The Story of Shagun Singh – Geeli Mitti Initiative
A commitment to elevate the world – one house, one planting, one thought, one smile, one soul – at a time!
Too perfect to be true, isn’t it? Perhaps one cannot imagine actually working with these ethics in today’s times. However, taking a decision to leave her high-paying job and follow her values, is what Shagun Singh did.
“The people who dare to dream, and dare to pursue their dreams, are the real change-makers. Whether they failed or succeeded, at least, they pursued what they believed in.”
― Vincent Okeke
To bring a change in today’s environment and society, her initiative, Geeli Mitti, envisions sustainability, creating spaces and a habitat that thrives as a natural form of living.
Shagun Singh led a comfortable life in the capital city – New Delhi, honing her skills and rising in the ranks of the corporate field for 15 years. A leading voice in management, sales, and operations, and has managed over 1000 staff members, while she had traveled to all parts of the world, she had, ironically, never lived in a village before.
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Fast forward to today, she is a teacher, guide, and environmentalist, living and working towards uplifting a village in the quaint mountains of Uttarakhand, transforming her own life as well as the lives of many people around her.
Connecting with Shagun was like Deja vu. I felt like there were so many common concepts that we both believed in. Learning about her journey will be a real motivation, especially for those sitting on the fence waiting for some miracle to happen and transform their lives.
Shagun had a normal childhood with a supportive family and was a brilliant student throughout. Growing up, she was always conscious of the natural environment around her. Cautious of each action’s impact, her consciousness and love for all things natural only grew over time.
Even in her city house, she created her own organic kitchen garden, used vermiculture and rainwater harvesting, and utilized proper garbage disposal systems. She was famous in her neighborhood as someone who could advise on sustainable lifestyles. The word ‘Geeli Mitti’ was conceptualized during these times.
There is always a turning point in one’s life when the inner voice makes them question the things around them, forcing them to search inwards for answers and take action. Most people ignore it; fear of failure or society, fear of coming out of their comfort zone, or taking risks. But Shagun has always been a risk taker, one who believed in herself and her passion.
She realized that earning a high package, living in a posh residence, and socializing in the top party circles were not enough to keep her satisfied in the long run. She craved to establish a connection to the earth while being able to give back what one got from it, not leaving it worse than before. She also accepted the fact that bringing this change would not be possible unless she made a decision to walk her talk.
Shagun was always interested in martial arts and was guided by her Guru who she admired and followed diligently. He was building a training institute in the Mahrora Village, Pangot, near Nainital. She got involved in the construction, eager to help and incorporate her ideas of sustainable living in its design. She loved working with actual mud and natural materials. She experienced how this change in attitude towards eco-living helped in guiding her toward salvation and peace. She decided to make her own home close by and pursue her dream.
At 36, she took the toughest plunge of her life. She resigned from her stable high-paying job, sold her house, property, and car, and put in all her funds into her big move to this village.
Many thought she was going through a grave mid-life crisis or was not thinking rationally. However, her family, especially her mother, supported her decision.
Shagun was clear and confident about what she wanted. To her, this was not a rash decision, her road map was focused. She sorted all her family responsibilities and had decades of work experience behind her. She invested all that she had, into her desire to live a peaceful and eco-friendly life, coexisting with nature and mother earth. This was the first significant step leading her to where she has reached today.
She started constructing her own mud house, using simple mud, cow dung, and lime, and many friends and family joined in. It was a life-changing experience. Slowly word spread, requests flowed in Shagun, and they started constructing houses for others.
And this led to the birth of Geeli Mitti Farms. Shagun formed her team with dedicated, like-minded environmental crusaders and passionate volunteers, getting seriously involved in mud-house construction projects and workshops across Uttarakhand.
Her corporate career experience helped her to organize teams, budgets, and materials and create effective marketing strategies to popularize the natural building and living concept. Through the Geeli Mitti initiative, they started construction projects across India and soon even international requests poured in.
When asked what is her takeaway, she says- “To see a structure culminate after so much conviction and hard work is the most satisfying moment for me. To see a creation coming out of just mud and few organic products is an extremely fascinating experience.”
Shagun organizes 45-day long workshops at Geeli Mitti Farms to teach about 100 participants in each session, how to build mud houses. Environmentalists, architects, and advocates of sustainable living from around the world attend these workshops.
It is an invigorating adventure for these enthusiasts working on building rooms, house structures, kitchens, and toilets in the eco-friendliest design possible. Innovative techniques are used and they keep upgrading as they learn with experience. During construction with mud and other natural products, nothing is wasted. Every kind of waste is used in some positive way.
Shagun believes that Mud has a lot of thermal power. It can absorb heat and cold for a very long period of time. She believes that this powerful realization has to be awakened soon before environmental issues across the world worsen.
Shagun passionately explains, “Many still believe that these mud houses will flow away during floods or not stand during earthquakes, etc., like the one in Nepal. In one of the worst-hit areas, only one building kept standing while the others collapsed. It was because of the earth-bag technique that was used to build it.”
Changing this outlook is a humongous task. Most ancient kingdoms and tribes have been making mud houses, many of which exist in pristine conditions even today. Yet, modern housing structures are shifting towards using concrete and cement which are recent innovations. The loss of hundreds of years of experience and knowledge will become obsolete soon unless we don’t stop this rampant destruction of a healthy existence. Shagun has spent most of her energy just convincing people that reconnecting to our ancient construction techniques takes us one step closer to saving our natural habitat.
During each project, she takes great care to see that her vision is not compromised. Every structure that they design or teach or consult or build is based on geo-climatic factors, local material availability, and the type of soil. Primary well-known mud-based techniques used include –
– Wattle and Daub
– Rammed Earth
– Poured Earth
Each technique has its own advantages but all are fantastic for maintaining ambient temperature and humidity while keeping the residents and the planet healthy.
A person like Shagun sees the broader picture and was far-sighted. She got involved in the upliftment of the village itself because changing the mindset of the villagers is the cumulative effect of small initiatives. Shagun started various Livelihood programs to create awareness.
· Major projects focused to beat plastic pollution – provide alternatives, segregate, use for building
· Designing and building high-efficiency no-smoke chulhas
· stitching of cloth bags by women all over and then supply to big grocery stores like Patanjali
· training of youth to become skilled natural builders, masons, carpenters, and revive crafts.
While working in these villages, Shagun realized that unless one has government support and funds, it is difficult to bring in real sustainable change. She has collaborated with and supported various government projects so that schemes and funds reach ground-level users. Her major area of interest has always been adopting measures to beat plastic pollution.
She, along with her team, works with Delhi prisons and women prisoners. She has initiated various employment generation programs where they earn during their stay in the prison and also learn skills to support them financially when they get out. Learning to make cloth bags has become a source of income, even after they leave prison.
In the past 8 years, Shagun Singh has impacted the lives of over 5000 students and adults and worked in approximately 12 villages. And today, people respect her work using mud and lime. She is working with three state governments advising them to make life more sustainable and conserve their heritage.
She has shown the world that – “What is now proved was once only imagined.”
Associating with such projects is a great opportunity for the youth. Universities and colleges should introduce such ideas in the minds of the coming generations so that we at least leave this world as a better place.
Shagun has been successful in creating a better space in the lives of many.
She has proved that – “Change makers take risks and are ready to die for excellence than to give excuses and live for mediocrity.
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