Bengaluru: A 19-year-long relentless effort to bridge the gap between rural and urban India that started in Delhi has found its roots in Bengaluru and is now spreading across villages in 11 districts of Karnataka.
“Bengaluru is one of our most active centres as we have a lot of volunteers and tie-ups with many organisations here. People are more socially active and we have many successful collection drives in Bengaluru,” says Meenakshi Gupta, co-founder, Goonj.
The NGO focuses on rural parts of the country and works on issues like water, sanitation, public hygiene, women's health and hygiene and also sanitation. In Karnataka’s 11 districts, the rural workforce has received help from various programmes run by Goonj. “The main campaigns running in the state are Cloth for Work, Not Just a Piece of Cloth, School to School (S2S) and also Rahat (disaster relief and rehabilitation). We conduct awareness camps on health and hygiene and women's health. We have tied up with various shelters, which send us their requirements and we facilitate their needs," says Chandan, the programme head in Bengaluru. Over 100 active volunteers are working on various projects and Goonj team has also tied up with various corporate companies, which help facilitate human resources when required in the city.
Cloth for Work (CFW) is a holistic rural development initiative, where the Goonj team motivates village communities to solve their own problems with Family Kits (containing the requirements of a family which is gifted to a family for participating in various village development works). Under the initiative, close to 9,500 members have been given kits in Karnataka. “The idea is that it feels like a reward for doing something for their own community and it gives them a sense of ownership. We don't look at them as beneficiaries, but as stakeholders, and that changes the way the whole initiative is run because it is then managed by the village community which identifies the problem and also works towards the solution. We just facilitate the help that is needed. We have had communities gathering to dig wells, construct bamboo bridges, clean water bodies and other such issues with none of them feeling burdened, but rather like an active stakeholder," explains Meenakshi.
"We are currently targeting 11 districts through our partner NGOS in various places and we take the entire village under our initiatives which can be health and hygiene and also desilting of ponds and others," says Chandan.
Goonj has 27 collection camps located across the city where people can drop the requirements. In a recent drive, the NGO collected school-related material and also baby products like prams and toys. “This is an ongoing project and people drop unused or no longer in use products which after going through a detailed process of selection are then collected and sent to various shelters or Anganwadis in and across the city and also schools in villages," explains Meenakshi. The idea is to channelise urban surplus, like educational material, to small resource-starved schools in far-flung villages.
These materials are powerful tools for behavioural changes among children in rural schools. “The dropout rates have reduced drastically as children are more intrigued to come to education centres that have interesting materials," Chandan adds.
Another source of livelihood for the village women comes from the Cloth for Work initiative. “It dignifies receiving while putting the decision making (about what issues to work on) in the hands of rural communities, giving them a sense of empowerment in solving their own problems. Women make sanitary napkins from unused cloth materials which obviously are in good condition, but not as good as the one that is collected from various collection drives. It also solves the problem of excess by channelising it into something that is essential," Meenakshi stresses.