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Trash-to-Cash uses art and traditional techniques to restore dignity to Indian people with disabilities

May 14, 2013
Trash-to-Cash recycles waste using traditional Indian artisanal techniques with contemporary designs by people with disabilities.

At the beginning, there was an NGO, Society For Child Development. The mission of SFCD is to provide disabled children with education. But Madhumita Puri, founder of the NGO, had to face more and more parents wondering why they should put their child to school, since it was obvious that their disability would prevent them from getting any job later on.

And just like that, the idea of Trash-to-Cash slowly arose in Madhumita’s mind: she decided to tackle the problem herself and create those lacking job opportunities to allow disabled people to find decent work. Work that would be adapted to their capacities and inabilities, should they be physical or mental; and work that respects Indian traditions of artisanal handicrafts. Madhumita chose to teach disabled people traditional handicraft techniques to make art objects and products targeted at artists, thus fighting for another of her wishes: protecting the amazing cultural diversity of India.

Trash-to-Cash recycles waste using traditional Indian artisanal techniques with contemporary designs by people with disabilities.

This social enterprise dedicates its activities to 4 specific streams of production and revenue:

  • Recycling flowers from temples in order to make large quantities of Holi colors (*colors used during Holi festival all around India): last year, they produced and sold 9 000 kgs of powder. Here, the work itself (to cut, to sort the flowers…) is extremely simple and can be done by any disabled person; the administration and coordination, which are more complex tasks, are done by cognitively “normal” people who might have lighter, physical disabilities;
  • Salvaging household goods (old fabric, old clothes…) from people who want to get rid of them and have heard about Trash-to-Cash’s rather popular program, and manufacturing handmade paper out of them. This handmade paper is of very good quality and mostly sold to artists looking for nice, authentic and solid sheets of paper for their pieces of art;
  • Weaving old rolls of audio and videotape of various size and color and converting them into bags, wallets and other accessories with patterns showing a strong link to Indian traditional art, but always with a modern twist;
  • Collecting post-production waste from factories and converting them into conference items (like folders, bags…).

Process of recycling flowers from temples in order to make colored powder to be used during traditional Holi festival (the “Festival of colors”) all around India

Everything happens in the project’s center, in North Delhi, a rather small center but “we have a great utilization of space there!” (laughs).

All the manufactured items are sold under the brand Trash-to-Cash thanks to a spoiled cycle-rickshaw they refurbished and decorated. “The cycle-rickshaw is our shop!”, jokes Madhumita. “There is a very popular market in Delhi where we park it once, twice a month.” Although the project is getting more and more popular locally in India, there are only a few buyers from Australia and other countries. But they are still in the process of opening an online shop, which could completely broaden their scope and visibility in the world.

“The fact that they are bringing money to the family means in the eyes of the world that they are capable”

People with disabilities, specifically those who are unskilled or not educated, are considered as a burden by their community, and sometimes even their family. “Fortunately or unfortunately, it’s money that drives everyone’s sense of value.”, says Madhumita.

Based on the belief that everybody has something to offer, Trash-to-Cash makes absolutely no discrimination: they work with people with all types of disabilities, whether blind, hearing-impaired, with a physical disability or a more challenging one, like autism, mental illness, etc. Madhumita believes that it is up to us to identify what these people can be good at and fit that thing into our system, so that they can contribute.

Trash-to-Cash is a profitable social business. After paying the salaries of the disabled people and her team, Madhumita is proud to say that she has the capacity of funding her parent NGO Society for Child Development, giving the opportunity to more disabled children and young adults to have access to education. And just like that, the circle is complete.

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