‘No one wants charity, give them dignity’

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Photo: Vijay Pandey
Photo: Vijay Pandey

We are all going through this problem. In villages, women make quilts and pillow covers from old clothes but never utilise the same to make sanitary napkins. Through our ‘My Pads’ campaign, we are trying to encourage them to make sanitary napkins as well,” says Bimla, a close friend and an associate of Anshu Gupta, founder of Goonj (NGO) and recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2015. Like Bimla, there are several other people hailing from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and other states working on ‘Not Just a Piece of Cloth’ (NJPC), one of the six projects run by Goonj, as a “tool to empower” the underprivileged. “I can’t go out as I have two small children, still, I encourage women near my locality to use sanitary napkins,” Bimla tells Tehelka.

Over the last 16 years, Anshu has successfully created a dedicated team of over 100 women, who take pride in the job they do. His story is a tad different from the other Magsaysay awardee Sanjiv Chaturvedi, a former IPS officer who has been serving the common good with his fight against corruption in Haryana. Anshu is reaching out to a need that is perhaps most basic yet highly neglected, that of being clothed.

Goonj, his way of making a difference to the life of the under privileged was initiated from a rented apartment in Sarita Vihar (south Delhi) with the help of a small team of untrained women (previously household workers).

Recalling his struggling phase, Anshu says, “One of our workers was forced to leave her house. Her neighbours decried her job as ‘worse than a Kabadiwala ( junk dealer)’. During those days I told her there will come a time when people will request you for a similar job.” His premonition proved right when in a few months, a neighbour of the lady approached her for a job at Goonj.

Anshu, who is rebuilding many lives through Goonj, with help from several other NGOs, has been able to spread the impact to 22 states of India. and has offices in 11 states was once left picking up shambles of his own life. He was in the tenth standard when he met with a major accident that changed his fate forever. “During this phase, I started writing for various local newspapers and developed a flair for journalism which eventually brought me to the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC).” Recalling his college days, Anshu says, “I had a good time at the IIMC and decided to pursue another course at the institute. Then I got myself enrolled for Advertising- Public Relations.” It was at iimc that he met his life partner and co-founder of Goonj, Meenakshi.

Self reliance and dignity are two important cogs in Goonj’s wheels. ‘Cloth for Work’ for instance is a project run by the ngo where it seeks labour in exchange for the clothes provided. “Why should we give resources for free? Someone has to bear the cost,” says Anshu. “No one wants charity, give them dignity. The biggest asset of a villager is his dignity. Mothers inculcate a culture in their kids when they are asked not to accept anything from anyone.”

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