Resting alongside a dust-topped road, a pair of cows lazily watch foot traffic. Scooters and cars still honk incessantly in what might be considered a quieter neighborhood, at least by Delhi standards.
Sitting no more than 100 yards from the chaos, however, something remarkable is taking place.
Tucked away in a series of mismatched buildings, the headquarters of a non-profit operation, Goonj, has been unwavering in their attempt to bring about positive change through, of all things, recycling.
By reusing donated items from urban and metropolitan areas, Goonj can provide rural communities with necessary items by taking advantage of their reduced production costs.
As a number of impoverished regions across India are at the whim of natural disasters, constricting social norms, and a general lack of resources, Goonj has put clothes on backs and books in hands of an otherwise neglected population.
“[We provide] men, women, and children with clothing,” says Pacha, a young woman who previously held a highly coveted government position. Pacha also adds that Goonj provides utensils to families, toys for children, dry rations, books to schools and any other necessities required by the communities they aim to serve.
Additionally, the organization assembles “wedding kits” for those who simply can’t afford to pay for these often pricey items.
A testimonial from a young girl in the rural village of Siyuna reads: “My parents would have had to spend a large amount of money renting out a lehenga and other accessories from the market. I did not have to spend a single rupee on any cosmetics as the Goonj Wedding kit contained things I could have never purchased in my life.”
While these items come at no cost to the acceptor, those receiving goods are required to bring further change to their own communities before being awarded any donations.
“Some of the work they have done includes bridge and dam construction, creation of irrigation channels, digging wells, and clearing ponds. And all of this was done before [anyone] received any materials,” says Pacha.
Outside of this work, however, Goonj has made substantial strides with their menstrual pad and undergarment production center through initiatives called MyPad and Not Just a Piece of Cloth, or NJPC.
Amidst an overwhelmingly patriarchal society, women in rural India are left in the dark about their hygiene and reproductive health.
“Often, menstrual hygiene is not even in their vocabulary,” says Pacha, adding “in some cases, women must resort to using ash, or cow dung [in place of a proper menstrual pad].”
Since 2005, Goonj’s MyPad initiative, alongside NJPC, has been producing menstrual cloths and undergarments fashioned out of donated items. Though these items aren’t donated to the women they’re made for, they still come at a fraction of the cost of most feminine hygiene products.
The unavailability of adhesive pads in rural areas, feminine hygiene and reproductive education, as well as high costs of cloth pads force many young women to resort to unsanitary or dangerous measures.
While purchasing typical cloth pads can set a family back 200 rupees ($3), MyPad and NJPC’s tireless work has permitted bundles of menstrual cloths and undergarments to be purchased at 70 rupees, or roughly $1. For those stuck in immense poverty, that extra 130 rupees can go a very long way.
Pacha says heavy taxes are also applied to the sale of feminine hygiene products, sometimes as high as 15%, making the purchase of these items even more difficult. Moreover, according to crownit.com, a trusted Indian research database, only 12% of women in India have access to any form of sanitary napkins and adequate undergarments.
While it may be an uphill battle, there is hope for women in India, however.
Not only does NJPC and Goonj have the financial backing of tech behemoths Facebook and Google, but as an increasing number of the millennial population in India seeks to support women’s rights, more education and awareness on the issue of feminine hygiene has come to the forefront.