On Saturday 26 April 2008, over 350 balaks and balikas from all over the UK gathered at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, London, to participate in the National Bal-Balika Conference. Sanchalaks had teamed up with professional coaches to deliver vital life skills to 9- to 14-year-olds. Entitled “The Power Within: Enrich, Empower, Enlighten”, the conference aimed to help these youngsters enjoy and make the most of their childhood while also preparing them for the challenges that lay ahead in our increasingly testing times.

The opening session was called ‘Reach for the Sky’ and touched upon the basics of being successful and happy by cultivating values such as courage, determination, honesty, and generosity.

Over 100 parents attended a separate parallel session where they were given information about the changes in the National Curriculum and their role as parents in their children’s education. The parents were also made aware of the dangers of the internet if used indiscriminately.

For the children, a Police Community Support Officer then shared real-life examples poignantly highlighting the noxious effects of drugs and alcohol upon young people.

After lunch, the theme of ‘Reach to the Sky’ continued with the teaching of relevant leadership skills.

The next session was called ‘You Are What You Eat’. Dr Kant, a general practitioner, used accessible language and interactive presentation tools to cover health topics affecting children of today. He emphasised healthy eating and regular exercise, and also warned against obesity and substance abuse.

A yoga and meditation session also trained the children to be more focused through basic breathing exercises and yogic postures.

The final session titled ‘The Leader in You’ was conducted by the sadhus. They detailed values and outstanding qualities of famous leaders whose lives have influenced the world. They also spoke about Shastriji Maharaj and Pramukh Swami Maharaj and how their inspiring leadership has brought BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha to a global level. They concluded that to lead others one must first learn to lead one’s self.

At the end of the conference, the children received certificates congratulating them on their keen participation. They – and even the parents and sanchalaks – all left after a thoroughly enjoyable day with a bundle of new learning.

Also present at some point during the conference were several local councillors: Mrs Anju Patel, Mrs Uma Fernandes, Ms Mary Arnold and Mr Robert Wharton. They were particularly impressed with BAPS’ focus on holistic child development and its successful implementation from such a young age. One dignitary also remarked that such training was “laying the foundation for a safer, healthier and brighter future for our country.” 

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