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May 30, 2005
A clothes-line from cities to the country

The three essentials of life as per the popular chant, are food, shelter and clothing. Take a closer look though, at the order: without the first, one may survive a day or two, without the second, several, but without the third, we can barely cope with life for an hour. The poor’s anxiety about clothes is not easily imagined by most of us who take them for granted.

Anshu Gupta’s organisation Goonj in New Delhi, has for six years now been doing what seems simplistic at first: collecting clothes and distributing them. But he has in fact pioneered a robust reuse model for all manner of things that a city discards but the poor need. He has raised awareness and confidence among givers that what they part with will be handled with care and targeted precisely according to needs. In fact his programme has donors getting involved in collecting, sorting and distributing. He is now scaling up operations all over the country, using a proven system developed over the years.

Anshu says that during disasters like floods, earthquakes and the recent tsunami, people are roused and the first thing they think of as a gesture, is to give away surplus clothes. When the crisis has passed, with their consciences assuaged, they switch off. But the need for clothes is ongoing and steady. Also, during crises, clothes are dumped on receivers with scarcely a thought, whereas the poor deserve some dignity built into what they receive. Goonj addresses both these issues: its programme is year round, and deeply sensitive to receivers’ needs.

Anshu K Gupta gained his sensitivity from being one of four children in a family that barely had enough. His father was a civilian in the military and was posted all over the country. Anshu not only felt want but saw it all around him, all over the country. As a student he had camped in Uttarkashi during the earthquake there in 1991. Education lifted him. He studied economics and communications and found gainful employment in the corporate world. In 1998, memories of want welled up in him, and he left his job at Escorts as its corporate communications officer. Goonj [’a voice’], came into being the same year, with his wife offering to support the family.

There are three links in the Goonj chain: collection, processing and distribution. To collect clothes, Goonj organises neighbourhood days. On these, apartment residents come together after word of mouth publicity, triggered by one or two Goonj volunteers. Clothes are collected and taken to Goonj’s sorting centre.

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