Reaching out to the needy

Wayanad-based NGO opens a garment store

Reaching out to the needy
NGO plans to develop store as a dress bank

Nargees Beegum cannot remember dimensions of the new garment store that the NGO she works with – ADORA (Agency for Developmental Operations in Rural Areas) – has opened in Sultan Bathery, in Wayanad district. “I’m not good with all those numbers, it’s a small shop attached to the building our organisation has been functioning in for a long time,” says Nargees, nurse at a private hospital.

Not that the space, defined in terms of square feet or metres, matters much; what really does is that at the store, ADORA is providing free clothes to those who need them – tribes, deserted women and children and tea estate/factory labourers who struggle to stay afloat with their paltry salaries. New clothes are an indulgence many have conditioned themselves to shun.

 At Angels Collections, which opened on February 12, people come and pick their clothes, according to size, for free. The clothes are entirely contributed by donors. While the store does sell used clothes, all washed, pressed and packed, new clothes sent in from garment shops in different parts of the state also form a good part of the collection.

 For about two years, with the help of her friends, Nargees, a native of Kozhikode, has been taking used clothes to the tribal settlements and other residential colonies in Wayanad and Attappadi. “Later, when we visited these homes, we could see that people were still wearing the old, torn clothes. We realised that some of the clothes we supplied were not fitting and of no use to them; probably, there was also a feeling that they had to wear others’ clothes because they didn’t have a choice. That also left us with a feeling of guilt and triggered the idea of providing them new and scarcely-used clothes, organised by size, all with a shopping experience,” Nargees, executive director of ADORA, says.

She has managed to get a good start for the initiative through social media networking. The ADORA team sorts the clothes that are sent in from different locations, picks the best and packs them for the store.

The NGO plans to develop the store as a dress bank. The campaign for the initiative has been pegged to a simple, but effective question -- “What do you want to do with those clothes you’ve rarely worn?” Nargees says she was overwhelmed by the response; particularly heart-warming has been the response to a call to contribute wedding clothes. “Don’t you want to see those clothes becoming more special?” asked the announcement that called for these contributions.

“In these regions, we often get to see brides borrowing clothes from others even for their weddings. After our call, many people sent in their wedding clothes, some of them worth at least Rs 10,000. These are clothes that had been preserved as a fond memory; people who want to make them special for, say, another bride, are coming forward to contribute,” Nargees says.

Community outreach

ADORA, based in Sultan Bathery, has been engaged in community outreach initiatives for about 15 years. The NGO doesn’t claim to peg the new project to empowerment of the marginalised and is, instead, focused on the daily basic needs of people in a region identified with issues related to tribal land and abysmal living conditions among the poor.

“Those who do manage to find work in the estates or factories struggle with extremely low salaries. The men tend to spend most of their money drinking while there are children who go to school without even wearing  undergarments. Now, we have individuals and garment store owners sending in clothes from different parts of the state. We also received 25 churidar sets from a contributor in Bengaluru,” Nargees says.

ADORA is looking at streamlining the familiar ways of collecting clothes for the needy into the structure of a unique repository. The NGO has earlier taken up initiatives to assist the ailing with medical care and is involved in training of beneficiaries in farming and environment-sensitive development projects.

M D Thankachan, secretary of ADORA, says Nargees has brought in a new “sense of direction” to the organisation. With Angels Collections, members of the organisation plan to build on the potential of a simple act of sharing and hope to spread the word.

Two weeks after the inauguration of the store, the ADORA team is finding it difficult to handle demand for the clothes. Nargees says that due to the rush of beneficiaries, the team is not able to properly stock and sort clothes coming in as contributions. The store’s opening time has been shortened and revised to 2 pm to 4.30 pm to ensure better coordination and display. ADORA has already run out of stocks of clothing for girls aged between seven and 15 years.

 “We are now looking for people who could contribute new undergarments and napkins. Most of the girls here can’t afford to use them; they don’t ask anyone either,” Nargees says. On her Facebook page, there are friends who wonder if the store’s take-anything-you-like model of functioning is sustainable. Nargees is positive – “The purpose of this store itself is to provide them that luxury of choice”, she says.

 Nargees, a mother of two, says her husband and family have been very supportive; she invariably works night shift  at the hospital and dedicates her days to her work with ADORA. She’s aware of the constraints in reaching out to a wider population but stepping back is not a choice.

 She narrates the story of Mizriya, a six-year-old girl who always appeared sick during Nargees’ visits to the child’s home. “When we took her to the hospital, the doctor told us she wasn’t suffering from any disease; her only problem was malnutrition and the effect had already piled on for six years. These stories could be surprising for those who perceive themselves as part of a civilised, progressive world,” she says. Nargees had little Mizriya inaugurate ADORA’s garment store.

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