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The Tampa branch of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh organized the first ever day long camps for kids in the age group 5-13 on Friday, June 24, 2005 at Sanatana Dharma Mandir and Saturday, June 25, 2005, at the Vishnu Mandir in Tampa. The objective of the camps was to enable Hindu children in the area to appreciate their cultural roots and learn Hindu values through various physical, intellectual and spiritual activities. Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh successfully conducts Hindu Heritage Camps in Tampa, Fl
Rahul Agarwal / July 6, 2005

TAMPA, FL: The Tampa branch of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh organized the first ever day long camps for kids in the age group 5-13 on Friday, June 24, 2005 at Sanatana Dharma Mandir and Saturday, June 25, 2005, at the Vishnu Mandir in Tampa. The objective of the camps was to enable Hindu children in the area to appreciate their cultural roots and learn Hindu values through various physical, intellectual and spiritual activities. 

                                                            "Campers and swayamsevaks from Friday Camp"

The camp was organized and conducted completely by a team of 8 youth swayamsevaks from high school and college under the mentorship of senior swayamsevaks of the organization. The idea of the camp was conceived and implemented by the group in a few weeks who worked hard to promote the event. Flyers were put up in every Indian store/restaurant in Tampa. Swayamsevaks attended all the Hindu events in the area to get as many kids registered as possible. Each registration of $15 included a 1-year subscription to the Balagokulam magazine. The final attendance for the Friday and Saturday camps were 11 and 31 respectively. 

The camps started at 9 am and continued till 5:30 pm and included sessions on yoga/surya-namaskar, cultural games, shlokas, Indian map, arts and crafts, amongst others. The content and the subject matter of the two camps were formulated judiciously with equal emphasis on work and play. Participants learned valuable lessons about the basic Hindu tenets, precepts, and practices. The day started out with a prayer followed by Surya-Namaskar and a few simple yogasanas led by Dinesh Chanchalani, a swayamsevak who came from Atlanta, GA especially for the camps. It was followed by an hour long cultural games session. The children really enjoyed learning new games like rama-ravana, kho, murti, etc. Next, there was a short cookies/juice break as the participants relaxed after the stimulating outdoor game session. 

The “shloka session” was led by Ruti Dwivedi, who did an excellent job of breaking down the shloka and explaining the meaning of each word. All the kids could recite the “pratah smaranam” with proper hand gestures at the end of the half-hour session. The effectivness of the session was later evident by the comments of another sevika, Ankita Mishra, who pointed out that a group of children recited the shloka on their drive back home and after waking up next morning. 

The shlokas were followed by a very interesting “map session” where Samvid Dwivedi and Vishwanath Urala familiarized the participants with the land and the legends of India, that is Bharat, the home of their parents and forefathers. The kids were invited to identify the places where their parents/ancestors came from. Samvid also pointed out the sacred rivers, mountains and the neighboring countries of India which gave everyone a sense of belonging to Mother India. As many of the participants of the camps were South American Hindus, the Saturday camp also included a section on maps of Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago to show the significant population of Hindus in those areas.  

The post-lunch session included a 45 min movie session where the children saw selected clips from the animated Ramayana movie and a scene about the life of the great martyr Bhagat Singh. Through the clips, the kids got insights into the philosophy of one’s dharma which the Hindus have practiced for thousands of years. Next, the group listened to the life story of the great spiritual leader, Swami Vivekananda by the talented orator Mr. Yashwant Belsare, a senior swayamsevak of the organization. For the next two sessions the kids were divided into 2 groups. The younger group participated in a role-playing session led by Ankita where they acted out scenes from Ramayana. The swayamsevaks provided some interesting props for the skit making the activity really entertaining for the kids. Next, the kids spent 45 minutes coloring their favorite god figures. 

At the same time, the older group attended a session on Vedic math led by a college swayamsevak Joel Brown. The session made the Hindu contribution to world of math loud and clear. The kids were invited to the board to work out same problems in both conventional and vedic ways. The participants were amazed at how they could solve the same problems in a fraction of the time using the vedic methods. The next session led by Rahul Agarwal encouraged the participants to find answers to some of the most common questions that a Hindu gets asked. The kids chose their own topics and researched a book called “10 Questions people ask About Hinduism” to find the answers. To further internalize the answers and share their knowledge, each group made a poster and presented it at the end of the day in front of all the participants and the parents. Most kids managed the challenging exercise reasonably well explaining with confidence and conviction topics like: why Hindu women wear a dot on the forehead, the true nature of the caste system, etc. 

The day was concluded with another session of indoor games. During the Saturday camp the swayamsevaks experimented with a dance session led by Pooja Pandya who taught everyone a few simple steps of garba, the folk dance of Gujarat. The parents joined in for the conclusion ceremony and prayer as the chief guest, Mrs. Indira Shastry handed out certificates of completion to each participant. 

                                                            "Participants from the Saturday camp"

By the end of the day the campers had understood the meanings behind such Hindu symbols as the swastika, om, the ringing of the bell when you enter the Hindu temple, and the gesture of prostrating before one’s chosen deity. Prof. Shrinivas Tilak, who was present throughout the camps, commented, “Whether on the ground outside or in the hall it was joy listening to a variety of calls or slogans given by the monitors like (1) jay jay gita; bhagavada gita; (2) hara hara mahadev”. The camps were success as was evident by the comments of the parents at the end of the day. They were impressed by this one-of-a-kind effort in the community and requested to continue organizing similar events in the future.