Youth Festival of India Tour 2004 - Behind the Scenes
Posted February 4, 2004
Summer is just around the corner and we're mentally preparing for the next big two-month Hare Krishna Youth Festival of India Tour across North America. Over 40 youth from around the world will help set up and take down and perform kirtanas and dramas at Ratha-yatra festivals, including New York, Chicago, Washington D.C., Montreal, Toronto, Detroit, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Vancouver. We'll be visiting some 20 temples such as Gita Nagari, New Vrindavan, Dallas, Laguna Beach, San Diego, Sharanagati Farm... You've read the BTG article by now. 13,500 miles across a continent, over 40 youth from all parts of the world, traveling in a tour bus that says "Hare Krishna Youth Ministry" in large red letters along both sides of the bus - a spiritual adventure summer camp-on-wheels, Krishna conscious memories of a lifetime for those youth who are able to attend.
Many people have asked me to take them behind the scenes of this important project, show them how it all comes together. In retrospect, it's a simple story of volunteerism and ideals, of enthusiasm reminiscent of the early days of the Hare Krishna movement. A story of love, commitments, values and selfless service by the dozens of devotees who make this tour happen every year.
First there's Madhuha Prabhu and Mother Bhagavati. For the past 26 years they have been, and continue to be, the backbone of Festival of India. So too, right now, they are calling and encouraging me to once again psyche myself up for the challenge of planning and organizing the tenth annual Hare Krishna Youth Festival of India Tour; a mission to embed our youth hands-on in the preaching work of setting up the Festival of India in cities around the continent, dancing on stage, singing kirtanas, bhajans, distributing books and prasadam, and performing dramas of Krishna Lila for mesmerized audiences from the golden prairies of the Midwest to the snow-capped northern Rockies in Canada.
There are phone calls to make, a gazillion e-mails to write, fund-raising, friend-raising and convincing to do, that this is a wonderful opportunity to get involved and help give our young people a taste for Srila Prabhupada's mission to spread Krishna consciousness through cultural presentations, far and wide.
We're all volunteers. My wife Jaya Radhe and I both work full-time jobs, she as a teacher, I as webmaster for two companies. Organizing the summer tour takes a considerably chunk of time out of our already busy schedules, personal lives, and finances which we donate every year because we strongly believe in this cause. For years we've taken the stance that something like this should exist for our youth, isn't happening, and so let's do our best for Srila Prabhupada and the youth to make it happen. A grass-roots approach. And so we call on our friends and mother -in-laws to make the phone calls, help write the e-mails, and help do the convincing that this youth festival tour needs to happen again, this summer of 2004, and that it will take some commitment and volunteer time and financial contributions on many people's part.
Tour dates. Scheduling the dates is always the first step. We find out that Chicago Ratha-yatra is confirmed-we have a starting date. To allow for a maximum number of youth to come, we consult the academic calendars of the local colleges and universities. "Summer A" course exams end June 24th. We shedule our departure date for that evening, giving us just enough time to drive from Florida to Chicago Ratha-yatra by the 26th. The other festival dates (with the exception of Toronto and D.C.) are estimated at this time, but usually fall in line one after the other, every consecutive Sunday from Chicago to Vancouver Ratha-yatra. We go ahead and post a tentative schedule on the bus tour website so the youth can begin contemplating coming on the tour, and the rest of us can begin to let our employers know when we are scheduling unpaid time off. Curious? Take a look: http://www.krishna.com/bustour
Bus drivers. No tour can happen without them. Dravinaksa and Janaka Rsi Prabhu drove for the entire tour last summer. My repeated obeisances to them for taking the time off work, unpaid, and driving the bus for two months, unpaid. Jaya Dasa and Mukunda Prabhu also helped drive for a week each. Thank you, thank you, thank you. We need at least two bus drivers at all times to take alternating shifts, driving long distances. Three bus drivers would be ideal. Anyone out there with a B-class commercial driver's license? Call me. (If you have an A-class license and experience driving tractor trailers, call too.)
