Friday, August 3, 2012

Visiting GOONJ - an absolute must-do in Delhi

If you live in Delhi, or are planning to visit Delhi, I highly recommend you make time for a visit to GOONJ.

Over the last ten years GOONJ has grown into a mass movement among both urban and rural people. What do they do? They have been successfully mobilizing cloth (primarily from affluent urban areas) and re-positioning it as an important development resource for the poor or disadvantaged, rather than "waste". They are bringing about social change through recycling waste, and it is an absolutely inspiring thing to see.

A central feature of Goonj's model is that Goonj improves and adds value to what is thrown away, making it actually usable. This value-add is critical. Their knowledge of "on the ground" realities  in rural India sets them apart from other places, allowing them to finely assess what will make sense and to whom. What is also unique about Goonj is that they are bringing large scale into the operations, dreaming big, and achieving it too!! I admire their model enormously, and think it offers one of India's best learning experiences.

The Goonj centre at Sarita Vihar. Our group just hangs seems like just another ordinary looking place...until the material begins to arrive from their network of collection centres across the city.

The first step in making the material useful is washing, cleaning and drying. It then goes to the sorting centre, where it is made more useful. When you give ready-to-use clothes to Goonj, they sort by gender and size, they remove unusable things, add strings to pajamas, make colour-coded sets, and despatch material sensitively (salwar kameezes to north Indian women, gowns to Bengali countryside etc based on what is worn where). They have a Cloth for Work program where people can do social service projects in their villages in exchange for clothing. This allows recipients of charity the dignity of working and earning what they need.

One of the major problems women from poor backgrounds face is the lack of sanitary napkins. This is a basic need, and when it is not met, it deprives women of basic dignity and freedom. Goonj is meeting this need using waste cloth. Cloth is washed, cleaned, cut into the right size, and packed in used newspaper for distribution. See what I mean by "Goonj understands ground realities"? This is just one of many examples - and you will hear many, many such sensitively designed ideas when you visit them.

Apart from cloth, they also repair, recycle and redistribute a wide range of things, from toys, water-bottles, schoolbags, stationery. There is a repair unit which works hard to make things reusable, they do everything from mending to attaching buttons, hooks, straps and so on to convert waste into something useful.

At Goonj you can see many things that have been made from waste materials - satchels, bags, cloth of different forms.. it's inspirational to see the kind of work they do, employing simple skills, but great care and "on the ground" understanding of what exactly is needed. This is what sets them apart from other do-good organisations that go around collecting stuff. Goonj understands that you can't take stuff and just go dump it on people just because it is charity! You have to give people what they really need and find useful. This is especially true in disaster-relief operations (Goonj has been doing fantastic work in this area).

If you are an overseas visitor coming to Delhi, please bring a suitcase full of things you don't need, Delhi Magic will take them from you, and send it over to Goonj. If you would like to visit them, let me know and I will help arrange it. This is a truly inspirational place to visit and I would like everyone to see their marvellous work. You can donate cash too, it will go towards the enormous relief work that Goonj is undertaking in flood and other disaster-hit areas.

What you can and cannot give to Goonj:
If you have trouble reading this image, head over to the Goonj website and there is a detailed list there.


TD said...

awesome! going to write about this on my blog too, great to spread the word :)

Deepa said...

Go see their facebook page, there are lots of photos and information which you can use.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely LOVE your blog. I'm visiting India soon and your site makes me more excited with every post!!

Tarun Talwar said...

Deepa Ji,

This is a wonderful post. Goonj collects old clothes/stuff from our office but I never understood the real hard work behind the operations.

Unknown said...

Fantastic intiative ...wish we have a place like this in chennai !!