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How can we not believe in the power of humanity and giving?

Giving is an interesting phenomenon which can really enrich the giver and the receiver if done with the right intention

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After working for 20 years amongst the Indian masses on giving and receiving with dignity as Goonj’s guiding principle, we know that it is the only way to live. It is not something that we have learnt from a course or books or from some inspiring hero; it actually came from nameless, faceless people we come across every day.

In early days of Goonj, when Anshu and I personally picked up stuff from people’s homes, one act of giving still stands vivid in my memory. A young couple from a middle-class family, probably in government service, called and said that they wanted to contribute something. 

At their simple home when we explained about our work, the wife spontaneously took out the melmoware crockery set proudly displayed in their crockery almirah. Many of us have similar crockery sets usually set apart for special occasions or guests. The way this couple gave away something so special to them for a cause was a lesson in giving with grace and ease.

Many years later when our appeal for relief material went out for flood relief work in Uttarakhand, of the thousands of people and organizations who contributed at the time, one contribution still stands out in my mind -- a little girl sent us a money order of Rs 20/- from a town somewhere. 

She wrote that she did not have much but when she saw our ad on TV about the difficulties that the people of Uttarakhand were facing, she wanted to do something, and those 20 rupees were indeed priceless.

There are hundreds of such example of faceless, nameless people from amongst us, who really understand the pure and simple grace and joy of giving. They teach us every day about empathy and mindfulness.

During the recent Kerala floods relief work, at a forum in Kochi, a woman shared that she wanted to help in some way but did not know how to, so she just started coordinating the calls for help she received with the rescue and evacuation teams.

Although she worked very hard, it still took a big psychological toll on her as she could not save one particular group of people. That one episode led to a lot of trauma but she is finally happy that she did something and gave her all.

Giving is an interesting phenomenon which can really enrich the giver and the receiver if done with the right intention. On the other hand, we also come across giving where the intention and tone is so centered on the giver that it really spoils the entire spirit behind the act of giving. 

In our disaster relief work in past two decades. We have often come across organisations and individuals who are so focused on selfies, banners and T-shirts of their logos that they forget the colossal human tragedy which could very well be their reality someday.

I guess therein lies the basic principal of giving -- to remember that all of us are or will be takers in some way at some point. So it is always good to be human and do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

There are a lot of people we meet, who sound skeptical and hopeless about the world around them, about giving for some good work; but when every year across 22 states of India, the poorest of the poor living in remote villages spend days building a road in the heart of the mountains or dig out water from the depths of the Earth with their bare hands or do similar 3000+ different acts of giving for their communities, how can we not believe in the power of both humanity and giving? It also reminds us that in giving we have to be mindful of the dignity of the receiver. Across India, villagers greatly value their dignity -- you do not find beggars in villages, it is a city phenomenon.

And that is exactly why Goonj does not do charity work -- we instead roll out our Cloth for Work initiative which values the wisdom and resources of village communities and empowers them to work on self-identified issues. As a reward for their efforts to solve their own problems, Goonj gives each participant basic material kits (collected and carefully processed from urban India). That giving turns the receiver into a powerful stakeholder instead of a mere beneficiary or recipient.

The giving that we do in cities is indeed a strong contribution for our nation building but there is another giving that our farmer, our villager is doing to sustain us. It is very important to acknowledge and value that giving which happens with a lot of humility and honesty.

So as we get ready to celebrate the 10th year of India’s festival of giving called #DaanUtsav (2nd to 8th Oct), it is perhaps the time to acknowledge these silent givers of our country and learn from them.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Daan Utsav the art of giving philantrophy

Meenakshi Gupta

The author is Co-Founder, Goonj, communication expert, writer, dance movement facilitator, mother and a feminist

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