Anshu Gupta

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Some facts: Anshu Gupta; Graphic courtesy: The Times of India, July 30, 2015

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Ramon Magsaysay award 2015

The Times of India, Jul 30 2015

Jayashree Nandi

Anshu Gupta, the founder of NGO Goonj who has been chosen for Ramon Magsaysay award 2015 , says extreme poverty that deprives people of clothing and sanitation had motivated him to work on recycling of used clothes.

Gupta, fondly called the “clothing man“, recalls his conversation with a little girl who said once she even had to hug a dead body to keep herself warm in bitter winter.“What bothered me was that people still die of cold. It's something preventable and doesn't require any major policy or investment. I was really moved by the experience of Habib's daughter. Habib used to cremate unclaimed bodies. I realized out of the three basic needs of roti, kapda and makaan, kapda is neglected. It's such a basic need...“ says Gupta who came from a middleclass family in Dehradun to study mass communication at IIMC, Delhi in 1991.

By 1998, his experiences had already shaped his goal of working on clothing for the poor--both in urban and rural areas. On Wednesday , when Gupta was inundated with interview requests and congratulatory calls, he described the award to be a recognition of the rural voice. “It feels good.This is not only a recognition of work done by me and my team but also of those things considered non-issues that we had been trying to convert into issues,“ added Gupta. He has been at the fore front of women's sanitation and reproductive health issues as well. “Not just a piece of cloth“, a project by Goonj to provide safe, cotton sanitary napkins to rural women who otherwise can't afford them, got him the World Bank's Global Development Market Place award in 2007. “If a woman doesn't have enough cloth to cover herself how can she have the pieces of cloth during menses? We travelled across the country to understand how women managed. What we found was really disturbing. Most women were using jute bags, sand, cow dung and other things...“

The Magsaysay award is a major boost to the idea of optimizing resources like clothes and empowering communities, he said, adding that his focus areas will remain the same. “It was my dream to see this idea grow but our work won't change. Expanding our focus to other areas is not what we are looking to do,“ he said.

Goonj works on a range of campaigns like “Cloth for work“ where used material such as utensils, clothes, footwear etc are sent to areas where people need them the most or the “School to school“ programme where school essentials discarded by city kids are given to rural children.

These are not charity campaigns, the items are given to the needy against their work or performance in school.

Gupta's message to people is to “boycott“ or bring alternatives for the packaging material. “This bunch of packaging for chips, water bottles other products is worrying. We hear tall claims to revisit landfill sites but we are actually building landfill mountains.“

Goonj has 300 staff working in 11 offices. It gets more than 2,000 tonne of waste or old clothes every year and has worked in several disaster-affected regions.

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