Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Green Zone with Gurmeet Aunty - My articles for green children

As I write to you, millions of gallons of oil have leaked from the well and are spreading across the Gulf waters, reaching close to the shores of the states of Louisiana, Alabama, Florida and Mississippi. Millions of birds and marine life are at risk of suffocating in the oil and their food sources have been contaminated..... Click here to read more

When we throw away those bottles and bags, they take many, many years to completely break down. Until then, they occupy the precious land in the form of litter and trash.
Most times this trash finds its way into the waterways and oceans. Little animals eat pieces of plastic bags or bottles. Over 100,000 birds, land and marine animals die each year either by suffocating from the bags or getting sick from eating the plastic. Click here to read more...

There was a huge banyan tree in our neighborhood right across from our home. It was probably hundreds of years old because its trunk was really big. Throughout the year, green parrots with red beaks would come by the thousands and sit atop the canopy of that giant tree. They would sing loudly. We had so much fun dangling in the air from the low hanging roots of the tree. Its many hollows and low branches were great for playing hide and seek. Click here to read more...

At first, I was a little hesitant wearing used clothing, but then when I realized that by being a part of the consignment cycle (both by donating and using) I was helping the environment, I was gladly a part of it.
How do consignments save the environment?
Click here to

Simplicity – “Why is it important?” you may ask. “What’s wrong with fancy living?”
The problem with fancy lifestyle is that need way more resources. If you think about it there are a finite amount of resources on this earth. Having more for ourselves means taking basic things away from others. Click here to read more...

So the next time you are tempted to purchase a furry looking coat or purse or shoes, remind yourself what goes into it, and ask yourself if you really want to be a part of and contributor to the animal cruelty business.
Click here to

Friday, March 5, 2010

What ever you eat! Eat with consciousness! - There isn't enough for everyone!

Germany : The Melander family of Bargteheide Food expenditure for one week: 375.39 Euros or $500.07

Japan : The Ukita family of Kodaira City Food expenditure for one week: 37,699 Yen or $317.25

United States : The Revis family of North Carolina Food expenditure for one week: $341.98
Italy : The Manzo family of Sicily Food expenditure for one week: 214.36 Euros or $260.11
Poland : The Sobczynscy family of Konstancin-Jeziorna Food expenditure for one week: 582.48 Zlotys or $151.27

Mexico : The Casales family of Cuernavaca Food expenditure for one week: 1,862.78 Mexican Pesos or $189.09

Egypt : The Ahmed family of Cairo Food expenditure for one week: 387.85 Egyp tian Pounds or $68.53

Ecuador : The Ayme family of Tingo Food expenditure for one week: $31.55

Bhutan : The Namgay family of Shingkhey Village Food expenditure for one week: 224.93 ngultrum or $5.03

Chad : The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Green Zone with Gurmeet Aunty 2: Green Jeans

“What’s your favorite thing to do when you have free time?” I questioned the kids at a Youth Camp. You would be surprised to know that over 50% of the girls (and many boys) answered “Shopping.” When we discussed what they liked to shop for, most of them said clothing.I was not a bit surprised. We Punjabis have an obsession for shopping for clothes. It is one thing that has not changed over generations. Sometimes we go beyond our means to show off our collection and to be up to par with the current trends. When I asked the kids what they did with the clothing they didn’t wear anymore, thankfully a lot of them said they gave them to the poor. Yet a significant number of them just discarded them in trash. It made me and some other earth-conscious kids unhappy. We talked about why.

Until a decade or so ago, I was one of those people who would run to the mall to kill my free time or combat my loneliness. Then something happened. There was a community project that I got involved with helping people who did not have food, clothes or shelter. It required time and a lot of money. Where would this money come from? As I walked out of a mall, I thought about the project, and I looked at my shopping bag. They were full to the brim with luxuries, not necessities; and even though I had spent $200, I had not purchased the one item I had come to the mall for. And there, was the answer to my question! I decided that I would stop visiting malls for the whole year and use that money and time for my project. If I absolutely needed anything in the meanwhile I would go online and buy it.

