On 1 June 2019, devotees from various temples in Australia attended a one-day conference on New Govardhana farm, Murwillumbah, Northern New South Wales. Presenters at the conference were devotees who are developing Vaishnava community welfare services including mentoring, counseling, mental health support, youth support, widows support, palliative care and caring for the sick, women’s support, social justice and more. The conference was attended by just under 100 devotees.
Hladini devi dasi (Dr H.E.Widolf) from New Govardhana’s mental health development team coordinated the conference in response to the increasing interest manifesting in the local devotee population to provide effective personal support for community members.
“Our aim has been to not only unite and integrate the various Vaishnava care groups in the New Govardhana district, but also to pioneer a new way forward for ISKCON centers around the world, for future devotee support forums,” says Hladini devi dasi.
Some of the groups represented at the conference are already up and running with their various services, but much more is on the horizon for most of the groups. Many New Govardhana devotees who are currently heading up programs are keen to expand their services by either professionalizing their activities or applying for funding from local and regional governments.
“Governments in Australia definitely allocate funding for independent groups such as NGOs and religious communities who desire to develop their own community welfare services. Our task is to learn how to attract such funding,” says Hladini.
Krishnarupa devi dasi (ACBSP), Women’s Minister for Australia, states, “Although Srila Prabhupada stressed from the beginning of ISKCON how important it is to care for devotees and to regard each other as family members, it has taken us some time to fully incorporate these maxims into our daily lives. With devotee care committees being set up, and with the Vaishnavi Ministry actively ensuring the safety and wholistic health of the women in the movement, there is now an emphasis on truly caring for each other.
“For instance, during 2018 and 2019, I have been traveling to our ISKCON centers in Australia and presenting the Sexual Harassment Identification and Prevention seminar. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive from the attendees. Later on this year, I will be rolling out a domestic and family violence prevention workshop around Australia. Such seminars really help the devotees. Every member of ISKCON is entitled to serve in a safe, nurturing environment. Community Services Conferences, like the one Hlandini devi dasi organized, are a positive effort in this direction.”
One of New Govardhana’s first community service programs was the Mentorship Program, which has now been running for more than six years. Unlike other mentoring programs on offer within ISKCON, New Govardhana provides one-on-one mentoring for bhaktas and bhaktines, as well as for more established devotees feeling that they need personal support in their lives. Potential mentees are offered the opportunity to establish an exclusive and confidential relationship with a senior devotee (same-gender only) who can act as their guide, friend, confidant and well-wisher in Krishna consciousness.
“So far,” says Ambika devi dasi (ACBSP), the current program coordinator for women’s mentoring, “we have been successful in delivering a number of young women to the point of taking initiation, something that we had only hoped to be able to achieve at the program’s inauguration. As the program has progressed, we have also expanded it to provide one-on-one support for women in various situations, not only newcomers. Some are already initiated, but feel reassured to have an older devotee looking out for them and being there for them.
“The relationship between mentor and mentee is mutually rewarding, with strong friendships often developing. In the mentor-mentee relationship, our idea is to link like-minded personalities, or those with common interests and proclivities. So far, we have had success with this goal.”
The conference held on 1 June included a morning session with numerous senior devotees delivering PowerPoint presentations accompanying short seminars. Attendees then participated in a ‘round-table discussion’ aimed at generating further interest in developing programs. Conference organisers are hoping to coordinate the creation of a media platform on which all the various service groups can combine information about what they have to offer.
The conference was live streamed as well as filmed, with the edited version scheduled to be uploaded onto YouTube soon. Accompanying PowerPoint slides will also be published into PDF format and uploaded with the video.