Anshu Gupta, who created Goonj in his 20s, is proof that social change can be initiated at any age.

When Anshu Gupta was just 27 years old, he started Goonj, a humanitarian organisation aimed at helping disadvantaged people in rural areas have access to clothing and sanitary napkins.

“At first, I was worried whether government officials and the public would take me seriously,” Gupta said. “Before this, I was just an inquisitive journalist.”

Through the years, he brushed up on his public speaking skills and remained persistent. Soon enough, he began to garner attention from politicians. The news had started to spread throughout India that the ‘basic need' of clothing was ignored across rural populations and needed to be addressed.

As Goonj developed, Gupta accepted many volunteers to help breathe life into discarded cotton cloth donations from across the country and created a special taskforce of women to transform cloth into sanitary pads that were not only safe, but eco-friendly. “By hiring groups of women to make sanitary napkins, more is being achieved than what meets the eye. The act of working together to remedy an issue that affects women brings them together; this makes the organisation stronger.”

Youth power

Throughout the evolution of Goonj, Gupta realised that of all the age groups, he saw that youngsters as well as young adults were the most active volunteer and labour force groups in Goonj. He was certain that their proficiency in technology, efficient use of free time, and their seemingly endless energy were crucial to help keep the movement alive. As Gupta felt that the young were the key to a better future, he encouraged more involvement from younger groups.

Hiring and accepting young volunteers has resulted in Goonj receiving exposure via social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as the speeding up of social change.

“Since Goonj started, we've seen a massive surge in donations and volunteers. I think this has a lot to do with the youngsters' knack for spreading the word over the internet,” Gupta said. It also didn't hurt that Gupta made numerous appearances on Youtube videos about his mission to clothe the disadvantaged.

Health first

As for the recipients of the cloth donations, Gupta felt that clothing gave villagers a sense of dignity and self-respect, which he says are defining characteristics of Indian villages. The sanitary napkins allowed women to become aware of their biological process and manage it in a safe, worry-free way.

“Before this, women were using things like jute bags, sand, ash, and even plastic bags to deal with menstruation,” Gupta said. “There was even a case where a woman died of tetanus after using a blouse that happened to have a rusted hook in it.”

Goonj collects donations of cotton cloth across 21 states in India many times a year. Gupta wanted people to realise that donating was not just restricted to disaster relief, as lack of proper clothing was evident throughout the year, especially during winter. Gupta began Goonj after writing a story about a man named Habib who used to pick abandoned dead bodies from the roads, for which he earned 20 rupees and a white piece of cloth.

According to Gupta, Goonj had evolved into a major tool for social development thanks to the involvement of people throughout India. “Anyone, anywhere can join. This is a grassroots movement.”

Kamala is a III year Journalism student at West Virginia University, U.S.

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