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Goonj - A helping hand for the poor
By d-sector Team

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Donated clothes and other items are cleaned and repaired before re-distribution

We often come across poor people scantily clothed, sitting or sleeping on the pavements, in spine chilling winters. We see them, curse the harsh weather, pity the penurious situation of unfortunate people and move on. But for Anshu Gupta a similar incident changed his entire mission of life. It happened eight years ago, with a forcefulness that he has not quite recovered from it yet.

Today he has a large and growing movement known as Goonj. With marginal cost of time and money Goonj is making a huge difference, in giving fellow Indians some dignity.

“Roti, kapda aur makaan are three basic elements of life. But it is a paradox in Indian society that while some rich or middle-class people shop every other day to buy new clothes for themselves there is also a bunch of people who do not have access to even a piece of woolen cloth to fight spine-chilling winter”, this thought gave me a kick to start this NGO, says Anshu Gupta, the founder of Goonj.

This NGO works to convert scrap, household waste and discarded articles like clothes, shoes, toys, stationery etc into commodities which can be used by the destitute. “Donating clothes today is more a matter of pride for a donor than dignity for a receiver” says Anshu.

Work with passion

After a visit to various sections of the donation centre of Goonj in Madanpur village, one is convinced that where there is a will and dedication, passion would certainly find a way.

The story of clothes in Goonj is an interesting one. Donated clothes are collected from various places, arranged in different piles for kids, females, males and a separate bundle of woolens. They are then washed and repaired if necessary to make sure that every cloth is usable and not just sent for the sake of donation. A large part is utilized under the initiative “Cloth for Work”. Waste cotton clothes are converted into sanitary pads under “Not just a piece of Cloth”. Useless and oversize clothes are used for making sitting mats, file folders, school bags, water bottle covers, wallets and a range of other products. And the last shreds are converted into Sujni, giving employment to hundreds of women in a number of villages. The reels of audio cassette, which are now history for us, are worked upon and transformed to form yoga mats and sling bags.

“It feels great working here because I think I am doing something substantial”, says Gayatri Pandey, who is associated with Goonj for the last five years.

Generally, offices which order huge amount of stationery are habitual of using only one side of A4 sheet. Goonj collects these used sheets from offices and moulds them into small notepads and sends them to schools where kids are forced to give up education as they cannot afford to buy notebooks. Even the pins stapled in the sheets are not wasted. It is collected and sold at Rs 20 per kg. This amount adds to the funds of the NGO.

Apart from clothes and stationery, Goonj also has a music and sports section where people donate their instruments which are no longer of use to them. These instruments then fulfill the dreams of some deserving but unfortunate children.

Today Goonj has a network in 21 states of India. The network has grown to over 250 partner groups like grassroots organizations, Ashoka Fellows, Indian Army, Panchayat etc. Goonj has its own offices as collection hubs/processing centers in seven cities- Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Jalandhar & Saharsa (Bihar) while Pune is being managed by volunteers right now.

The journey though has not been smooth, recalls Anshu. He recollects how he started the initiative with only 67 clothes and his confidence was often shaken when he received commodities which cannot be used like one shoe, torn clothes and other items. But he took it up as a challenge and since then there is no looking back for hm. It is quite obvious that his commitment to help poor is the driving force behind Goonj.

He also gives a message that youth agitation and movement should not be event based. “There are many ways in which youth can contribute to society. All they need is perseverance and determination to lead a prolonged and result-oriented fight.

The Goonj founder adds that this fight will be on till there is no change in our perspective towards day-to-day problems of living. “We fight for environment, property, and luxuries; but have we thought that for a man who sleeps empty stomach almost every night, his daily needs mean much more than these issues?”

For Anshu, Goonj should grow as an idea and not an organisation. It seems so as many youngsters take inspiration from his work and do their bit for the unprivileged and marginalized people. But he wants many more people to join such efforts.

Write to d-sector  |  Editor's Note

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Corruption Watch

The bad news is that corruption has not only sustained but has grown in size and stature in the country. With scams being a regular feature, seventy per cent respondents in a survey have rightfully opined that corruption has continued to increase in India. One in every two interviewed admit having paid a bribe for availing public services during last one year. Transparency International's latest survey reveals that the political parties top the chart for the most corrupt public institutions, followed by police force and legislatures. No wonder, India continues to make new records on the global corruption arena!

The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

Poor. Who?

Not giving 'aid' to India is one thing but calling it 'rich' is quite another. If one in three of the world's malnourished children live in India, what does average daily income of $3 indicate? It perhaps means that there is a relative decline in poverty - people are 'less poor' than what they used to be in the past. But having crossed the World Bank arbitrary threshold of $2 a day does not absolve the 'developed' countries of their obligation to part with 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development aid. Should this three-decade old figure not be revised?  

An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

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