As an Indian in Kenya, Vaishali Shah, founder of the Srivedant Foundation, has been furthering knowledge of Indian culture and scriptures as well as a Vedic lifestyle including vegetarianism, for over a decade. In this interview she talks to LWP about her various ventures and projects and what it’s like living as an Indian in Kenya.
LWP: What is it like to live as an Indian in Kenya in terms of the cultural life? Can you tell us a bit about how you keep your connection to Indian culture alive in your daily life in Kenya?
Vaishali: There are many avenues for the Indian community to keep in touch with our culture. We have more than a hundred temples, community centres and religious centres all across the country. Temples are a wonderful venue for networking. Satsangs and get-togethers involving the Indian community help in bonding. Celebrating festivals together brings the feeling of belonging to a same shared heritage. Service initiatives involving the Indian community for the betterment of our adopted motherland strengthens our connection to our culture. While these are social initiatives, as an individual we try to keep the values that we have learnt from our forefathers alive through many family traditions. The series of books on Hindu culture and lifestyle that I have authored explore these very ideas in great detail.
LWP: Can you tell us why you set up the Shrivedant Foundation and the other projects you have been working on relating to Indian culture?
Vaishali: As we can see, the world today is developing at a breath-taking speed with technology making lives easier and comfortable but also making us dependent on them. Despite all these advancements there is a growing restlessness among people everywhere. We can only attribute this to our inability to reconcile the outside world of crass materialism with our inner spectrum which has to serve as a fount of peace and stability. It’s time we turn towards our scriptures to learn the ancient Vedic wisdom which can enlighten our path and help us in every stage of life.
I founded Shrivedant Foundation, as a non-profit organization, in 2001 with its headquarters in Kenya, dedicated to spreading the message of Vedic knowledge and Bharatiya culture throughout the world.
The foundation disseminates knowledge found in the ancient Indian scriptures to scholars and interested students throughout the world through the website www.indianscriptures.com. The very user-friendly portal promotes the original scriptures of Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism. It is the first portal to have all the scriptures under one roof like the Vedas, Puranas, Upanishads, Itihas etc. These are over 300 scriptures in more than 40,000 pages in PDF, text and image format.
More importantly, the information is genuine as it is authenticated and contributed by learned scholars, renowned gurus, earnest writers and established institutions. It is very interesting to find traces of all the modern theories and sciences in our scriptures. There are various categories like scriptures, Gods, Gurus, places of worship, Vedic society, Vedic knowledge, Vedic lifestyle and ‘Today’s Bharat’ with many subcategories under each mega category. Detailed information on the customs, traditions, rituals, symbols, the various reasons behind the innumerable customs practiced in our religion is given.
SVF has also developed unique course material to help Indians and others to start living a Vedic Hindu lifestyle for general well-being. Courses on ‘Hindu Culture and Lifestyle Studies’ are offered both online and offline across all age groups. There are three levels, each level has a set of 4 books, making it 12 books in all. The course material is based on four pillars (subjects), namely:
- Living Vedic Traditions
- Inside India
- Ancient Indian Sciences
- Indian Scriptures
The course can be taken online through our website www.hinduculturestudies.com The course material is in the English language with few Sanskrit texts for reference in text, video and audio formats. After completing the course, the student submits assignments via email which are checked by a panel of experts and upon completion, a certificate from SVF is awarded. Courses can also be taken as classroom studies.
Shrivedant Foundation has also constructed a temple, the Kamleshwar Mahadev Shiv Temple in Kenya in July 2013. The temple is located in a remote area near Kisumu. Currently, the temple is a centre of various medical camps, food outreach programmes, and spiritual discourses for locals as well as the Indian community. The foundation feeds about four hundred local kids at the Shiv temple every week. SVF is in the process of creating job opportunities through various means for the villagers.
LWP: Are the Hindu Culture and Lifestyle courses offered by your foundation only for NRIs or Indians? Could non Indians also find some benefit in them?
Vaishali: Any one from any part of the world interested in learning about Hinduism can register for the course. The material is designed in such a way that the student understands the elements of Vedic lifestyle and gradually grows in the same path, becoming aware of every aspect of Hindu culture and traditions.
LWP: What is life as a vegetarian like in Kenya? Is the local cuisine vegetarian-friendly and do you find much Indian food available?
Vaishali: The local cuisine is quite vegetarian friendly as originally most of the African tribes were vegetarian. Growing interest in western lifestyle has changed their dietary habits, like in other parts of the world. The majority of Kenyans are non-vegetarian in present times. I approach schools, colleges and other community centres to spread awareness of vegetarianism.
LWP: You have also set up the Kenya Vegetarian Club. What activities happen through the club?
Vaishali: The Kenya Vegetarian Club established by Shrivedant Foundation supports the cause of vegetarianism and hopes to increase the number of vegetarians in Kenya. The Club promotes tree planting, seed donation, helping women farmers and helping to save the beautiful forests of Kenya. The club guides and promotes vegetarianism by arranging various programmes and events in different parts of Kenya in the form of seminars, exhibitions involving, among others, the youth and school students.
The club is planning to plant a hundred trees in every school in Kenya. There are more than ten thousand schools in the country. KVC has made a beginning in Kisumu County and gradually we will be able to take it across the entire country. It will turn into a mass movement very soon with enthusiastic participation from all sections of the society for it is for the future of this nation, for this planet. KVC donates quality seeds so that local communities can be empowered and grow food. ‘Food for all’ is a worthy cause and seed donation is the backbone of this program. Seeds are distributed by KVC volunteers to farmers across Kenya.
Another important initiative undertaken by KVC is to help farmers grow vegetables as a profitable business venture. The club reached out to 200 farmers around Kisumu County by April 2017, imparted the knowledge of vegetable farming and marketing. KVC aims to reach out to at least 1000 farmers and other small business communities linked with farming directly or indirectly in the next six months in Kenya.
LWP: Why do you think it’s important for Indian culture to be revived?
Vaishali: India has always been the fount of wisdom where people from all over the world have taken a sacred dip. Through the generations we have seen how India has withstood various onslaughts and remained a leader when it came to imparting eternal values. Our scriptures like the Bhagavad Gita are timeless and are meant for the entire world for they contain eternal truths. If we have to save the world we have to save ourselves, our youth, our people for it looks like many glorious things are forgotten by our own countrymen. So we need to revive all these ancient practices and start living the life that our scriptures exhort us to.
LWP: Do you think the younger generations in India understand the wisdom of ancient Indian culture? What do you think can be done to bring it closer to them?
Vaishali: It is not that our younger generation does not appreciate; I will say they are ignorant because we have failed to introduce the glory of our culture to them from a young age. Ignorance is the main problem here. There is no sense of pride that they belong to one of the ancient civilizations of the world mainly due to this ignorance. So firstly we need to create awareness and catch them young, infuse a sense of pride on being a Bharathiya. Everything else will fall into place then. Courses like what we have started aim to create this awareness and then appreciation will follow automatically.If you like what you read on LWP and would like to make a contribution, then read more & donate.ॐ
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