It is the month of November.  Gunju, a 10-year-old stands outside the NDLS Railway Station in the national capital. She fears the night that is approaching. As the traffic starts to decrease, she can clearly hear the winds howling. She does not have a proper home like thousands of other children. She lives under a temporary plastic shelter on the footpath, a few kilometres away from the tracks.  During the day the sun and the crowd come to her rescue. After the sun sets, the temperature starts to drop quickly. She only has a thin piece of cloth that will protect her from the biting cold. She prays for the night to pass quickly; for the first rays of sun to hit her. One day she sees people coming with cartons towards the footpath where she lives. The people started distributing blankets to all living on the footpath. Gunju waited patiently till one person came to her and handed her a blanket. She looked at him and gave a wide smile. For her, he was a saviour.  The blanket was torn at some places but she was grateful. It was much better than the thin ‘dupatta’ she had.


This is the story of a million of people across India as winter strikes. With no proper shelter and clothing, people struggle through the chilling months. According to the Indian Meteorological Department, more Indians die due to cold waves than heat waves. In 2018, around 200 people died across the country due to extreme cold. Most of the people who died are those who don't have enough to protect themselves from the cold. It seems not everyone is as lucky as Gunju. As the world battles global warming and changing climate patterns, disasters like extreme heat and cold waves, floods, earthquakes, cyclones, tsunamis, etc have become very common. As a result, people are displaced and there is shortage of essential items, apart from loss of life and property. 


When disaster strikes, the government carries out relief programs. But even before the government, there are local NGOs who reach out to the people. NGOs working towards relief programs make sure that essential items like food packets, clothes, sanitary items reach the people affected by the disaster. For carrying out these programmes, NGOs need donations from the society. A greater section of the society believes in philanthropy and hence, people donate generously to the NGOs, in both cash and kind. Generally, NGOs do not have any specific requirements while accepting donations in kind and that is where they face the real problem.


While people are happy and take pride in donating (which they should because it is a noble deed), they often have very wrong notions about what to donate. In the idea of goodwill, people generally end up donating items which might not be at the end users’ disposal.  There have been various instances where people donate old and used belongings that are not in condition to be re-used.  When asked for clothes, donations come in the form of torn garments, soiled innerwear and dirty bedsheets. Sometimes mattresses bitten by rats and full of bed bugs, foul smelling blankets are donated by people. People donate ripped shoes and stained towels. When people donate shirts or sweaters, they forget to check for missing buttons and broken zips.  In case of food, grains infested with insects are donated. Sometimes, even stale and leftover food in very small quantities is given away.  Basically, all these items are of no use.


All NGOs do not have the time and the funds to do the repairs or dispose of the waste. Moreover, those who are actually going to use the donated items may not have the resources to do the repairs. The entire idea of helping someone, making someone's life better through charity or donation goes for a toss when people donate stuff that can't be utilised. People confuse donation with waste disposal. We think that people know what to donate. That is not always the case. People have a false sense of what giving means and most of them don't even care. Donating such items challenges the basic dignity of the needy people who need these items the most.


Food, clothing and shelter are three basic human needs. It is heart-wrenching to see that some people in the society are deprived of these too. It is our responsibility to see to it that we do our best to make life better for somebody who is already suffering.  Someone’s dire need should not be taken for granted. Our act of ‘thought’ benevolence should not hurt a fellow human being’s integrity. Hence it is important for us to understand what to donate. While donating it is better to have an idea of what ‘not’ to donate rather than what to donate. 


Donate often, donate generously but more importantly, donate sensibly. 


-Kruti Joshi


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