What would you do if the meagre income your family is surviving on, vanishes one day? What would you do if you do not find any other job because you stay in a remote village? Sounds terrifying! Doesn’t it? Families in Paalaguttapalle experienced the same due to continuous droughts between 2010 and 2015. Paalaguttapalle is a small hamlet, with about 60 Dalit families, in Andhra Pradesh’s Chittoor district. Men and women couldn’t find employment in the village which led to financial distress. The housewives in the village came together and started a business to restore the financial balance in their households.
No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank
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The women all sat together one day near the village temple to discuss the issues that are plaguing their village due to continuous drought. Some of them knew tailoring. Aparna Krishnan, who has also been living here since 1995, was there with them. She said she would start looking for orders.
“My husband Nagesh and I moved to this village in 1995, after leaving our city jobs. We wanted to lead a more meaningful and useful life. We bought some land to farm. I also started teaching kids in the local govt school. We practised Ayurveda. We also started working on rainwater harvesting, farming and agricultural issues, livelihood and afforestation.” said Aparna
When the village economy was reeling due to continuous drought, men lost their jobs and there was no steady source of income. ‘Paalaguttapalle Bags’ venture started with a simple order for 100 bags from Aparna’s friend’s shop in Bengaluru. After the bags were delivered to the shop owner, he liked the quality and they started receiving more orders. In no time, the stitching team grew from one to nine. Now they make tote bags, gusset bags, sling bags, lunch bags with zip and bags with custom prints of logos and designs.
How do they operate?
“Some of us together support the women in some external ways like connecting with the customers, spreading the word about bags through social media and friends, helping them with handling financial accounts and getting the skill training. The women themselves handle all the production work. ,” says Aparna.
The team consists of Roopa, Rani, Ramila, Nirmala, Annapurna, Lakshmikantha, Anitha, Buji and Kala. From picking up the raw material from the nearby town, making and packing the bags to delivering them to customers via India Post – everything is entirely handled by the women.
The women travelled to Chennai to learn screen printing when the customers started asking for custom logos and designs. Aparna Krishnan’s Facebook friend Suraj’s father Narasimha connected the women to artist Bhaskar, who agreed to teach them screen printing free of cost. Another Facebook contact Vignesh accompanied the women in Chennai during their training days. He took complete responsibility for making it work for them in the village. Arun Kombai, also met on Facebook, with his brilliant design skills took the bags to another level.
Confused with the new terminology “Vegetable compartment bag”? See the image below.
In recent months, this bag has been a huge hit. This bag helps you to segregate and carry your veggies from the market while reducing the usage of plastic covers which we use normally to preserve vegetables.
“The design of the vegetable compartment bag was suggested by one person. I passed on the idea to the women. In one day, the women came up with the prototype and soon we were flooded by orders,” says Aparna Krishnan.
The bag is made using the cotton brought from Madurai. It has six compartments and is available in two sizes — the large one can carry 10 kgs and the extra large has a capacity of 15 kg.
From local to global
Through word of mouth, the women got orders from many prestigious events. The women supplied the bags for the Organic World Congress and for the Aid India meetings. Orders have also come from abroad – Hong Kong, events in America and Canada and also the UK.
With the extension of the lockdown the crisis of migrant labourers and daily wagers has just grown bigger due to uncertainty and fear of future. In the migrant colonies, slums and for people in the villages hunger and desperation is building up day by day. This is high time we step up our efforts to support our people who are in dire need of food and hygiene essentials to survive the pandemic, Covid-19.
After the India-wide lockdown, a lot of jobless migrant workers are stuck in cities with hardly any resources while many started retreating back to their villages. With the loss of livelihoods, a large number of them are now struggling to support their families.
Goonj activated its pan India teams and a pan India network of partner organizations and volunteers in urban and rural India. This network, built over the last two decades, helps them learn from the ground, reach material quickly and review and adapt strategy periodically. Intensifying this network has helped Goonj reach and start work across 17produced states/UT in the last three weeks.
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Majority of the Covid-19 relief work by non profits right now is in the metros and cities but Goonj is the only non profit that is also simultaneously focusing on the people in the villages and the ones stuck on highways or somewhere.
Goonj is targeting daily wagers, migrants and other vulnerable groups, who even traditionally are left out like the disabled, sex workers, LGBTQ community.
“COVID-19 is a crisis, yes…But, it’s also an opportunity for us to build the society anew. Not ‘for’ the people…but, ‘with’ the people. And in the process, we will build ourselves too.” – Anshu Gupta, Founder-Director, Goonj.
Direct Monetary and Material Transfer
Wherever Goonj got the permission to open their centres for packing and disbursement of relief material kits, they are creating a kit consisting of 20-30 kgs material including dry rations, masks, sanitary pads and other hygiene material and reaching them to people, as per needs and as per regulations with all safety precautions. This kit will help a family survive for 30 days.
Information till 10th April 2020:
Distributed 15,100 ration kits reaching thousands of people
Reached 17,700 families
Supporting 12 community kitchen across India with 16,600kgs of ration
77,800 food packets provided to migrant laborers and daily wagers walking on the roads across the country.
Provided direct financial support to 32 organisations
In Goonj’s processing centers its trained team of women are making cloth face masks and cloth sanitary pads (MY-Pads), keeping all the precautions and with the permission and cooperation of the local authorities.
In this lock-down phase if you are facing any difficulty getting sanitary pads or you are running out of stock, here’s a detailed but very simple process of making Cloth Pads at home created by Goonj. “This is how we make Goonj MY Pads.” This is how our mothers and grandmothers turned their spare cloth into pads.
This disaster, unlike any other, is unprecedented in its scale and impact and that’s why we all must do our bit with Goonj to continue its relief work for millions of people in this still unfolding long-tailed disaster.