The women at Goonj show us the best of who we can be. And that’s why this story is closer home than you imagine…This may sound odd to you at first since most of the women at our processing centers are unlettered, hailing from far flung villages of India. But don’t let that fool you. These women have in them the best of aesthetics, design sense and finesse apart from immense self confidence, courage and a sense of purpose they bring to work every day. When the world is celebrating the story of Goonj, here’s a story about our core. It’s a story worth telling.
In many ways these women exemplify the story of Goonj. This story talks about Green by Goonj – a label of innovative lifestyle products evolved from last shreds of cloth and other material we get. The brand has emerged out of the creativity and experiments of these women who have created enormous possibilities with last shreds of discard.
Ten years ago Anita came to Goonj, looking for a job. Those were the initial years when our work was new. Women like Anita, coming to work at Goonj from nearby slums, faced criticism and humiliation in their neighborhood for their work with peoples’ discard. “Bade sir ney kaha, kisi ki mat suno, ye log jo aaj tumhein aisa bole rahe hain kal yahi log tumhara kaam sarahengay’’ (Anshu Gupta told us, don’t listen to anyone, these same people who are saying such things to you today will one day appreciate your work) ”- remembers Anita. “That’s what kept us going. We did our work with complete dedication and conviction. In a matter of months, things started to change. Finally people who used to ridicule us started approaching us as they wanted to get a job at Goonj”.
Anita hails from Assam where she was exposed to hand weaving looms. When she was asked about what she could do at Goonj she mentioned this in passing.. We saw an opportunity and got a loom. Anita started working on it and also trained other women. Today many women weave torn saris, dupattas, wool and reels of audio cassettes into fabric, producing thousands of Daris (Mats) and different fabric for making bags, file folders, wallets and a range of similar products on the two looms we have. “Kharab cheez ko khoobsoorat banatey hain, bus kapdon key tukro ko jod key. Dekhtay hain ki kaunsa rang kiskay sath acha lagega aur fir sample banatey hain’’. (We make beautiful things out of the discard. We put together cloth pieces, we see which color goes with which color and then make sample products.
This organic process of designing the Green by Goonj products is our pride and joy. While professionally trained designers are consciously dissuaded from working on our products, we nurture the talent of women who design beautiful rangolis outside their homes, who make the finest of Indian handicrafts, all from the villages of India. Green by Goonj is a space for them to explore their own Ideas and potential. Today more than 100 different products, evolved, designed and fine tuned by these women, are used with pride by many individuals and organizations across India.
29 years old Kiran Devi came to Goonj during her most difficult days. A migrant from Bihar, Kiran lived in Delhi with her husband and three kids. She made a living by weaving beads while her husband did a temporary job. For us she defines the true sense of empowerment. Kiran’s work at Goonj not only gave her sustenance to support her kids, she also managed to pay for her husband’s computer classes. Today, he also has a well paying private job. Even though Kiran hasn’t had any formal education she not only learnt the work very quickly, she is now a trainer for other team members.
For someone who couldn’t even cut a straight piece of cloth, now Kiran uses a motor sewing machine. “Didi, pehlay toh kisi say baat kernay mein sharam lagta tha per dheeray dheeray samajh aaya ki sharmanay say kuch nahin hoga. Ab to Dilli ka Badarpur say sadar, har bazaar mai ghoom chuki hoon’’. (Earlier I would feel hesitant even talking to anyone but slowly I realized that this wouldn’t work. Now I have been to every market in Delhi – right from Badarpur to Sadar). ”
Few years ago Kiran went to saharsa, madhepura & west champaran districts of Bihar to train the village women in making school bags and Sujni out of waste cloth. For the first time she was away from home for 22 days. She says, “Goonj mein judne say pehlay humari apni zindagi mein sudhar aaya aur fir doosron ki zindagi badalnay ka mauka mila’’. (Working in Goonj first brought about a change in my life and then it gave me a chance to impact the lives of others)”. She also went to Gujarat and Bihar to talk on menstruation and teach women to make school bags.. “mujhe goonj say pehchaan mili hai’’. ( I have found my identity with Goonj).
It is women like Anita and Kiran who set the tone of our work. They have not only earned respect and dignity for themselves with their hard work but also brought a lot of respect to all the small but significant processing work with the discard of the cities. In the process of adding value to the material, they have added a lot of value to their own lives. Today there are more than 100 women as a regular team member and daily wager at our processing centers across the country.
This dedicated team puts its heart, mind and soul into dealing with tons of material every year.. They are the ones who get their hands dirty in the effort to add value at every stage. The truth is that while on one hand people give us the best of brands, designer clothes or shoes from their closet, there are people who call soiled and menstrual blood stained inner wear and tattered rags their contribution. The good news is that mindsets are changing. Rigorous and constant messaging saying please give only wearable/usable material only, seems to be working..
These women and their spirit boosts us everyday.. We hope reading this story and meeting some of them in our different offices, passes on their ‘Zinda Dili’ to you as well.. Their never say die, never give up attitude in the face of all odds, is something we all could do with.