Food, shelter, and clothing are the three most basic human needs in civilized society. However, while there are seemingly endless organizations offering food and shelter—as well as hundreds of organizations focusing on everything from global warming to domestic violence to education—the need for clothing is often overshadowed.
GOONJ, a non-governmental organization, is hard at work creating change in rural India through the contribution of cloth (and other common household underutilized items). The organization believes that all this material from the cities can address so much more than the basic needs of people. GOONJ is using this material not only to restore the dignity of village communities but also as a tool to empower individuals and villages.
One Person’s Rags Are Another’s Necessity
GOONJ was born in 1998 informally and in 1999 formally with a background of Anshu Gupta meeting a child of a deadbody picker who said that she sleeps with the deadbody to keep herself warm. He realized that we have sheer amount of clothes in the closets of people that were going to waste each year, despite the fact that clothing in good condition can be given as it is and can change the lives of the less fortunate. Even the most tattered rags can be repurposed into hope for the poor in rural India. Anshu and his wife Meenakshi’s took out first lot of sixty-seven personal clothing items and the idea grew from there.
GOONJ’s initiatives focus on making creative and optimal use of underutilized discarded material. Although clothes remain its primary focus, it offers programs that make new use of everything from old cloth and furniture to one-side-used paper and generators. The organization’s current initiatives include:
VASTRA-SAMMAN; a nationwide movement that highlights the importance of cloth as a basic need for the poor.
Cloth for Work; provides clothes and other material not as a charity, but as a developmental resource that leads to village-level development activities, the generation of employment, and brings a strong element of dignity for the receiver.
School to School (S2S); establishes a long term relationship between urban and rural schools by channeling supplies from one to another. This both helps children in rural communities and builds an understanding among urban children toward the needs of their rural counterparts.
Not Just a Piece of Cloth; addresses a critical need for village women by providing clean cloth sanitary napkins.
RAHAT; Highlighting ignored annual disasters like winters and floods. Reaching immediate and need based relief material to disaster hit areas all across the country.
Recycling; turning the last shreds of clothing and other things into 35 different products of daily use for urban and rural India.
Opportunity, Not Charity
GOONJ does not view itself as a charity. It offers cloth as a motivation in exchange for work on community issues. It thus doesn’t just help the individuals receiving it, it helps the community as a whole. In fact, schools have been built, wells have been dug, and bridges have been built by people under its Cloth for Work program.
Contributed material given at dropping centers which are mainly homes of volunteers, makes its way to a GOONJ processing center, where it is sorted and packed according to various criteria (age, gender, quality, type) to ensure that it goes to the most appropriate recipient. Then, based on needs identified by various partner groups, it is sent to the most remote parts of the country, where it is received and distributed by partner groups. With its extensive feedback system, GOONJ knows exactly which clothes each person in every village received. To ensure the material is reaching the needy people, the organization’s team and volunteers take personal visits to these implementation areas.
Making a Difference throughout India
Those 67 clothes that comprised the first contribution spurred a movement that now channels more than 80,000 kgs of material to parts of 21 states through more than 250 partner groups every month. Gupta is the head of the organization’s five-member governing body, assisted by hundreds of volunteers working throughout India. GOONJ houses offices in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkatta, Chennai, Bangalore, Jalandhar, Hyderabad, Patna, Pune, as well as voluntary setups in others. In March 2008, GOONJ was named India’s NGO of the Year during a nationwide search and selection by Resource Alliance. More about GOONJ on www.goonj.org. You can write to them at email@example.com
The success of GOONJ highlights how creative solutions to the most basic of needs can create great change in India. In what other ways can we help the poor in our most rural villages? What other basic needs are lacking?