News Commentary

2015 Ramon Magsaysay Awards: Indian promotes clothing for dignity

Vberni Regalado - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - When a man leaves a high-paying job in the corporate world and chooses to build a non-government organization, you know he is pursuing a passion.

The story of Anshu Gupta began in 1992 when he met a six-year-old girl in New Delhi, daughter of rickshaw pullers who transport abandoned dead bodies. The little girl told him she hugged dead bodies through the night to keep warm.

That instance haunted Gupta as he realized that the problem lies in the basic need of the poor for clothing, something that the government has failed to address.

In 1998, he left his job as a communications and public relations professional to deal with this need. He founded Goonj (translated as “echo”), a nonprofit organization that bridges urban India’s under-utilized resources and rural India’s unaddressed needs.

Despite being among the three primary needs of mankind – food, shelter, clothing – Gupta said in an interview with Indian Times that “clothing does not even figure in the list of development subjects that encompasses 100-150 issues from domestic violence to global warming.” His organization wants to make clothing a matter of concern to be discussed globally.

Changing the culture of giving in India

Anshu Gupta and his wife Meenakshi started Goonj by donating 67 articles of clothing from their own wardrobe. The couple ran the organization from their home in New Delhi until 2003.

Goonj changes the culture of giving in India by bringing dignity through a ‘Cloth for Work’ program across rural areas where the organization has presence.

“For us in Goonj, we see cloth as a synonym of dignity. That is why we involve the local villagers in our partner communities in addressing their own neglected development issues,” Gupta mentioned. The locals receive clothes not as charity but as motivation. Without any financial transaction, roads have been repaired, wells have been dug and many other social movements have been initiated through this project.

Another project, ‘Not Just a Piece of Cloth,’ addresses the need of women to clean cloth pads during their menstrual period. “In rural India, countless women use dirty, useless cloth during five days of menses, leading to many infections and diseases. One died of tetanus upon using a piece of blouse with a rusted hook inside,” Gupta shared. Goonj since then has been distributing cloth pads and is actively campaigning in rural and urban India to talk about this taboo issue.

For addressing a need that was not recognized and for his social innovation, 44-year-old Anshu Gupta was named one of five Ramon Magsaysay awardees for 2015.

For Gupta, a country’s problems should not only make one angry, but one should also “do something to make things happen.”

According to Gupta, “One should have the passion to serve society, without looking for gains. Reasons for not doing something will always be there, but someone who wants to do something will do it despite all odds.”












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