Delhi: All Profits From This Zero-Waste Book Shop Support Over 1000 Underprivileged Kids

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How often do you harbour the desire to get your hands on the first edition of some rare book that you have been longing to read for years? Popular e-commerce websites with their sizable discounts on crisp new bestsellers, fail to match up to the joy of chancing upon an old book and getting immersed in the scent of nostalgia. Now imagine, a bookshop which offers you pre-owned books with their coffee-coloured pages, at unbelievably low prices – sounds like a dreamland, doesn’t it? But, there’s more. Imagine all the money you spent in there, bagging book after book, is going to support over 1000 underprivileged kids.

Sisters of The People
The bookshop lies in a quaint little corner near Moolchand Metro Station in Delhi

Yes, a bookshop in Delhi has made all of this a reality. Sisters of The People, a charity bookshop near Lajpat Bhawan, houses an incredible collection of pre-loved books and all their sales proceeds are directed to sustain 18 balwadis (pre-schools) in the city. Old books, which would otherwise have ended up in the trash, are making way into new bookshelves, thereby ensuring a zero-waste concept.

Sisters of The People
Children at a balwadi supported by Sisters of The People

Come once, come again and again…

Sisters of The People is an offshoot of the well-known NGO Servants of The People Society, established in 1921 by Lala Lajpat Rai. The charity bookshop has been there for over sixteen years, lurking in a quaint corner, hidden from the hustle and bustle of the capital city. Stacks of pre-loved books line up the overflowing shelves in the room, all of which have been voluntarily donated by the owners. “Started in 2002 by late Mrs Satyanand, the bookshop has expanded its collection and visitors gradually. Though we operate only four days a week, footfalls are consistently increasing. I can assure you that someone who drops by our shop once, will keep coming back again and again,” asserts Astha, an enthusiastic volunteer who overlooks the marketing operations at the shop.

Sisters of The People
The entrance to the dreamland

All these years, they have kept themselves from venturing much into the commercial arena, to preserve their primary aim – helping the children. So, most of their popularity has spruced from word of mouth, so much so that now they are receiving orders from all over India and delivering bulky packages to cities like Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Pune, Chennai etc. “We also have an Instagram page now, where book lovers can get glimpses of this little heaven,” she shares with Efforts For Good


Flowering a thousand smiles

This is the part where the story grows more interesting. “All our profits are channelised entirely to 18 balwadis, housing around thousand children, between 3 to 6 years of age. The revenue from the bookshop funds the educational expenses for these youngsters, including their books, stationeries, uniforms, food, medical care and decent salaries for the teachers,” reveals Manisha from Sisters of The People. “We are preparing these children for getting admission to good schools,” she adds. They also conduct lots of workshops, festivals and activity-based programmes for these children.

The untrammelled smiles of thousand little faces bring the entire initiative to a full circle.

Sisters of The People
Changing thousands of little lives

Discounts that dissolve distances

Curating versatile genres of books is an arduous task in itself, yet all the volunteers admit to finding themselves rejuvenated in the company of antique books that have withstood the test of time. “Alongside the social work, we are also reviving the habit of reading, which is waning among the youngsters in the surge of digital wave,” declares Manisha.

Sisters of The People
Some of the volunteers at the bookshop

Readers who are relocating to other parts of the world, or simply anyone willing to share his or her prized collection with the community, drop in to donate their books at the shop. Price tags are attached then, guaranteeing at least a 50% discount on the printed MRP.

The jovial keepers of the zero-waste bookshop shares snippets of memories that keep them imbibed with motivation. “We have a buyer from Pune. Almost every month we are sending hefty packages to her. She expressed her sheer joy of finally finding a medium that is joining the two causes closest to her heart – reading and helping others,” narrates Astha. 


Recycling to rebuild a beautiful society

Upholding the awareness about recycling and zero-waste lifestyle, Sisters of The People also run a thrift shop where pre-owned artefacts, handicrafts, paintings, furniture and even clothes are sold at reasonably low prices. The Masala Centre is another wonderful project by the organisation, which markets savoury spices, hand-ground by women from low-income families. This venture generates a steady source of income for these women, who were otherwise deprived of any employment opportunities.

