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DR. MADHUMITA PURI @ Trash to Cash -Adding the Colours of Joy to Life

Cultivating Creativity
Great accomplishments have often resulted from ideas whose time has come. And the time for this enterprise came ahead of its time; it was almost two decades ago, when they started upcycling flowers into organic colours for Holi, the Indian festival of colours that heralds spring. These colours, sold under the brand name of Avacayam, are uncontaminated by toxic elements and cause no harm to the skin or the earth upon eventual disposal.

Today, flowers are collected from temples and hotels like Leela, Maurya and Le Meridian throughout the year to be upcycled into not only colours but also incense, flower dye and pot pourri. They would have otherwise only contaminated the rivers or added to the landfill waste. But that’s not all…

Plastic banners in the metro displaying ads/ destinations are upcycled into attractive boxes for packaging with the cover made from waste cloth.

Bael or stone apple fruit, used for worshipping Lord Shiva during the festival of Shivratri in September, is upcycled into Diyas or lamps for spreading light. Like the Lord who destroys to recreate, the fruit that He is worshipped with too gets recreated and repurposed into a handmade lamp or diya during the Festival of lights in India – Diwali. So the waste of one festival becomes the resource for another.

This enterprise is the brainchild of Dr. Madhumita Puri. The spirit of light, understanding, craftsmanship, skill, and excellence shine through Dr Madhumita as she sits in her workshop conversing in sign language with her second-in-command, a person with hearing disabilities. What’s more? He in turn gets the specifications for the orders made to the T by others down the chain who have either physical or cognitive challenges. Upcycling trash to cash happens to be a process through which another purpose is accomplished apart from the environmental impact. Creative recycling generates employment opportunities for about  90 disabled people who are paid according to their skills and have a chance to lead a life with dignity, freedom, respect and joy.

A Journey in Search of Life Beyond Disability
Those who have seen the darkness have much light to give. Madhumita PuriAnd this is true for Dr. Madhumita, who worked as a clinical psychologist in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), a premier government hospital in Delhi more than two decades ago. Being in the genetics unit she was exposed to children with genetic defects and parents who came in search of cure while what was needed more was acceptance and solution and hope for a future.

Working in a large institution she felt caught in the nature of the job, subject to an overwhelming abundance of societal convictions and institutional limitations where she felt her own identity was swallowed. What followed was a journey in search of an identity for the disabled and the hope for a better living.

At that time, almost 25 years ago, there were hardly any educational opportunities for the disabled and ‘inclusive’ and ‘integration’ were not common. The opportunities were further limited for those from the lower income group and, thus, marginalized by society. She determined to work amongst such people, and so emerged a school in North Delhi where she imparted education and made special workbooks as professionally she understood the learning abilities and limitations. She was largely supported in her work by various individuals and organizations. However, as these children grew there posed the question of how they could support themselves instead of being a burden on others, of how opportunities could be born for them to lead a normal life. A quest followed for the perfect opportunity to ‘bridge the gap’ between education and employment that required plentiful raw resources, ideas, courage and yet was simple enough for the disabled to work on.

An Idea Germinates

Flowers 2Providence has its appointed hour for everything and so did it for this quest. Near the school that Madhumita ran was a small temple where the Gods were worshipped with fresh flowers everyday. However, when the older flowers were discarded, they would lie rotting in the hot sun awaiting eventual disposal into the holy rivers as they would be picked up only a week later. In the meantime, the stench made life unbearable for the neighbours. Madhumita, determined to take on the mantle of disposal herself, could not consciously add to the death and decay of a river. And so was born the idea of using the waste flowers into a useful product like organic colours for Holi. It was a God given opportunity for bridging the gap for the disabled people as they could do such simple tasks as segregation and drying of flowers.

An Enterprise Blossoms
In an effort to unlock the creative potential of people with disability the path kept unfolding as new ideas kept taking shape. The flagship program of Holi colours diversified into other products like weaving and conference bags are woven on orders.purse And, now bags are woven not only from old cloth but also biscuit wrappers and tape…yes, the tape in audio cassettes from yesteryears that in the download age finds no takers. So old bedsheets in good condition are used for disabled children in a hostel, while those frayed are recycled into paper.

Not only did the range of products grow but also the scope and size of the program with global markets. The products were  available on Walmart which supports a circular economy i.e. moving away from a take-make-waste culture to cycling back waste into the economic stream. Today, outreach centres have been established in Varanasi, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka where skills training is imparted. In association with the National Skill Development Corporation, 26,000 people with disability are receiving skill training in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Madhumita has also received the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN-ESCAP) Disability-Inclusive Entrepreneurial Business of the Year award in the Asia-Pacific region in December 2013.

Nothing is allowed to go waste in this workshop where ideas exist. So the roses from hotel bouquets are dried into Holi powder, the stems are used for making pens and the seeds are used for making seed paper…whenever the paper biodegrades the seeds mixed in them will germinate giving new life to new plants and so the circle of life on earth will continue.

If you, too, have something going waste… donate it to this program.

Trash to cash products may also be soured online @ http://www.snapdeal.com, http://www.flipkart.com or http://www.trashtocashindia.com

 

 

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