EWMBA IBD “Team Goonj” is Nick Haluck, Murat Ilgen, Amy Andrews and Anne Sromek. The group was paired with non-profit GOONJ.org, a cloth-focused organization with collection centers based in large cities within India. Rather than using donated clothing as a charitable hand-out, GOONJ uses cloth as a currency that enables villagers to improve the quality of rural life by digging wells, cleaning up river banks and constructing bridges. GOONJ is also the largest non-government organization to respond to natural disaster relief, like the current Rahat floods.
We arrived in Delhi amidst heat and humidity. July is planted squarely within Monsoon season, so rain is imminent. We’re told that when it rains, there is relief from the heat. 93 degrees is considered “cool weather” – to us, that temperature is near our melting point.
Our first day at Goonj HQ was eye-opening. The employees kindly mingled with us, but the conversations would delay for a few moments when the ever-ringing phones needed answering; everyone in the office attended to the public as a shared responsibility. Throughout the day, donations were arriving to help with the Rahat flood relief efforts. Concerned Delhi residents brought clothing, medicine and money to the headquarters in Sarita Vihar. Eager interns accepted packages and hand-wrote receipts while smiling and whole-heartedly thanking the donors.
We were offered a tour of the operations at the main sorting center. The center is housed in a nearby apartment complex. Goonj rents adjacent apartments as they become available, to help expand the storage and work areas they occupy. The workers welcomed us with smiles and soft greetings of “Namaste”. Our gracious tour guide explained what each of the team members was accomplishing. One apartment was dedicated to the sorting of goods.
“Perfect” items were then further sorted into male, female and child categories. “Imperfect” items – those that were soiled or ripped – were taken upstairs for washing and sanitization. Skilled hands cut the clean cloth into pre-measured sizes and patterns. These pieces were used to create undergarments and sanitary napkins. The napkins were expertly wrapped into packs of five, using recycled newspaper bags. Each assembly station is decorated with posters that are used for education in the villages.We are told that the subject of menstruation is very taboo, and GOONJ has made huge strides in educating women and in breaking the myths surrounding a woman’s behavior during her monthly cycle.
There are areas dedicated to non-cloth items as well. Guitars, printers, medical supplies, books and toys were sorted and stored.
The musical instruments are re-donated to a partner charity that focuses on cultural preservation.
The books are collected for periodic Delhi book sales, the proceeds of which helped fund Goonj efforts. Donated toys are used to decorate village schools, to entice children to attend classes and stay past lunchtime. Every single donated item is given a new life.
The final area we visited was a ground-floor apartment that was used to create “fancy products”. This is the consumer-facing part of GOONJ’s recycling efforts: bags, wallets, rugs and even jump-ropes.
The women fashion the wares from donated jeans, car seat covers and a variety of excess scrap material, made to order for conference giveaways as well as to sell at the onsite gift shop. Delhi’s printing companies and nearby offices also donate paper to GOONJ, to be re-bound into notebooks. The staples are removed before the paper is processed, and saved to be sold to as scrap metal.
We learned that GOONJ does not hire designers to think up new ideas to be sold in the gift shop. Rather, the organization empowers the creativity of the women who work the looms and the sewing machines to come up with ideas and designs. Our team favorite was a wallet, made from old cassette tapes! The women thought to weave the tape with common string to create a durable and really great-looking textile. The IBD team was very impressed with the gift shop – so of course we went shopping.
We decided to walk back to our hotel after our first day at the office. The humidity turned our jeans into leggings, but we pressed on. Along the roadsides, we saw groups of children roasting ears of corn. They smiled, waved, and offered us the tempting treat; however we did not indulge so as not to encourage the onset of the (we’re told) “inevitable Delhi Belly”.
Back at the hotel, we settled in for a nightcap and recounted our experiences from the day. We’re so grateful to be in-country with such a fantastic organization. We’ve already learned so much and are humbled by the efforts of every person on the team. Later this week, we’ll travel to a village in Bihar to learn how the efforts are improving rural India. Stay tuned for more Team Goonj updates…