Sisters of The People
Rejuvenating the habit of reading

The collective funds from all these shops support not only the balwadis, but also a school for differently-abled children as well as an old age home in Dwarka.

It is a rare circumstance that a bookshop is exclusively dedicated to selling the old and the gold. It is even rarer, perhaps a once in a blue moon situation, where such a shop is devoted entirely towards charity for the children. Sisters of The People is indeed a dream throbbing alive at the heart of Delhi, catering to multiple social causes at the same time. Efforts For Good applauds this unique initiative and sincerely hopes that more people discover magic on their shelves.


Also Read: Village Schools In Madhya Pradesh Get 100 Digital Classrooms, Thanks To This Organisation

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MyStory: “Two Months After I Joined IIT For My PhD I Was Diagnosed With TB”

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A person suffering from Tuberculosis (TB) not only battles the ‘Mycobacterium tuberculosis’ bacteria inside his lungs but also from the stigma attached to the disease. It weakens the patients in many different ways in their fight against the dreaded disease.  

My fight with TB was also filled with stigma. I joined IIT Kharagpur for my PhD in January 2015. Two months later, in March 2015, I was diagnosed with TB. I had to take sick leave from March 2015 that eventually lasted till June 2016. Initially, I did not respond well to medication. Further tests revealed that I had multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB). This meant that the type of TB I had was resistant to two or more of the antitubercular medication I was taking.

About a year after the intensive phase of my treatment, I felt better and applied for readmission to IIT in July 2016. A prerequisite for rejoining was that my faculty members had to verify my application. With the formalities completed, I resumed my education, but I felt that something was amiss. 

My guide indicated that he did not want his work to suffer on account of my illness. I also heard from a senior colleague that my guide had said that I would spread the disease like an ‘infested animal’. I was disheartened at being subjected to this indignity by my supposed mentor.

However, my primary concern was defeating TB, so I didn’t dwell on it. Today, as I reflect on it, I realise the reasons behind the stigma were ignorance as well as fear.

Even among the educated, there are misconceptions about TB. People think all forms of TB are contagious. Others believe the patient is infectious for the entire length of the treatment. Some even believe that TB spreads through touch. This breeds the fear of contracting the illness.

As we know, people stigmatise and discriminate when they fear. I felt the impact of the stigma on two levels – in my professional life and my personal life.

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Professionally, the reluctance of my supervisor to mentor me and his discouragement affected me. I could not decide whether I should wait for the IIT authorities to tell me to leave or drop out. That decision was made for me by luck when I found out that my CSIR grant application was never processed. 

This meant that I would have to pay for my education. Given the expenditure on my treatment, this was unaffordable for me. This was the final nail in the coffin. I was forced to drop out and could not go back to completing my PhD.

What I faced was not technically illegal. I was discouraged from doing my PhD, but it was still a form of stigma. The external stigma I faced led to depression and isolation. 

Eventually, I realised I had to fight. The treatment for TB is difficult, requiring strict compliance and the management of side effects, and these demands resolve. I began motivating myself. I began following a proper diet and completing my treatment to ensure I could recover. I also turned to books as they transported me to other worlds and helped with my isolation. I also focused on reviving my old relationships.

Gradually, things improved. I could not proceed on my desired career path, but I am an educator now. I constantly realise that I have a role to play in shaping young minds. 

Workplace stigma has tangible consequences. It affects an individual’s career, financial opportunities and their right to work with dignity. So what can we do to address this stigma? 

First, we need to sensitise people by educating them about TB, and the impact stigma has on patients.

Another measure is group counselling involving the patient, the employer and the immediate supervisor. Informal versions of these sessions happen in the workplace in the context of illnesses like cancer. Why should it be any different for TB? 

The goal of this session would be to ensure that the patient is in a supportive environment. 

Finally, at a systemic level, there needs to be a workplace policy on stigma mitigation and a mechanism where the patients can anonymously register their concerns about stigma at the workplace.

A person’s career or job is often their calling and a provider of financial security. Workplace stigma creates a hostile work environment, affecting a person’s ability to do their job and their financial security. Financial insecurity and stigma make it harder for the patient to fight TB both in terms of means and motivation. Therefore, addressing stigma in the workplace is critical to patient well-being and recovery but also to their right to work with dignity.

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It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
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