In 2008, in the aftermath of the Kosi river floods in Bihar, when a team from Goonj — the non-profit organisation headed by Magsaysay award-winning social entrepreneur Anshu Gupta — reached Sukhasan village in Madhepura for relief operations, the villagers had a grim story to share with them. In the absence of a bridge in the village, their children had to swim across the Sursar river, a tributary of the Kosi, to reach their school on the other side. Over the years, it had swept away many children and literacy levels were on a decline because most parents did not want to risk their children’s lives. They needed a bridge, but who would build it for them? With Goonj’s encouragement and under their Cloth for Work scheme, the villagers put their meagre resources together. Each family contributed a couple of bamboos and together they built a 240×6 feet bridge across the river, connecting several villages and enhancing academic, economic and social opportunities for the community.
This and 24 other such inspirational tales from Goonj’s 19 years of operation form the first volume of the organisation’s foray into publishing with 100 Stories of Change, which was launched at Delhi’s Triveni Auditorium recently. “We have tried to do a lot of things differently in the course of our work — valuing the wisdom of the local people, never calling anybody a beneficiary. We spoke of dignity as opposed to charity. So, this is just a documentation of our journey and the lessons we have learned. This is a book for the people, for the community. In their lives, a bridge of 50 metres matters a lot. For us, it’s just a small thing. So, we have tried to see the work and the country through their eyes, and hope those who read it recognise the possibilities of doing something constructive by harnessing local wisdom and strength. We also hope that it will encourage us to take off our distorted lenses and look at life through their eyes,” says Gupta, 46.
Planned as a four-volume series, Gupta says it took the team, led by his wife Meenakshi, about three years to write and collate stories for the first two volumes. As of now, 200 digital copies of the first volume have been produced and printed copies, written, designed and produced entirely in-house, will be available within a fortnight.
At the launch, Gupta spoke of how, in urban societies, appearances become the determinant in establishing relationships with people. “I often say this, if Charles Shobhraj or Vijay Mallya stands next to you, you will stand at ease because they are well-dressed. But, if a person in shabby, worn-out clothes were to stand next to you, your first instinct would be to check on your wallet and your mobile phone. Clothes are the first markers of our identity, of dignity. In our 19 years of work, we have tried to dispel many myths around clothes and to use it as a tool for change,” he said. The launch was preceded by a panel discussion on the challenges of social development, featuring Gupta, Venkat Krishnan N, the man behind the Joy of Giving Week, also the Co-founder and Director of Educational Initiatives Pvt Ltd, and H Harish Hande, Chairman, Selco-India. It was moderated by Manisha Gupta, Founder, Startup-India.