You wouldn’t believe how much money and time I saved: over $1500 in one year. That made a lot of needy children very happy. In addition, I got way more satisfaction spending my time with the needy families than I had visiting shopping malls. For my project I would have to visit this consignment shop (it’s a name for shops that recycle gently used clothing in a great condition and sell it for really low prices) where I would buy clothes for the families that I had adopted. And guess what? I found such cute clothing (sometimes good brand names) at a fraction of the mall prices, that occasionally I found something to meet my own clothing needs.
Furthermore, since my closet was already overflowing, I became a supplier to the shop by donating and completing the cycle.At first, I was a little hesitant wearing used clothing, but then when I realized that by being a part of the consignment cycle (both by donating and using) I was helping the environment, I was gladly a part of it.
How do consignments save the environment? Consider this: Most clothing is made from cotton and we usually don’t see cotton as a "dirty" (not- environmentally friendly) product like plastics, but cultivating cotton involves high amounts of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides accounting for approximately 20% of all chemicals applied in agriculture. Further, more chemicals are used in the bleaching and dyeing. Finally, in every stage of cotton (from growing it to processing it) water use is intensive - often in areas of the globe where water is not in plentiful supply. If the clothing is going to end up in a landfill after a couple of outings, it represents a huge waste of environmental resources as well as pollution of the earth.Another advantage to buying consignment clothes is that after clothing that has been washed a few times, any excess dyes and chemicals that your skin could be absorbing are gone. So, in short, the older the clothing, the healthier it is.
Finally, consignment supplying and buying lets you help the local economy by being a part of the economic cycle. Most shops employ locals and provide job training to otherwise unemployed people. So kids, it’s okay to dress cool but do consider being a part of the consignment circle. Donate or sell your unused clothing and consider buying from these shops, too. You will not only be helping the environment; you will be saving money that can be more meaningfully spent. It is not too early for you to get engaged in community projects and help out the underprivileged. Many kids your own age need your help.

One aspect of a Sikh’s life demands that we give the utmost reverence to the environment while heeding the needs of the less fortunate. Consignment shopping is just one practical way to live our ethical values; we can conserve our planet’s resources and simultaneously do seva for our fellowmen.

Visit our Create section, to see Coloring Pages which include Guru Ji says...

And lastly, don’t be shy to share with your friends where your next ‘Green Jeans’ came from and how the money saved went to help a poor kid buy his books or even his meals for a month. That is one cool thing to share.To search for consignment shops in your area visit
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Monday, January 18, 2010

Green Zone with Gurmeet Aunty - 1

This is the first of my green articles for Young readers. If you enjoy it, please share it with your children, students, nieces and nephew - spread the green color and conscious living.

When I was a little girl, my parents and I went on a vacation to the beautiful valley of Kashmir in the Himalayan mountains. I was fascinated by the street shops selling colorful Kashmiri handicrafts, but one item in particular that kept pulling my attention was a white purse . It looked so cute, like a little rabbit. It felt so soft and beautiful. That was the only thing I wanted. Its closing flap was even shaped like a face of a little bunny. I was a well-behaved girl and it would have been rude to ask for anything that I didn’t really need. Day after day in Kashmir I was drawn to the shops that sold those white purses; I would quietly stand and admire them. I think my Mom and Dad saw this and quietly bought one for me. I was so excited and thrilled. My exhilaration quickly turned to heartbreak when a wise man in the train explained to me what it really was and how it had become a purse.

He told me how animals are skinned for fur. The smaller the animal, the more precious the fur. I was literally carrying a cute baby bunny who had been taken away from her mommy and daddy, most likely destroyed in an inhumane way only to be sold for a few rupees.I did not want to part with my purse, yet I did not want to be a part of the cruelty business. What was I to do ? What was my redemption going to be?

Teary eyed and heavy hearted, I asked the wise man for advice. He told me that my redemption was to never again buy fur and to educate others about the cruelty to animals associated with the fur business.My return trip home from that vacation was ruined.

However in looking back, I am so thankful for the experience and for what I learned. Someone once said, “Experience is not the best teacher – it’s the only teacher”. I promised that wise man and myself that I would become an advocate for the Earth, its animals and their lives.I have since learned that today, fur continues to be the fancy for girls and women across the world. The multi-billion dollar fur industry is a consummate advocate of animal cruelty. Animal right activists have shown that many animals are destroyed by inhumane ways, listing France, China and Canada as examples.

So the next time you are tempted to purchase a furry looking coat or purse or shoes, remind yourself what goes into it, and ask yourself if you really want to be a part of and contributor to the animal cruelty business. At a very minimum, you should say no to fur. If you want to do more, here is what I recommend:

  1. Write to your favorite designers who continue to sell fur. Tell him or her that you will not buy their brand until they go fur-free. There is great power in an individual voice when it comes from the heart.

