Old Delhi, Okhla and Seelampur are the three extensive areas of Delhi, notorious for their pollution and shoddy state of waste management. Heaps of garbage, overflowing or clogged drains emitting an unbearable stench or residents throwing garbage out of the window onto the main roads – are quite common sights in the congested lanes of these localities. But, a group of young men and women is sprouting a long-due ‘clean’ change in these areas, registering the help of the homeless youth they have adopted. Marham (Muslim Association Rehabilitating Homeless and Mistreated) have changed the face of two erstwhile ‘filthy’ Mohallas in Old Delhi – Katra Gokulshah and Pahari Imli. Talking to Efforts For Good, founder Irtiza Qureshi details how they managed to achieve the impossible only through sheer zeal and persistence.
The story behind the start
Marham was started on the first day of 2016 with a unique objective, quite different from their present work. The organisation is dedicated to the rehabilitation of the homeless youth in Delhi. They have rescued around 16 young adults from the streets and trained them with different life skills. They even reunited five men with their long-lost families. But, soon Marham encountered a challenge.
“We used to train them in electrical repairing and plumbing. But soon we noticed it was not easy for them to find jobs due to the cut-throat competition and increasing unemployment rates,” Irtiza shares. While looking for alternative employment opportunities, Irtiza had the idea to create a small ‘green’ army with them. “I have grown up in Old Delhi, and I have witnessed the lack of environmental awareness among people. For most, global warming or climate change are alien terms,” he informs.
He knew it would not be easy to start a cleanliness campaign in these Mohallas. In fact, his team members objected at first, seriously doubting its success. “But, somehow we arrived upon an agreement and started our homework over a year ago,” he shares. The team, which included four young working professionals – Irtiza Quraishi, Waqar Ahmed, Anam Hasan and Sadia Syed, trained five of the adopted homeless youth in garbage segregation, waste management, compost making and raising vertical gardens. “We learnt everything from YouTube videos and practised here and there. Finally, three months ago, we launched the drive on ground,” says Irtiza.
From vertical gardens to street graffiti
So how did Marham manage to clean up the streets which have been lying dirty for decades? Irtiza believes it all starts with bringing a change in everyone’s outlook. In the morning, they roam through these dingy lanes announcing about proper garbage disposal.
“We keep dustbins at every 10 metres, in front of houses and shops. We inform the residents and ask them to put their trash bags in these bins before 10 AM every morning when the municipal garbage collector arrives,” he reveals. Initially, the locals had the notion that putting these dustbins would turn their front yards into a dumpsite. It was a challenge for Marham to convince them.
The two women from the Marham team visits every house and talk to the women, educating them about the ABC of garbage management. To the literate families, they teach dry waste and wet waste segregation and offer two separate dustbins for the same.
“Our trained homeless volunteers pick up the kitchen waste from these homes and head to nearby parks where they make organic compost. This soil is then used to grow vertical gardens on the roadside and along the stained walls of the alleys,” tells Irtiza. “They also paint graffiti on the walls carrying quotes and messages about cleanliness,” he adds.
Creating employment for the homeless helpers
In Katra Gokulshah and Pahari Imli, the neat lanes beaded with traces of greenery is a welcome surprise for the residents. The word about the initiative has spread across neighbourhoods, so much so that the homeless cleanliness crusaders are receiving orders for vertical gardens from families.
“That way, we are also creating employment for them,” shares a proud Irtiza. Interestingly, all the funds for these drives have come majorly from the contributions by the four core team members and some has been raised through social media crowdfunding. In the days to come, Marham aims to give a ‘clean and green’ makeover to more Delhi lanes. “It is a slow change, but a much-needed one,” Irtiza signs off.