The education of local communities is essential in creating a more sustainable future for our city. For this reason, Keep Austin Beautiful recognizes Radha Madhav Dham and the Shiksha School as the 30th Annual Award Winner in the category of Education.
Radha Madhav Dham, tucked away within 200 acres of land in South Austin, is one of the largest Hindu temples and ashrams in the country. Here, individuals from all walks of life come together for spiritual devotion, cultural celebration, and a passion for community collaboration. In conjunction with their Shiksha School, Radha Madhav Dham has worked hard over the last few years to promote three key objectives: education, conservation, and community.
The Shiksha School’s goal is to “plant seeds” within their students to become conscious participants in the community. Between the miles of trails through the hill country, wildlife, and expansive open space filled with the fresh scent of pine and cedar, Radha Madhav Dham’s location makes it the perfect setting for outdoor learning. In order to nurture a peaceful learning atmosphere, Shiksha encourages teachers to teach through nature. Marianne Gamble, who teaches all the science classes, leads hands-on activities, including using Keep Austin Beautiful water testing activity kits to survey water quality in nearby creeks and ponds. Marianne works at finding a balance between giving students the freedom to connect to nature and also facilitating a valuable learning experience. The goal is to teach younger generations the right way to interact with their environment and live in balance with Mother Earth.
“The Gurukul-style of outdoor teaching has many benefits,” said Hema Raja, Shiksha Principal. “It gives kids a lot more to learn, see, remember, and connect with, which is lacking in regular schools.” Shiksha School students participate in everything from regular highway clean ups to recycling throughout the ashram. They have also started a gardening project with Holy Basil, a medicinal herb that is also grown in honor of the Hindu deity Krishna. As the Sunday school has helped create a greater sense of gratitude and environmental stewardship, the students have become empowered as leaders and motivated to do more for the community.
Students create solar ovens during RMD’s 2014 Winter Camp.
Marianne Gamble says that her nature and green education classes are becoming increasingly popular as environmental awareness spreads through the community. She has worked with other members of a Green Team to build up a recycling system for RMD, which involves students in its maintenance encourages them to take charge of it. The dream of the Green Team is to help Shiksha evolve into a Green School where kids showcase their greening efforts each week and find joy in protecting nature.
Students and teachers at RMD Camp.
Radha Madhav Dham has begun to collaborate with conservation organizations. In partnership with the Texas Art Asylum, they are collecting random objects (anything from bottle caps to postcards) to create up-cycled art . By organizing boating and a lake cleanup, Radha Madhav Dham hopes to continue to inspire its community. With 60 residents living on site and thirty to forty thousand people who are fed at RMD each year, the community has taken on many greening initiatives in order to conserve waste. Along with recycling bins plansnext to every trash can on site, they have also switched to compostable plates. Every meal served at RMD is vegetarian, which saves between 400 – 2,500 gallons of water per pound of meat not consumed. Other water conservation efforts include rainwater retention ponds, having non-irrigated greenery, and using 1/200 of the surrounding neighborhood’s average consumption.These efforts mark the beginning of their sustainability objectives. The school also plans to install a self-sustaining solar power system within the next year, implement a community garden, and adopt a street with Keep Austin Beautiful.
When it comes to creating positive changes for the environment, it would not be possible without community engagement. This year, Shiksha hosted an Earth Day celebration with over 400 attendees and plans to expand the event next year.
Volunteers at a monthly cleanup.
The amount of support within the RMD community has fueled the realization of a greener environment, but they acknowledge that achieving future sustainability goals will not be possible without the collaboration of other local organizations. “To sustain it, we ask the community to come together, not just our school community, or Radha Madhav Dham,” said Principal Raja. “We are small, so we can only do so much. When we have support from the City of Austin, Keep Austin Beautiful, and other organizations that are trying to build something, and we all come together, anything is possible. We need support and motivation from whole the community.”
Keep Austin Beautiful Education Programs Coordinator Alecia Casper exhibits a snake at RMD’s 2015 Earth Day Celebration.