POUGHKEEPSIE, NY -- Hudson Valley leaders from the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islamic, Jewish, and Native American faith traditions will discuss the theological foundations for environmentalism, and make recommendations for reconnecting spirituality to sustainable living, at “The Sacred Earth Leadership Forum: Reflections and Connections,” on Wednesday, February 1, from 6:00-9:00pm in the Sanders Classroom Building Spitzer Auditorium (Room 212,). Sponsored by the Green Brain Initiative of PRiyaCOMM and the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life at Vassar College, this event is free and open to the public, with advance registration required (http://www.priyacomm.com/sacredearth.php).
Following the panel discussion audience members can join breakout discussion groups, which will make recommendations and resolutions to a concluding plenary session. According to Green Brain Initiative co-founder Karen Dipnarine-Saroop, “This forum was inspired by discussions with several prominent religious leaders in the Mid-Hudson Valley who recognized a poverty of inter-religious dialogues on the environment. Through dialogues with local organizations and leaders the objective is to transform our environment, by guiding our communities to envision and build a resilient and sustainable future through ancient wisdom and enlightened living.”
Not long after Karen Dipnarine-Saroop settled in this area she started connecting with community leaders and activists.
As president of communications company, PRiyaCOMM, and the former head of communications for the Office of the Prime Minister, Trinidad and Tobago, Dipnarine-Saroop had been involved in work aimed at improving lives and environmental conservation through advocacy and collaboration.
With her move here she wanted to give back to the local community and what she discovered by talking with others was the need for a structured process to help guide people in the local community toward a more resilient and sustainable future.
And so, Dipnarine-Saroop, her husband, Sudesh Saroop, co-founded the Green Brain Initiative in Poughkeepsie in 2011, a values-based endeavor that incorporates ancient wisdom to address four core principles: health and wellness, environmental sustainability, preservation of ancient cultures and the alleviation of poverty.
"The Green Brain is like a different way of thinking," Dipnarine-Saroop said. "It's something that's constantly alive, constantly growing, constantly seeing what is basically happening. It's a way of looking at the environment and the community, not in a stagnant way, but in a way that's basically allowing for growth and change as society grows and changes."
With that, the Green Brian Initiative has been collaborating with community-based organizations to foster a caring, empowered community whose citizens take care of each other and the environment. To that end, the group has organized two large and several small local events per year since the organization's conception to benefit individuals, local communities and area businesses. Among the offerings at the events are educational, informative and inspirational programs of Native Americans plus Jewish, Hindi, Buddhist and other sects. Dance, music, poetry and storytelling programs also have been presented, along with crafts, games, drumming, holistic therapies and more.
The first event was a 2011 joint venture, the Sacred Earth Leadership Forum: Reflections and Reconnections, where more than 100 community and spiritual leaders, activists and attendees shared a dialogue on the natural environment at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie.
Rabbi Neal Joseph Loevinger, director of spiritual care at Vassar Brothers Medical Center and past rabbi of the Temple Beth-El Poughkeepsie, collaborated with Dipnarine-Saroop on the Green Brain Initiative's 2011 leadership event.
"For so many people, religious and cultural traditions are the source of our most powerful values, and so I applaud Karen for taking the initiative to tap into those sources of deep values for the most important challenge of all, forging a sustainable relationship with the Earth," he said by email.
In terms of environmental activism, "personal sustainability is social sustainability and vice versa," said Loevinger, whereby living stressed, socially unsupported lives accented by highly processed foods, correlates to our culture's ever-rapid pace and extraction of finite resources.
"We have to realize that wellness means living in harmony with our bodies, our souls and our planet â€” that's wellness at all levels of the system," he said.
From his fist interactions with Dipnarine-Saroop, Loevinger said he appreciated her passion, intelligence and vision, all of which he wanted to be part of, including an interfaith effort for environmental awareness in the Hudson Valley.
"My role in the Green Brain Initiative has always been cheerleader and adviser," he said. "Having worked in congregational and now interfaith chaplaincy leadership, I am fortunate to know many of the faith groups and religious leaders in the region, and it's been a pleasure to work with Karen to help reach out across cultural and denominational boundaries to bring people together to appreciate the region and, indeed, the planet we all share."
Therapeutic herbalist, Lorraine Hughes, owner of Empowered By Nature in Fishkill, also has been involved with the Green Brain Initiative since the organization's interfaith event in 2011.
"As an herbalist their mission statement was definitely in line with my values and life path," Hughes said, by email in speaking of Green Brian Initiative's co-founders, Dipnarine-Saroop and Saroop. "The natural world has always served mankind since the beginning of time. Our societal disconnect from the Earth is responsible for so much of the disease modern man is experiencing."
Through Green Brian Initiative, Hughes has taught classes as a volunteer, raffled off her services and products, and participated as a vendor at the organization's twice-yearly events.
"Things started out slowly, but each year the community responded with a larger attendance at these events," she said. "People were now able to ask questions about preventative health modalities that they were either unfamiliar with or leery of because of lack of information and bias."
Green Brian Initiative's events, said Hughes, provide people with resources for better health and promote community connectedness by presenting family-friendly offerings and the means for personal networking with wellness providers.
"The GBI enables a platform for education, providing a variety of health disciplines from which choices can be made," she said, in the process showcasing different perspectives to suit different people. "Prevention is the key to being healthy and having options to choose from is empowering."
In addition to producing events, the Green Brain Initiative, which currently consists of five people plus eight advisory board members, publishes an online magazine three times a year, Reconnections, which has been reaching more than 20,000 people and has been downloaded from 80 percent of the country's states and from 75 countries.
"We have, as a people, moved away from our connection with the land and each other," Dipnarine-Saroop said, which is why it's important to instill awareness with a focus on what unites people while maintaining diversity.
"We think at the root of the issue is a sort of discontent of ourselves and with the environment, and with each other," she said. "We have wonderful work that is going on by Scenic Hudson â€” so many other groups out there, testing the quality of the water, looking at the land. But we feel that we have to work at the grassroots level, bringing back the ancient wisdom."