In our life’s journey, we come across people travelling their own paths. With some of them, we share our feelings and emotions, and establish relationships that may last forever. Each of these journeys is unique in its own way and yet, we find similarities. As humans, we are blessed to be able to express our feelings and share them in the form of stories. In the year 2019, when I worked with Waste Warriors Society, as an India Fellow, I was fortunate to cross paths with many people from whom I learnt a lot. As the fellowship year is coming to an end, I cannot help but reminisce a few moments and learning.
Meet the young COO of Waste Warriors. Thanks to his amicable personality that many interns, fellows and volunteers fail to believe him in the role of a COO. He started as a volunteer when he was in his final year of graduation. The passion and zeal to learn new things and skills have driven him to head the organization now. His journey has inspired many people. Avinash has all the patience to bear the mistakes of a new team member, and there is a reason behind it. He has not forgotten his initial days, when he worked with Jodie Underhill, our founder. He still shares many stories of those times when he used to make terrible mistakes and Jodie used to admonish him. What kept him going was the attitude to challenge himself against all odds. Today, he fuels everybody in the office with the same energy.
I dare you keep your waste at the wrong place in our office. If you do, better get ready for a lesson by Ankita. She works to raise awareness on waste segregation and composting at the household level. Ankita is a perfect example of keeping a parity in our words and actions. She considers it wrong, even sinful I guess, to not practice what she preaches to others. Owing to the temptations of convenience and comfort, it is hard for many of us to stay authentic to ourselves but Ankita does it commendably well. She had also joined Waste Warriors as a volunteer but her passion led her to full-time role. Ankita is promoting the good waste management behaviour among us. No matter the platform, she never hesitates from pitching ideas to manage waste better. I have seen her telling street vendors and stall owners to keep a dustbin and use less plastic for packing food. She has also offered solutions at weddings where we only went to have food and fun.
Read more: A Talk With Ankita Chamola
I have been working closely with waste pickers in Dehradun and hence, I met Chandrakala ji within a month of joining Waste Warriors. She belongs to a small village in Muzaffarpur, Bihar and has been into waste picking (rag-picking) since last 12 years. All the waste she collects, she sells it to the organization. Each time I go to meet her, she offers tea not just as a sign of hospitality but also because she feels a sense of pride in being able to offer something. I don’t resist anymore. It might sound naive, even funny but I feel them to be empowered, momentarily, while in a position to offer.
One day, I candidly asked Chandrakala ji, “How do you feel about the way people behave with you at workplace?” She said, “People don’t talk to me and sometimes change their direction. They fear that I might ask them for money or something else. “बेटा हम महनत कर के खाते हैं, हम भिखारी के जैसे हाथ नहीं फैला सकते लेकिन हमारे साथ वैसा ही बर्ताव होता है।” (I earn my living with hard work. I can’t and won’t beg but get treated the same way.)
Kavitha is our Fitness and Wellness instructor who has been looking after and improving our physical and mental well-being through Yoga. She takes Yoga classes for us twice a week. Kavitha also runs her own initiative, Globracers where she organizes ultra-marathons in different locations. These marathons range from the distance of 100 kms to 200 kms. Organizing events of scale and each time, in a different location, takes lot of effort. She is also a mother which occupies a lot of her time. The way Kavitha has been living her various responsibilities, without compromising on any of them, is truly inspirational. From where I see, she does it amazingly well. Yoga is her way of life. It gives her the energy to focus and while I learn a few asanas, I’m looking forward to learn the commitment and dedication she exhibits as well.
Green Workers At Waste Warriors
There are about 20 people working on the field at Waste Warriors engaged in activities like lane cleaning, waste segregation, waste collection from various businesses and dumping the waste in dump-yard. We call them Green workers. They are our hands, and each one of them have a distinct life outside work which is undoubtedly challenging. They work on a nominal salary, and often do part-time odd jobs or double shifts. Most of them are also members of Uday, an SHG I helped form.
After working all day through smelling garbage, what brings them back is only their alignment with the cause for which we are working. They are proud to be the warriors and so am I.