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PMNC 2017 : Keynotes : The Story Of Non-Issues
More people die of lack of clothing than in earthquakes, but we realize that people need clothing only when a natural disaster strikes,” said Anshu Gupta, who besides organizing disaster relief drives, runs an innovative infrastructure building program in villages across India. In ‘Cloth for work’ initiatives that his organization Goonj organizes, villagers work on projects such as digging a well or building a road in their village, and in return for that, they do not receive cash but kits as rewards.
These kits include clothes and household necessities. “People are more willing to work for cloth than get it free. We focus on the receiver’s dignity rather than the donor’s pride,” he remarked. Over the past 18 years, Mr. Gupta has taken up the issue of the lack of clothing, which is considered a “non-issue,” and showed how a piece of cloth is much more than keeping someone warm – it is about dignity, respect, and hygiene.
Another initiative, ‘Not just a piece of cloth,’ has seen Goonj make and distribute four million cloth sanitary pads. In rural India, where a piece of spare cloth is hard of find, sometimes several women share the same pieces of cloth during menstruation.
Washing the soiled cloth is also a problem since there are only public taps in some villages. Goonj’s initiative is aimed at breaking the culture of shame and silence around menstruation, and making women’s dignity and hygiene a priority.
Mr. Gupta ended on a powerful note by comparing two photos – one of a man standing in ragged clothes and the second showing the same man in a new set of clothes. “Clothing is the first visible sign of poverty. We would not show respect to the man in ragged clothes, but when the same man comes wearing good clothes, we would,” he said, to a standing ovation.
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