More than ‘Roti, kapda aur makaan’: Anshu Gupta

Very often, in the humdrum of daily life, we tend to overlook the little things, oblivious to the fact that there are people in worse conditions than we are, thriving amid struggles to obtain even the necessities of life. Yet, there are a select few, who have chosen to work towards making the poor comfortable. This is the story of Anshu Gupta.

 

Hailing from a middle-class family of four siblings, the then 14- year old Anshu became the sole money maker in the family when his father suffered a heart attack. With a ‘never-give-up’ attitude, he continued his education, and today holds a master’s degree in journalism (twice) and a degree in economics.

 

Anshu is married to Meenakshi, also a former journalist. When Anshu was a student at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, a chance acquaintance with Habib, the professional ‘unclaimed body collector’ in Old Delhi became the turning point of his life.

 

One chilly December night, Anshu accompanied Habib to collect an unidentified body at Khooni Darwaza. Anshu realized that the man had clearly died of cold because he was wearing nothing but a thin cotton shirt. This was an epiphany that stirred the soul of Anshu Gupta to such an extent that he left his corporate job to devote himself to this task. 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.

 

Together, they formed Goonj.

This experience drew their attention to the vast quantities of underutilized cloth and other materials lying unused in India’s urban households, whereas the rural poor die owing to the lack of adequate clothing. Goonj seeks to bridge the gap between extreme poverty and affluence, by making the discarded material of the rich a resource for the poor. Dormant, underutilized cloth—including cloth scraps and loose threads—are used to fabricate essential articles like rugs, blankets, and mattresses.

Goonj has also revolutionized women hygiene by utilizing these clean clothes to manufacture cheap cloth sanitary pads, branding them as “MY Pads,” and producing, till date, over three million sanitary pads.

However, the journey was not easy. Despite thousands of people supporting Goonj, the battle of mindsets is still rampant. India doesn’t have a “culture of giving” or aren’t used to it. Motivating the rich to part with unused things, and motivating the poor to work to fulfill their needs instead of getting them as free handouts have been difficult.

Today, Goonj is operational in 21 states across the country, transferring over 1,000 tonnes of used clothes, household goods, and other essential items from cities to villages annually. The various Goonj centers recruit young boys, girls, and teachers who involve themselves in a myriad range of tasks – for example, discarded school bags are mended and provided to school children who cannot afford them, old clothes such as T-shirts and other waste cloth materials are made into warm and cozy baby-beds and so on.

The entire Goonj family is dedicated to transforming garbage into gold.

To not make this movement a chase of charity, they also initiated the cross-involvement model, ‘Waapasi’. Here, barbers were given hairdressing kits by Goonj and asked to cut the hair of the children at the Chehak centers every month as payback for their kits. People who got rickshaws and thelas (handcarts) were asked to pay back Rs 15 a day for a year to a Chehak center, to create a fund for supporting the fees of teachers there.

Anshu Gupta’s initiative has not gone unapplauded. He has been the recipient of the prestigious 2015 Ramon Magsaysay Award. ScripBros salutes the man who has revolutionized the culture of giving in India and wishes him luck in his endeavors.

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