If you were to address three pertinent social issues, what would they be? Unemployment, poverty and wastage of resources are three widespread areas where no amount of work spells enough result. In economies like India, the gaping disparity among classes is highly pronounced. While a neighbour dumps last night's leftover spaghetti and meatballs into the trashcan, hundreds and thousands of slum dwellers resort to rag picking and look out for tiny tid-bits to hush their hungry bellies.
When SmartCooky began buckling up for the upcoming festive season, the team went all out in search of the best ways to showcase the exciting range of products that exist on the website. A carefully curated medley of organic savouries, nuts, herbal beauty products and healthy munchies needed an equally unique exhibition, something that would justify the concept of our festive boxes. Then somebody whispered 'Gulmeher' to us, and nothing seemed to delight us beyond.
What is so unique about Gulmeher?
It is the cause for which it stands. Gulmeher is the brainchild of the social inclusion group of IL&FS (Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services) which "strives to conserve natural resources, protect the environment and restore standards of living for those affected by its operations". IL&FS engage various stakeholders in the catchment of its projects, so that development is more inclusive, rather than limited to the project companies. One of its projects is the 12 MW Waste to energy Plant in Ghazipur, Delhi, in the vicinity of which resides a colony of waste-picker families. Gulmeher was born with a vision to ensure that the benefits of development reach the underprivileged people at the bottom of the pyramid. In the process of achieving the aforementioned goals Gulmeher educates, employs and empowers the neighbouring underprivileged community.
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Waste management and Social Inclusion
The Ghazipur, East Delhi wholesale flower market reportedly sees 1 ton of waste on a daily basis. Gulmeher employs former waste-picking women from the indigenous underprivileged community. These women learn how to use flower waste to make a range of products - boxes, cards, stationery items, diyas, natural holi colours among other handicraft products.
The seeds that were sown close to three years ago gradually blossomed. "It wasn't easy. They were very skeptical to start with - they couldn't understand why we were there or what we had to gain from the initiative. We partnered with an NGO, IDS, to gain their trust and confidence. They didn't want to travel too far, so we took up a place close to their jhuggis. They couldn't leave their children hence we started a crèche and a children education centre. Some women won't sit for long hours, others would stop coming after few days. A trained NIFT designer has been working with them closely for more than 3 years now. We started with around 3-4 women; now it has risen to 35. Gulmeher is a producer company, which enables these women to also have a share and say in the company and its operations. It is extremely empowering, these women now have a purpose and a certain skill set to keep going even beyond Gulmeher's premises," shared Mr. Kashyap.
There also exist a fully functioning paper recycling unit and a stitching and embroidery unit. "The paper recycling unit recycles all paper waste collected from various offices, institutes and organisations and turn it into re-useable paper material. There are women employed in stitching and embroidery unit as well. Some of their work has even been showcased in selected FabIndia clothing - little work on the neck or some design on the cuffs," expressed Anurag.
Gulmeher is a project that needs incessant lauding and like its name - Gul means flower and meher stands for blessing in Punjabi - it brings happiness and joy to so many souls. We at SmartCooky couldn't have imagined a better Diwali. Our handpicked products are curated to complement your Diwali festivities, packed in boxes handcrafted and designed by the women of Gulmeher. Let this Diwali be a landmark in the name of sustainability, empowerment, good health and prosperity.
Image credits: Gulmeher official website and Facebook page