A group of friends have started a city unit of Chennai-based organisation Paperman, which is into recycling paper and raising funds for NGOs

After recovering from a bout of jaundice, Gopikrishnan Nair was stuck at home with a lot of time on his hands. A friend tossed him the idea of becoming a ‘Paperman’ for which he got two friends on board too – Aravind Karthikeyan and Swathy Nair. The trio became the core team of Paperman, Trivandrum after the Chennai-based organisation’s director Mathew Jose gave them the go-ahead. A year, several drives and a flash ‘makeover’ later, Paperman recycling is here to make a visible impact in the city.

For many schools and firms, Paperman is the go-to name for briefings on cleanliness drives. Gopikrishnan, a techie who has just landed his first job with a company in Technopark, says Paperman could use more volunteers as the 20-member group wants help to implement their many ideas.

Inspired by flash mobs, Paperman hit upon the idea of a flash makeover when students of Government Engineering College approached them to participate in their college festival as a corporate social responsibility partner. “We thought why not do something beneficial to society instead of just breaking into a dance,” he says.

So, close to 25 volunteers and students wore matching tees, walked into AKG Park at Pottakkuzhi in the city, armed with broomsticks and paint brushes and spruced up the place in five hours flat. “We have the city corporation to thank for letting us do so. Unfortunately, the park was demolished later. But hey, we did a good job!” beams Gopikrishnan. The activity was shot and edited into a two-minute video which can now be viewed on YouTube.

Making a difference

Paperman Trivandrum’s most recent project is a tie-up with a bank and its many branches in the city. The staff is keen on making paper used in the offices and in their homes available for recycling. “They’ve set a target of Rs.30,000. Each time it is met with the paper recycled, the money goes towards buying equipment for an old-age home or a hospital,” he explains.

Paperman first reached out to Carmel Girls Higher Secondary School and St. Thomas Schools last year. The students were asked to do something as simple as bringing five newspapers a week from home. When handed over to a rag picker, the total collection weighed 230 kilos while that from St. Thomas stood at more than 350 kilos. The money was used for the same purpose as that of Paperman Chennai – to sponsor the education of girl children through the NGO project Nanhi Kali. The effort of the Chennai team makes a difference in the lives of 63 children.

The next campaign was a tie-up with an FM station where listeners could drop off paper at the radio station. The money raised by recycling the paper collected thereof was used to buy aids for the inmates of State Institute of Mentally Challenged.

Swathy, who is also an active volunteer with the NGO Make A Difference (MAD), oversees the Paperman-MAD initiative. The law student is in the process of involving various apartment associations with paper collection so that the money raised can be used to buy Cambridge-syllabus books used by MAD volunteers to teach children. “This should get underway by the start of October to coincide with Joy of Giving Week,” she says.

One for the capital

The group’s dream project, the youngsters admit, remains a recycling unit for Thiruvananthapuram to call its own. “We’ve put up a proposal to the government for the same. We hope to bring Kudumbasree to run it so that they benefit from it. Right now, all the paper collected by rag pickers goes to agents and eventually to recycling units in Tamil Nadu,” says Gopikrishnan.

“We try to cut down the use of paper as much as we can. Those interested need to fill up a form on our Facebook page. That’s another paper-free move,” says Aravind.

Many youngsters are now increasingly associating themselves with NGOs, a sign of wanting to make a change, he says. “There may be people who join groups to make their resumes impressive but they soon see the other side to it,” observes the management student.

“It’s impossible to not let the smiles of those kids soften you,” says Swathy, adding, “Volunteering changes lives, both for the volunteers and the children. You make so many friends and function like a family.” Well this tightly-knit family is looking to expand its circle. Spare a paper, anyone?

Paperman Trivandrum is eager to get the Paperman-Tharoor Trophy initiative underway to involve as many schools in the city. “Shashi Tharoor has always been interested in our projects. So he was willing to support us. All schools have eco-clubs. But they do not come with a framework. We intend to provide the necessary guidance. Funds for activities are to be raised by selling newspapers for recycling. The schools can then note their activities on an online portal which we will create. This will help determine who has been the most active so that we can decide the winner for the rolling trophy accordingly,” Aravind says.