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Sunday, October 11, 2009

They arethe change they want to see

The Collector Delhi  Anshu Gupta was studying journalism at Delhi when he came across Habib, who used to take care of abandoned bodies near LNJP hospital. It was the winter of 1991 and often, Habib's daughter would cling to a corpse to keep herself warm. The little girl didn't have any warm clothes. The same year, Anshu was working with the earthquake victims of Uttarkashi, when he saw people wearing jackets made out of gunnysacks. They didn't want food or money. They just wanted warm coats. For the next seven years Anshu worked as a corporate communications specialist but yesterday's images still haunted him. He realized that India didn't have a single organization to supply clothes to the poor and dispossessed. Goonj was born — an NGO that collects and donates clothes, leftover uniforms, backpacks, pencils, books and notebooks to poor people across the country. "Clothing is a basic need, not disaster-relief material. Why should the poor wait for a disaster to get some clothes," says Anshu, who chucked his job with Escorts and started Goonj by taking all the extra clothes he found at home and the houses of friends and relatives and distributing them on Delhi's roads. 

    What started as a single-room, one-man organization has 15 offices, 125 employees and a fleet of volunteers across the country today. Anshu insists, "We never wanted to grow as an organization. We wanted to grow as an idea so that people replicate it." 
    Volunteers go door to door, collecting clothes, books, waterbottles — anything that can be used by the poor in the hamlets of Bihar, Orissa or Assam. Anshu says Goonj is helping to "change the mindset of the urban population about the optimal utilization of vital resources through concepts like recycle and reuse." 
    As well as lending a hand to those who need it most. 
    – Shobhan Saxena 
The Shoe Santa Mumbai 
    The man sleeping outside a shop near Kandivili station is drunk. Nandan Pandya wakes him up with a question: "Do you have slippers?" The man's brow furrows. Pandya ferrets out a pair of new black plastic slippers from a polythene bag and asks him to try them on. The man takes the pair, fidgets, then holds them close to his chest and salutes the ground. It's Pandya's cue to leave. 
    For eight years, Pandya, 21, a finalyear engineering student, has greeted many owners of unhappy feet in this way. Most are "too overwhelmed to emote". Every week, Pandya buys at least six or seven pairs of slippers and scans the streets for cracked heels, swollen ankles, raw soles — any evidence of prolonged barefootedness. His target audience includes garlandsellers, hawkers, beggars, pavementdwellers — people who can't afford to throw shoes at politicians no matter how much they want to. 
    Pandya spends nearly Rs 300 on his goody bag. He buys only plastic slippers. "Many people want rainy-day shoes as they suffer from various foot diseases when they step into puddles," says the student, whose beneficiaries are mainly to be found at suburban stations. 

    So why does he do this knowing full well that many of his recipients might sell his gift rather than wear it? He always adds the careful warning, "Please don't sell these," but says it doesn't really bother him if they do. "I don't give because they will use the shoes, I give because they need it." He says his slipper service has changed him forever. "Now, I don't shout when the rickshawallah refuses to hand me back a five-rupee balance." 
    —Sharmila Ganesan-Ram 
The Good Doctors Chennai 
    In 1953, a bus bearing Stanley Medical College students broke down on a field trip near Alamadhi village in Thiruvallur. The young people stepped out of the vehicle to stretch their legs and were horrified by the squalid conditions in the village. Ever since, young doctors from this college have visited Alamadhi every Sunday to provide free medical care to people who are all but abandoned by the authorities. 

    "We want to set an example for all medical colleges in the country," says Nivedita Govindarajan, a second-year student. "If each college adopts one village, the country's health will improve dramatically." 
    Chennai's good doctors set a good example. Every Sunday, a bus packed with medical students, junior and senior doctors leaves the campus for Alamadhi where hundreds of villagers wait with eagerness and hope. Within minutes of
their arrival at the village, a tiny house is turned into an outpatient ward. "We take medicines and injections from the hospital. If required, we ask patients to come to the hospital the next day," says Dr Dinakar Moses, a member of the faculty. 
    The college has developed such a strong bond with the village over the years that a trip to Alamadhi has become part of the curriculum. Seniors students inspire the junior to board the Sunday bus. And they do it with pride and a sense of responsibility towards the less fortunate. "God created the world and we have taken responsibility for serving the needy," says Govindarajan. 
    The College is trying to extend its adolescent healthcare, anti-smoking and anti-alcohol programmes to other villages. But, Stanley students don't want to limit their good work to healthcare. Last year, under the Green Hands Project funded by the Isha Foundation, the medicos distributed and planted more than 50,000 saplings in and around Chennai. This year, their target is one lakh. 
    – Devparna Acharya 
The Teachers Dehradun 
    For the boys of Doon School, charity begins at home. Literally so. Every afternoon, a bunch of boys and one of the masters walks to Panchayat Ghar right behind Hyderabad House. The two-room building becomes a classroom for children of the school's support staff. Every day, Doscos and their teachers work with the children on language and social skills and the knottier aspects of science. It's not social service. It's an SUPW class, otherwise known as Socially Useful Productive Work. It's been in operation since 1935, the year Doon was established. "For us, social service is an extended classroom; it not only teaches us how to serve but also to appreciate smaller things in life and learn about the hard reality of our country," says Aditi Joshi, a student. 

    The schoolboys learn this reality in the SUPW class, which is not restricted to the campus. In fact, it travels to anyone in need: Illiterate slum-dwellers; victims of natural disasters; various villages in order to help build schools and hospitals. "We all talk about poverty but It's our duty to do something about it," says student Tarang Khurana, in a modern echo of the school's first headmaster Arthur Foot who wanted to create an "aristocracy of service, not one of 

privilege, wealth or position." 
    In recent years, Doon's students have helped leprosy patients in Tamil Nadu, tsunami victims in Orissa and underprivileged communities around Dehradun. "We are grateful to these communities for allowing us to walk into their lives and for providing a learning experience to our students," says A K Chalasani, master in charge of social service at the school. – TNN


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