Fortunately or unfortunately disasters are unbiased in their ruthless wrath. Whether its gold smiths in the Gujarat earthquake, the fisherman in Tsunami or the shawl sellers in J&K floods.. We are all equally likely to be hit by a disaster…
In these difficult times of frequent disasters this story of evolving value, even out of a disaster, is perhaps the one we all need.
As many of you may know Goonj prides itself now in being among the first to respond to any big natural or man-made disasters in the country. Our work across the length and breadth of the country from Tsunami in Tamil Nadu to J&K floods, from reaching Salva Judam refugees fleeing to Andhra Pradesh to violence hit refugees in relief camps of Assam, has taught us invaluable lessons and given us strong connections.
This story though, is not about disaster or disaster relief.. It’s about what is left after… the common sight of piles of cloth on the roads. The scenario repeats itself with uncanny similarity in each disaster.. While there are many theories around why this happens, the core issue is one of dignity & self respect of the receiver and matching the material to his needs.
Looking at media images of these sights, the obvious inference for most people is that people don’t accept second hand cloth.
This story is about how Goonj has time and again turned this colossal waste into an opportunity for innovation. It shows how cloth is not the issue; it is the giving and the lack of mindfulness about it… that perhaps needs attention.
Back in 2005 when Goonj found that the Tamil Nadu government had a stock of over 100 trucks of un-distributed clothes lying in their go-downs with a large quantity of unmindful and waste material giving, we negotiated to get this material. The two year minute and rigorous work turned out to be our biggest learning around treating disaster wastage. Not only was cloth reached out to Tsunami hit communities but also to the disaster hit in other parts of the country. The work provided employment to over 40 women and helped evolve what is probably the world’s cheapest cloth sanitary pad for women who can’t even afford a clean piece of cloth. Hundreds of recycled products made from this disaster wastage stand testament to the innovative use of what could have ended up in landfills.
The same story repeated itself in the Bihar floods in 2008. We used big quantities of completely un-wearable (after sorting the wearable ones) cloth pieces to create value for hundreds of un-skilled women in far flung villages. We started the Sujni work across Bihar and later in many other states. (Sujni is a mattress/quilt made out of stitching many layers of cloth pieces). It is today a source of income generation and livelihood for hundreds of village women familiar with making sujnis. It’s used as a mattress in summer and as a quilt in winters.
In Andhra Pradesh floods, when a local District Magistrate announced that old cloth should not be given to the flood hit, the end result was a lot of disaster wastage left without a channel. Given our experience in earlier disasters, we systematically used this material in different ways. And the story goes on- whether it is about trucks load of waste material after Uttarakhand Floods or after recent Jammu and Kashmir floods . today over 50 women have a long term employment converting this wastage into Sujnis in Uttarakhand..
An opportunity for creating value; Disaster wastage happens because many a times what we give is not what is needed by the receiver plus if its given without any respect.. it hurts more than it helps. Our premise is simple – a disaster hit person suffers massive losses, his dignity and self respect are sometimes the only things he is left with. We rob him of this basic when we treat him insensitively while reaching relief.
On the other hand the last few disasters also highlight the generosity of people, revealing that there is no dearth of material. The problem really is in the distribution channels. The support given with all the love and care doesn’t reach the needy in time and becomes a liability wasting on the roads. Over the years we have learnt to find meaningful solutions to basic but unaddressed needs of people with this growing waste. The truth is, given our limited capacities, we can only turn a small part of these kinds of colossal tragedies into opportunities. It’s for the people to pay more attention to what they give and how they give, to ensure their love and care reaches the disaster hit.
On an aside, it makes us wonder… What happened to all the cloth and other waste from disasters before the Tsunami?#100storiesofchangebyGoonj