MARCH 14, 2016 — The fifth biennial youth camp of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), held in Austin, TX from March 12 to March 14, brought together 110 university students and young professionals from across the country. HSS organized this camp to provide a forum for young leaders to share their experiences, exchange ideas, and gain a deeper understanding of Hindu culture, while addressing societal problems faced around the world. Camp participant Srilekha Gnanashanmugam, a student from Irvine, California, said that it was inspiring to see so many dedicated and committed youth together in one place.
“I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to attend my first national youth camp,” Gnanashanmugam said. “I have built lifelong friendships with inspiring individuals who helped me gain a new perspective on my life, shared their zest for life with me, and opened my eyes to a blossoming youth community that is preserving the Hindu lifestyle on college campuses.”
Eighteen universities and 23 states were represented at the camp. All of the camp participants lead and organize Hindu community activities – such as yoga workshops, sewa or community service activities, and guest lectures on Hindu culture – at their universities and hometowns. Through discussions and workshops at the camp, participants shared their experiences and developed new ideas for how to raise awareness about Hindu culture on campus. Topics included how to correct misconceptions about Hinduism and how to bring the health benefits of yoga and meditation to the campus community.
Though each day’s activities began before dawn and continued until late at night, there was never a lapse in the enthusiasm of the participants. The activities included workshops, discussions, team-building games, songs, and yoga. The theme of the camp, the role of Hindu youth in today’s global renaissance, could be felt through the energetic, vibrant atmosphere and the motivational lyrics of the camp song, “Ab jaag utho kamar kaso, manzhil ki raah bulaati hai.” (Arise and awake, the path towards our goal is calling out to us.)
Several members of the HSS national team also attended the camp to guide the participants. Vijay Simha, assistant executive director of HSS, spoke to the youth about the importance of maintaining the Hindu-American aspect of their identity. Simha asserted, “With the liberal Hindu philosophy, spiritual democracy and vishwa shanti (world peace) are possible. We must practice, preserve, and promote Hindu Dharma to create a strong, vibrant, harmonious society.”
The discussion sessions focused on the role of Hindus as cultural ambassadors in America Participants discussed current challenges faced by modern society – including addiction to social media, unhealthy diet and lifestyle, unaffordable higher education, and gender disparities in the professional world – and how Hindu values can guide us in resolving these challenges. The participants also formulated concrete ideas for campaigns and activities they plan to implement back in their hometowns after the camp.
Though many of the participants were meeting each other for the first time, a strong sense of camaraderie permeated the campsite. “By the end of the camp, we truly felt like a family,” said Jignesh Borisa, coordinator of HSS youth activities. “We experienced first-hand that a team is more than the sum of its parts, and we hope to take this same spirit of teamwork and harmony back to our local communities.”
Other HSS youth activities include Shakha, weekly get-togethers for youth to collectively practice, preserve, and promote Hinduism; Health for Humanity Yogathon, an annual campaign to raise awareness about yoga in which participants collectively perform over 1 million Sun Salutations; and Yuva for Sewa, an opportunity for students to spend 10 weeks during summer volunteering at service projects in India (www.sewausa.org/yuva-for-sewa).
The camp successfully achieved its goal of networking and motivating Hindu youth leaders. Everyone left with strong friendships, pride in their cultural heritage, and renewed enthusiasm to strengthen Hindu activities in their universities and local communities.