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Americas Projects

Americas Projects

Guru Har Rai's teachings about nature inspired EcoSikh to develop in the US and Punjab

Since its earliest days ARC has had a range of vibrant partners and projects bringing faith and conservation together in North, Central and South America. This was well represented by the five Sacred Gifts for a Living Planet from across the Americas that were presented for international recognition at the WWF/ARC celebration event in Kathmandu, Nepal in November 2000.

Continuing involvement has included the welcoming of two American pilgrimage sites into the Green Pilgrimage Network - Our Lady of Guadeloupe in Mexico City and the Ruta Santa del Peregrino, Guatemala - and the establishment of a thriving EcoSikh operation based among the Sikh diaspora in the United States.

Key Projects

EcoSikh

The establishment of an international organisation to promote the role of Sikhs and Sikhism in caring for the planet arose at the time of the 2009 ARC/UNDP celebration at Windsor Castle, UK. Sikhism was one of the nine religions represented that were committing to long-term plans for environmental action. From its inception EcoSikh was established both in the Punjab and the United States as a hub for the Sikh diaspora worldwide and ARC has had a key role in supporting its development as project.

With workers based in the thriving Sikh communities of New York and Washington DC the American wing of EcoSikh has been impressively active, not least in the establishment of Sikh Environment Day, an annual celebration of the nature-loving Guru Har Rai on March 14.Now in its fifth year, many hundreds of gurdwaras and other community organisations across the States and Canada mark the day with special services, celebrations and environmentally focussed activities, raising awareness for both Sikhs and the communities around them.

Green Pilgrimage Network - Our Lady of Guadaloupe, Mexico City & Ruta Santa del Peregrino, Guatemala

Pilgrim procession in Mexico city
Over 9 million pilgrims visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadaloupe in Mexico City for her annual festival, and some 20 million visitors are thought to come to the shrine every year. The environmental challenge of these enormous numbers is equally vast, with plastic bottles, cans and both human and dog waste left in the streets and air pollution from vehicles and fireworks. Mexico City has joined the Green Pilgrimage Network (GPN), initiated by ARC and WWF in 2011, to help address these issues and work to build a sustainable model of pilgrimage for the future.

Some 1.2 million pilgrims also visit the statue of the Black Christ of Esquipulas in Guadaloupe, many following the 400 year old Ruta Santa del Peregrino pilgrim path across the country. The GPN is supporting their work to make the Ruta a Green Pilgrimage site.

Other ARC American Projects

Other key ARC projects in North, Central and South America, with links to further information. Glinodo Earth Force Programme, Lake Erie

This radical environmental education programme was developed in 1999 by the Catholic Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pennsylvania for their local schools network. However their involvement in the Sacred Gifts programme in 2000 led to a commitment to expand the programme across the whole of Pennsylvania, New York State and Ontario, Canada. Some 50 educators were specially trained to enable outreach to around 50,000 students.

The Benedictine Sisters of Erie then went on to commission a ground-breaking audit tool for analysing impact on the environment, published as the handbook Listening to the Earth. The book is available in English, Portuguese and Spanish, making it accessible to all countries in North and South America.

You can download the book in any of the three languageshere.

The landscape of the Huichol pilgrimage route
Huichol and Chiapas people of Mexico

The Huichol are indigenous to San Luis Potosi State, Mexico and their religious culture is an ancient Shamanic one with a deep engagement with the Earth and natural environment. As part of this religion they make a 400 mile pilgrimage on foot every year across the Chihuahuan Desert to their sacred mountain Wirikuta. ARC supported the Huichol people in negotiations with the state government to have the whole of this route recognised as a protected ecological area. This initiative was also part of the Sacred Gift programme.

Part of the ecological protection involved recognising that the ceremonial use of golden eagle feathers by the Huichol shamans was endangering that species. By negotiating with a local zoo, however, it was possible to ensure a supply of feathers from captive breeding birds prevented the hunting of wild eagles.

Similarly, the people of Chiapas were using sacred orchids for Catholic religious ceremonies as well as palms for use on Palm Sunday, weddings and funerals. Providing these plants, gathered from local forests, represents a considerable income for many people in Chiapas. ARC supported local environmental organisation Pronatura Chiapas to develop sustainable orchid supplies and an Eco-Palms Stewardship programme that used Fair-trade principles to ensure that the villagers were able to continue providing flowers and palms without reducing the stocks available in the wild.

California Interfaith Power and Light

This California-based NGO grew out of the Episcopal Power and Light initiative to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency. ARC supported this to grow into a multi-faith network across California with the goal of ‘educating congregations on the theological basis for eco-stewardship and assisting them in implementing programs to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and become more energy efficient’. The ultimate mission of CIPL mission is to ‘activate California’s 50,000 congregations by providing them with links and referrals to local sources of energy audits, building improvements, and solar panel installation.’ The work continues, with founder and president Rev Sally Bingham still very much at the helm, and an annual Cool Climate Awards ceremony marks each year’s new achievements.

Yellow Eared Parrot

Other American environmental initiatives

Over the years ARC has also supported specific initiatives across the Americas, such as the work of Conservation International with the Roman Catholic Church of Colombia since 2002 aimed at defending the habitat of the indigenous Yellow-Eared Parrot. When the collaboration started there were thought to be only 81 of the birds remaining in the wild but, thanks to a planting programme aimed at replenishing the wax palm tree population and a commitment to using less endangered palm species for Palm Sunday celebrations the parrot population began to rise again. By 2007 it was estimated that it was already up to 660.

Another great initiative was the interfaith Pollinators programme launched in the USA by ARC partner organisation The Tributary Fund in 2012 in the wake of growing concern that populations of vital pollinating creatures like bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and bats were dwindling due to loss of habitat, competition from non-native species and the use of pesticides. As part of the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC) the Tributary Fund produced a series of pamphlets to remind Buddhists, Christians, Jews and Muslims of their spiritual duties to preserve the environment, together with practical ways to help preserve pollinator populations.

When the newly-elected Pope Francis went to Rio De Janeiro for the Catholic World Youth Day celebration in 2013 ARC was a co-signatory with WWF Brazil and WWF International to a letter urging him to announce that the conservation of the Amazon region was a Catholic ecological responsibility. During the papal visit the Pope, who has been a strong advocate of care for nature, did speak out about the environmental issues facing the region both in an address to a gathering of bishops and when meeting tribal representatives from the Bahia region whose land is being encroached by ranchers.

American organisational links

ARC is a supporter of a number of American NGOs linking faith with conservation including:

California Interfaith Power and Light - Episcopalian church network

Hazon - US Jewish community environmental network

EEN/Creation Care - the Evangelical Environmental Network

EcoSikh - Washington DC is a hub for the international Sikh environmental organisation


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Related information

September 25 2006:
With Deep Sadness
It is with deep sadness that we announce that Jill Bowling, trustee for ARC, head of conservation for WWF-UK and friend to many of us here, died on Saturday, in a helicopter crash in Nepal where all 24 passengers and crew were killed.
July 1, 2006:
ARC joins Sacred Orchid Project in Mexico
ARC has begun work with Mexican environmental charity Pro Natura, on a project to conserve rare and endangered plant-species, particularly those used in religious ceremonies.
A documentary of the Huichol pilgrimage in Mexico
In 2003 ARC helped sponsor a video about the 400 kilometre-long Huichol pilgrimage route in Mexico. The documentary was called “The Path We Will Follow” and this is the story of how it was made.