Youth. We send out invitations, emails, phone calls to recruit enthusiastic youth to come on the tour. (Any motivated youth age 16 or older please apply at http://K¤¤rishna.com/bustour.) Having 40 youth literally run the show wherever we go adds a lot of life and energy to the festivals, and gives the youth a real sense of purpose, accomplishment, and pride in being a devotee. One parent asked me after last summer's tour why we didn't bring four buses full of youth to all the festivals, and how much more ecstatic this would be. I told him that the tour (with one bus) costs about US $30,000 and that we divide the costs equally among all tour participants. That's right, we PAY to come on the tour and do service. The senior devotee was stunned, and it didn't take long to convince him that if we could find more sponsors to contribute to the tour, we could charge less, and we would have more youth who could afford to come. In fact, it would help us bring youth along who may be good examples for others, but who don't have the funds on their own.
Chaperones. Parents and older devotees who come to look after the needs of the youth. Thanks to Mothers Gangagati, Yauvanananda, Kirtida, Satyasara, Krsna Shakti, Saraswati, and to Purusartha and Vidyananda Prabhus for their selfless service these past two summers. Finding parents who will come along, manage the austerities of traveling, and can put up with the youth for two months is always a challenge. Thank you.
Inspiring association. Every year we invite swamis and senior devotees to travel with us and inspire the youth. Thank you to the many who have come with us over the years, including Jayadvaita Swami, Bhakti Marg Swami, and Radhanatha Swami who spent time with us last summer.
Temple Presidents. We rely on their kindness and cooperation. They provide us with the opportunity to visit a holy place, serve the local Deities and devotees, have spiritual association for the youth and provide a safe haven to rest and rejuvenate in between festivals. Every summer we are overwhelmed by the generosity that temple presidents extend towards us when we pull up with 45 youth and adult chaperones, and ask them to please host and facilitate us. Thank you.
What to speak of individuals who open up their homes for us, and feed us from their personal pantry. Last summer we visited Sharanagati, Canada, for the first time. We were hosted by devotees who had practically no income and recycled every piece of wood around the house. They put us up in their own rooms, let all 45 of us shower in their spring-fed shower, and fed us sumptuously from their gardens. We felt loved and cared for, like family.
Well wishers, parents and donors. We thank them for sending their precious youth on the tour, for trusting us, for giving the donations that make the tour possible, and we especially thank Mathuresh and Gangagati Prabhus for bailing us out with a new transmission halfway through the tour last summer, when it seemed like all odds were against us and we couldn't go on.
A bus. No tour is complete without a means of transportation. We made do with a used school bus for nine years, and broke down so many times it was taking a toll on tour morale. Last year, with the help of Madhuha Prabhu and Festival of India, we made a down payment on a newer tour bus, as seen in BTG. This bus, Garuda II, is faster, bigger, more reliable, and can accommodate luggage in the bays beneath. As of this writing, Garuda II still belongs to the bank, and we are paying about $990 a month towards the outstanding $38,000 loan.
If you would like to share the responsibility for providing a Krishna conscious summer program for Hare Krishna youth, this summer, and in summers to come, we invite you to get involved in this very worthy cause.
Come on the tour as a chaperone or bus driver, arrange for a preaching program along the way, host us for a night, help with donations, send encouraging emails, send us a bottle of olive oil for the road, build an altar for our traveling deities... Even if you just send one line of an email encouraging us to go on, it all will help turn this summer 2004 tour from dream to reality. Think about it. Then you too can sign your emails with a sense of accomplishment: "Youth Festival of India Tour Facilitator."
Behind the scenes, there's a lot to do still to make the summer 2004 tour happen. We're open to suggestions, help of any kind, and your good will and encouragement.
Thank you for continuing to allow us the opportunity for service.
On behalf of the tour organizing team,