Intro : 2015 Ramon Magsaysay Award recipient Anshu Gupta started ‘Goonj’ with an objective to lend an ear to issues that were taken for granted. In an exclusive interview with the Organiser Correspondent Divyansh Dev, he spoke about his initiative and concept of nation building.
Ramon Magsaysay Award recipient-Anshu Gupta’s own epiphany came in meeting a poorly-clad six-year-old girl who grew up with corpses because her father eked out a living picking up abandoned dead bodies and cremating them for a fee. When he asked the girl what she did to avoid the cold in Delhi’s harsh winter, she said: “When I feel cold, I hug a dead body and sleep.”
Gupta left his job in a well-known firm to devote himself to an idea that was born out of this rendezvous. His journey began in 1999, when he and his wife contributed sixty-seven pieces of personal clothing for the use of the homeless during winter. This experience drew their attention to the vast quantities of underutilised cloth and other materials lying unused in India’s urban households, while many rural poor die because they do not have enough clothing.
Thus, Goonj was born, a volunteer organisation built on the powerful, life-changing lessons. For Gupta, extreme poverty is actually a continuing human disaster; & that must have no season. Goonj thereby, became an entry point for giving and cloth provided for this mechanism. He had seen its importance for a person’s dignity and survival in India, where the winter cold kills many who are underclothed.
Dormant, underutilised cloth—including cloth scraps and loose threads—are used to fabricate essential articles like rugs, blankets, mattresses, and even clean cloth sanitary pads, as a hygienic alternative to the rags that poor girls and women use during their menses. Goonj has branded them “MY Pads,” producing to date over three million sanitary pads that are the cheapest in the world, while raising the taboo subject of menstrual hygiene as an issue of social concern.
Goonj’s strategy involved the poor in identifying their needs, employing them in recycling and inspiring communities to undertake projects like building bridges and repairing schools in exchange for clothes and other essential articles. Every year, over a thousand such projects have been undertaken in rural India under Goonj’s “Cloth for Work” initiative, a program that innovatively converts cloth into a development resource.