The Tamil Nadu government banned single-use plastics on 1 January 2019. But a year before this order came, two teen brothers had already started their fight against the all-pervading polythene bags. Engaging women with intellectual disabilities to stitch cloth bags, these brothers distributed these bags to vendors for free as an alternative to polybags.
Chennai based brothers Jai (17) and Preet Aswani (13) have so far distributed more than 1 lakh cloth bags and the plan is to continue this through 2020 as well.
A Visit to an Old Age Home that Led to an Idea
Jai and Preet were visiting an old age home in the city where they met a group of women with intellectual disabilities. The boys were inspired to see that the organisation was training the women in various vocational skills. The brothers noticed that the women’s expertise lay in stitching cloth bags.
“We wanted to do something for these women and help them use their skills actively. While brainstorming about a plan of action, we thought of combining their expertise and working for the environment, especially the menace of single-use plastic. Thus, we came up with the idea of asking them to stitch cloth bags as an alternative to environment-harming polybags.”
“We looked around to source cloth and found it to be very expensive. It was during this time that the boys decided to collect old bed-sheets from hotels and use those to make the cloth bags,” informs Varsha Aswani, the proud mother of these teen boys with an eco and social conscience.
Bedsheets to Bags
To spread the word on the initiative, the boys took to not just social media but started speaking to their friends, both in school and their neighbourhood. Before they knew it, they had many hotels in the city reaching out to them with a helping hand.
“These bed-sheets were old only in name – each hotel had ensured that they were thoroughly cleaned, ironed and before being sent. In a span of just one month, we used the bedsheets to make and distribute 1 lakh cloth bags for free,” shares Jai.
When asked how they accumulated funds for the stitching charges, Varsha informs, “It was friends and family who pitched in. The cost of getting these bags made ranged from Rs 3 to 5, depending on their size, and the money that was collected was handed over to the women, depending on the number of bags they made.”
Jai adds that the donations amounted to Rs 3.5 lakhs, which they distributed amongst NGOs working with the blind and other self-help groups.
“Bed-sheets were pouring in from all over and as we kept them at our home, it was one big pile of bed-sheets. The response was so overwhelming that there was a time when there was no place to walk around in the house,” says Preet.
The Determination to Continue the Initiative
Both Jai and Preet wish to take this forward in 2020 too. “We want to collaborate with donors or corporates and get a truck or some other vehicle to collect bed-sheets and pillow covers from various locations across the city. We are looking to get more hotels, universities, apartments, and hostels as well,” informs Jai.
Preet interjects here and informs me that they are planning to adopt an area within the city and make it completely plastic free.
Both the boys have been the recipient of several awards and recognition. Infact, Jai is the youngest recipient of the ‘Param Award’ and the ‘Young Achiever Award’ from Bharat Nirma, Delhi.
“The conversations in my house often revolve around the pollution being caused, how we can change that and what steps we could take for it,” shares Varsha.
And I believe that such parenting skills can bring big changes. The desire to make a change is strong among these boys and while they are still in their teenage years, the lessons they leave us with are deeply impactful.
If you wish to help the boys or contribute in any way they can be reached at +91-9884361161
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)