May 30, 2005
A clothes-line from cities to the country
At the centre, volunteers and paid workers begin the most sensitive part of the whole programme. They work to cater to lists of requirements sent in by about 65 grassroots organisations throughout the country. These organisations have evaluated their needs based on gender ratio, weather, cultural issues, age groups etc. This focus on precise needs, is perhaps what distinguishes the Goonj programme from similar efforts.
Garments and linen are inspected for cleanliness, washed or repaired where necessary, folded with care, slotted to various destinations and packed in clean sacks. Goonj does not accept or distribute undergarments like bras, panties and briefs, as these have the potential to hurt recipients’ self-esteem.
Unusable or rejected pieces are further processed to create saleable articles that fund Goonj’s operations. The most popular is the door mat, made of twisted rag strips, hand-sewn together. They raise funds in other ways as well. They also make rag-quilts, bags of all kinds. At collection camps, donors often get pumped up enough to bring in old newspapers and bottles which are sold, with proceeds to Goonj. Companies let Goonj carry away heaps of discarded xerox copies. Goonj brings them over and pounces on the blank-side. They make note pads out of them for sale. Goonj has never bought paper for correspondence or promotions. It uses only discarded one-side unused paper. That alone speaks for Anshu Gupta’s integrity as a reuse man.
Thoughts of fund needs have not stopped him. An Ashoka fellowship that came last year -after 5 years of work without returns- has taken care of his personal needs. The economist in him now imagines a sustainable plan. If they handle 3 million pieces per year, the total processing cost per piece would be just Rs.0.97. If either the donor subsidised with a rupee each or the recipient paid it, they would be free of fund worries.
Goonj has now begun the ‘School to School Programme’ which seeks to channel city children’s old books, lunch boxes, water bottles, uniforms shoes and so on to rural children. There is also their winter-watch, when Goonj volunteers patrol Delhi’s streets to give away warm blankets to shivering poor.
At 35, Anshu Gupta is that kind of Indian who combines sensitivity, risk-taking and commitment. That probably comes out of having seen endemic horrors that are part of poor households. He says: “Do you know what poor Indian women go through, in coping with their menstrual periods? They are presumed dirty and are quarantined. There is no concern for their hygiene. They use any rag to dry themselves- it’s usually a dirty rag. They get infected, often the low-grade kind, not quite the killer variety. They exist with it, in the background, not quite dead but barely living.”
Goonj deserves your attention and support for this single product it makes: usable material is salvaged from the discards, long palm-wide, 2 feet long strips are readied, strings are tailored in, that can go around most Indian women’s waist and be tied. These are then washed ,folded and packed with care. India’s own sanitary napkins by the thousands are now ready for distribution.
You don’t often get a more personalised, targeted-at-the-last-person dedication in social service.
Anshu K Gupta, Director, Goonj
J-93 Sarita Vihar, New Delhi-44
Phones: 98681-46978, 011-26972351