  2. Educate your family and friends about the cruelty of the fur business.

  3. Join an Anti-Fur cause on Facebook or Twitter and make your voice heard with thousands of others.

    Guru Nanak says:

Hans haeth lobh kop chaarae nadheeaa ag, Pavehi dhajhehi naanakaa thareeai karamee lag.
Cruelty, material attachment, greed and anger are the four rivers of fire. O Nanak! Falling into them, one is burned but saved by holding tight to good deeds. SGGS P. 147

Incidentally, I gave my purse a respectful burial and made a promise to be kept for as long as I am alive.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Common Sense Cure for Energy Crisis

While the governments of the world move at a snail’s pace in solving the energy crisis, a grass roots conscious movement at the consumer level can turn the tide around. It is just a matter of realization, consciousness, and making some lifestyle changes. And it is starting to happen around the world. It is significant and it is the only thing we can do right now – And it is very simple - Reduce the demand on Energy.

Unfortunately, It pains me to see how the well off Sikh community (and South Asian community in general) in both the East and the West is so complacent to one of the biggest crisis in the world right now. We have not shown any concern (lest it affects our pockets) much less leadership and vision in this area. Addicted to cheap stuff made in China, driving the biggest gas guzzlers, buying huge houses that ultimately end up owning us (instead of us owning them), and loitering the landfills with disposables we show our affluence everywhere; we trash the environment and take a lot of pride in it.

I hate to start this article by blasting my community and am getting off the point here but I am little turned off now and I think you may appreciate where I am coming from, if you let me share my heart.

I had an opportunity to drive a few teens for 5 hours from a Gurmat Camp to a field trip venue and back, lately. I, being the tree hugger and all, wanted to take the time to turn that long drive into a useful discussion on the global energy and environmental crisis. I am ashamed to say that I was totally unsuccessful.

With all due respect to their good character and behavior otherwise, they were absolutely not interested in such an important issue that is affecting us all; and mind you I was not lecturing. (And I believe it is one hundred percent their parent’s fault, not their own). I was interested in listening and creating a dialogue, but all they had to offer was their enthusiasm about the 12 cylinder Ferrari their relative bought, or the10 bedroom beach- front house their friend owns complete with pool and tennis. When I brought up the point that global warming is not so far out, and that it is affecting our lives everyday, one of them mentioned that her family had a large mansion in India they can go to, if something like the wildfires got to them.

Even though my ears started hurting from all the materialistic chatter, I didn’t give up. As a last resort on the way back, I told them that they could only speak in the car if they talked about Sikhi values, benevolence or taking care of mother Earth. There was a silence for the next 10 minutes, and then one of them broke it, “ there are these organic jeans at the Gap for a hundred and eighty dollars that are so cool…..”.

Now that you understand where I am coming from, let us get to the point.

So, my message for today is that common sense change at the grass roots level can reverse the energy crisis, and the environmental crisis. And I expect my community not only to be a part of that change but the leader of that change.

Why ? Because we have the tradition. Our faith is a green faith. Earth is designated as our physical Mother in Gurbani and we have the obligation to take care of it. We have the duty to leave a better world for our next generations.

Take the example of our great environmentalists like late Bhagat Puran Singh Ji who spent all his life lobbying and caring for two causes (not one as we know him mostly for). Yes, along with caring for the crippled, his biggest passion was saving the environment.

I first came across his marvelous writings on saving our trees and rivers, and the concerns over desertification of Punjab, couple of decades ago when I was a young girl visiting Punjab. His volunteers handed me a pamphlet on recycled paper that talked about it all, as we walked out of Darbar Sahib. While most of the pamphlets were used by people to wrap over left over Parshad, or to wipe hands, I saved it and asked my Dad to read and translate it for me. (I could not read Punjabi back then). I still remember all the words my Dad uttered. The rivers are being poisoned, the land is becoming a desert, we need to live simply, and we need to plant trees if we are to save our future….

Guru Sahib too stresses living simply and using less over and over in Gurbani. It can be applied everywhere in our lives.

Coming back to energy crisis and what we can do to reverse it, I couldn’t stress enough - Reducing the demand on energy at the consumer level is t he first way to solve this crisis.

I am citing some useful tips that we have easily incorporated in our lives and have successfully made a contribution from our little household. The point is not to boast but to share, empower, and inspire my friends and community to join in. So, please forgive the repeated usages of ‘We’ and ‘I’. Take what you can and think of your own creative ways that work for You.

