PORTAGE, MI – There are nearly 700 practicing Hindu families in the Kalamazoo area, but just one temple, so when it comes to educating Hindu youths about their culture, there aren’t many options outside the home.
Youth leaders at Portage’s Indo American Cultural Center and Temple, 2002 Ramona Ave., worked to change that on Tuesday and Wednesday by hosting a Hindu cultural camp.
The two-day event, open to children of all religious and ethnic backgrounds, featured arts and crafts, storytelling, movies and outdoor games, including soccer and capture the flag.
“In our modern-day generation, its hard to get kids to take learning about their religion seriously,” said camp organizer Sachin Kumar, a junior at Portage Northern. “You need to make them learn in a fun way, and with them coming to this camp, we’re all learning in a fun way.
“They all do the activities together, which is fun for the kids and better than opening a history book or giving them lectures.”
With just under 1 billion followers worldwide, Hinduism is the globe’s third largest religion behind Christianity (2.18 billion) and Islam (1.6 billion).
To engage the 5 to 14-year-old campers, volunteers had the 21 children paint figurines of Hindu gods and listen to Indian fables.
Now in its fourth year, the camp also provided opportunities for the volunteers to learn more about Hindu and Indian culture.
For Kumar, this meant leading the campers in discussions about universally shared cultural values, including sharing and patience, as well as some of the traditions and practice of Hinduism.
“When we’re teaching the kids, we have to learn a little bit about the culture, too, and we gain experience interacting with kids and working with others,” Kumar said. “This gives us the experience to lead bigger camps or use the leadership skills at school.
“Almost all of us are leaders in clubs at school, and we can incorporate leadership skills from this back to that.”
For camp leader Susmitha Narisetty, the event represented an opportunity to learn about an unfamiliar religion.
“I’m Catholic, not Hindu, so I didn’t know that much about Hinduism or the culture,” said the Portage Northern senior. “I learned a lot through the storytelling and activities, and that’s something that I really enjoyed and something that I hope to do again.”