‘Clothing Man’ comes to the rescue

Ramon Magsaysay Award winner Anshu Gupta, popularly known as the ‘Clothing Man’ talks about Goonj’s initiative in relief work post the floods in Tamil Nadu
‘Clothing Man’ comes to the rescue
A volunteer going through collected clothes (Photo: Justin George)

Chennai

The water has finally receded and people are back to their regular lives in the city. For an outsider, everything appears fine. Not many realise that there is a lot more to be done, especially in terms of sustained relief efforts. 
Some people are forced to wear unhygienic clothes post the floods. “There were many who’d often say that people are back to their homes, cooking in their utensils, washing and wearing their old clothes. They don’t realise that the same clothes and utensils were soaked in sewage water. They are using it because they are forced to do so,” says Anshu, founder of Goonj, an NGO, that works towards highlighting clothing as a basic need and repositions discarded clothes and supplies as a development resource for villages, without making it a charity. 
At their make-shift office in Thoraipakkam, they have gathered clothes collected from all over the country. After cleaning and processing, they use the best ones to make kits for those affected by the flood. The kit contains four t-shirts or shirts, two pants, two salwar suits, one pack of sanitary napkins, one baby soap, one adult soap, six to eight pair of baby clothes, new blanket, new bedsheet, mat, two pairs of shoes and a packet of oats and biscuit each.  The organisation carefully designs the kit based on the sensibilities and the culture of the place. 
This kit too is designed keeping in mind the needs of the city. “The situation in Kashmir was completely different from Chennai. There women wear different kinds of suits that women don’t wear anywhere else in the country. We had to struggle there. Here in Chennai, we were told that people wear sari predominantly and lungi . But it wasn’t true because out of the 10 volunteers we had, 5 wore salwar suit. That was the reason we packed two sets of salwar suits in the kit,” says Anshu, adding that when one sends out relief materials, they have to do it for the family and not an individual. 
They have collaborated with several local NGOS to reach the affected families in areas like Semmencherry, Vyasarpadi, Periyar Nagar, Perambur, Kotturpuram, Valasaravakkam, Murichambedu, Pooneri, Anakaputhur, Perungudi, Siruseri, Kottamedu and Cuddalore.  
The volunteers have been working in Chennai since December. They will resume work on Monday after the Pongal break.
Shifting gears 
In 1998, Anshu Gupta quit his corporate job to start Goonj  after he realised that clothing, which is considered as one of the three basic human rights, is often being overlooked. He started the NGO with a mission to incorporate clothing in the list of subjects for the development sector. In 2015, he won the Ramon Magsaysay Award for his vision in changing the way people look at giving back and treating cloth as a sustainable development resource.

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