Be the beacon of change by making some common sense changes in your lives and educating your children and the communities about it.

  • We have taped shut our clothes dryer since the Earth Day of this year. With so much solar heat outside, the line drying of clothes is working just fine and we have reduced our energy bill by over 10%. It also gives us an opportunity to breathe some fresh air and smell the roses and jasmine, while we fold our laundry in the back yard. It's one of the simplest ways one can use alternative energy directly and think beyond fossil fuels.
  • By planting trees around the house and getting green shrubbery close to the windows, over the years we have developed a mature shade-giving canopy around the house. The temperature underneath the shade is 10-15 degrees cooler than the ambience. We rarely need to use the air conditioner. We open the windows in the night when the temperatures are low and let the house cool. In the late morning we shut windows, pull the shades, and enjoy the moderately cool house. Energy savings – 20% .

  • We drive less. We try to car pool everywhere we go with my child’s activities. I have managed telecommuting from home for a few days out of the month and re-pay my employer by working for an extra hour those days. With the saving in my driving time that is an easy thing to do. By making simple changes in driving habits such as reduced consistent speed and accelerations, keeping tires inflated, and keeping clean air filters 10% to 30% of fuel consumption can be saved. The national gas bills may have gone up but ours have gone down by over 10%.

  • Once or twice a week I walk to the grocery store for eco shopping trips. First, I get my exercise and second I do my food shopping. I don’t understand the idea of using energy to burn energy; i.e. driving to the gym or using a treadmill or both.

  • We have literally stopped visiting shopping malls. We go to the mall only if we absolutely need an item and can’t find it online. It used to be that I would go to malls and buy things I absolutely didn’t need instead of the one I set out for. We still dress up very nicely and have saved thousands – YES, thousands of dollars in the last three years from spurious shopping. That takes care of my dasvandh (tithe) right there and gives us a chance to invest that money on community projects and more greening.

  • We try to buy locally manufactured goods even if we have to pay a few bucks extra. There are hidden costs of shipping involved with buying cheap stuff made in China (I am not picking on China, just making the point). Shipping of cheap imported goods pollutes environment, kills wildlife, and is bad for the local economies. Here the savings don’t show up in our account but they help the world energy supplies and local economy and we take a great pride in that.
  • Weddings, Birthdays, Graduations? We give one of the three things: 1) spiritual/educational/local handicraft items 2) trees or 3) cash. It saves on a lot of headaches, time and driving around and enriches the lives of the people we love while helping the environment.

  • With all the conservation mania, one would wonder if we ever have any fun in our lives ? You bet we do. We are the biggest eco travelers you’ll come across. We hike, kayak, swim and snorkel. We take a lot of vacations at close by destinations and most of them are camping trips. We have camped for over 10 years in the most pristine and beautiful state and national parks in the U.S. but never once have we run into another Sikh family having eco fun. (They probably were busy going to shopping destinations around the world for vacations). One saves over 75% on the carbon emissions by driving (vs. flying), visiting local destinations and camping vs. using environmentally unfriendly hotels/resorts.

You probably have read about all the simple changes we have made in our kitchen. If not you must read them here. My neighbor was shocked the other day when we compared our energy bills. We consume less than 50% of the energy and water they do. We have the same size houses and yes we shower every day. With all the savings in energy costs we can afford to eat healthier, local and organic foods.

We made all these changes gradually, so they were not as hard to make as one might think. Over time they have become our lifestyle. We keep looking for new ways to contribute to the reversal of global warming. The most important thing is awareness and the feeling of responsibility.

Also, what helps is that we are not ashamed to be called conservationists. We are proud of it. Carrying our green smoothies or water in reusable glass jars, toting our cloth shopping bags is a statement we love to make. Reducing, Reusing and Recycling is the mantra we are more than happy to share with our colleagues, neighbors, families and friends. Sometimes we get called “poor” or “cheap” in the affluent circles, and we just smile.

How else will this become a grass roots movement if we were not to pour out our passion, overcome false pride, tame the mind and educate and inspire the world with all we have?

And now, I hope, each of you is inspired to contribute to the reversal of this crisis by making a change, one simple change in your lifestyle.

Like Margret Mead has said:

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."


I may not agree with our President on many issues, but I do comply with his policy of

Voluntary Emission Control