.”

 I later sat with Raviji and we had a long conversation to help me understand what is in it for an individual, now in his 70s, to venture into a 30 year program-15 years finished and another 15 to go. The one and only answer I came up with is vision-the ability to visualize the kind of society one wish to create.

Raviji said that “we had consensus to focus on children but the challenge was to find a method. It was only in 2003 that we concluded that Baal Ramdilla was the method.

“Getting children involved was a boon,” said Raviji. “Children like to perform and for this reason they would come. Also, parents like to see their children perform.”

“It was after about 8 years that parents began to see the benefits of this program,” said Raviji.

“But there are challenges. At age 10 children are driven to focus on passing exams. That is why we lowered the age. Now we plan to recruit at age 3. It is at that early age that sanskar or habits can best be implanted,” said Raviji.

“Ramdilla is not the project. It is the medium for sanskarisation…to directly attack the homes and from there to rehabilitate the community through the child…script writing, narration, acting and all round performance help to develop leadership in the community,” said Raviji.

Photo : Joan Daniel and Nalini Maharaj volunteer their time in the kitchen

Also assisting with the tutoring were Geeta Ramsingh, President of the HPK and her husband Krishna Ramsingh.

Preparing meals and snacks is a very important part of camp life. A team of volunteers are always at hand assisting. Today I was happy to find two volunteers in the kitchen-Joan Daniel and Nalini Maharaj. Others who serve are Bello Sankar, Kumari Chandler and Sunita. Most of the volunteers have children or grand-children at the camp.

Discipline and learning is emphasised in an atmosphere of love. Students have no inhibition. They are not afraid to volunteer answers to questions asked or to laugh heartily. They are certainly not afraid of Raviji or Lakpatji.

Before leaving for home the students formed a line and streamed toward Raviji who was seated on a sofa. Each student, with a broad smile, bowed at the feet of Raviji. He hugged them and boys were given a playful slap on their backs. This exercise demonstrates a bonding between the guru and chela that is a hall mark of traditional Indian education where earning is not just the transfer of information but a relationship or bond.