Delhi: With help from slum women, this hospital goes plastic-free

Humne yeh thana hai, poly bag hatana hai’’ — this is what a poster states in a small room on the roof at a slum cluster in Sunder Nagri. From this little space on the terrace of a dispensary, women of the area churn out thousands of cloth bags and get paid for the job, earning livelihood for their families and doing their bit for a clean and green city.

The women are working under an initiate started by St Stephen’s Hospital in early 2008 in a bid to do away with plastic bags at its premises. ‘‘We were using bio-degradable poly bags at the pharmacy till early 2008 when a young junior doctor initiated the idea that even these should be done away with. When we first thought of cloth bags, we realized that anything fancy would cost too much,’’ said Dr Sudhir Joseph, director of St Stephen’s Hospital.

Of course, the cost question was something that could have been solved. The hunt for a manufacturer who could produce affordable cloth bags led the hospital staff to the women of Sunder Nagri, who, were in the business of packaging spices under Saha Shakti Mahila Cooperative Society. The women were operating from a dispensary — Khadewali Dispensary — where on the ground and first floor, St Stephen’s was running a health centre under its community health initiative.

The women agreed to St Stephen’s proposal and today not only cloth bags have become a way of life at the hospital, the project has also empowered slum women in a significant way. ‘‘From June, we stopped using plastic bags. At the hospital pharmacy we give out medicines to patients or their kin in cloth bags. The initiave supplement income of the women involved in making spices, giving them and their families more financial security,’’ added Dr Amod Kumar, head of community health department at St Stephen’s.

Anywhere between 10,000 to 15,000 bags are produced by the women every month and they all go to St Stephen’s Hospital. Chandrawati, who leads the project, says cloth and other items used while sewing are provided by St Stephen’s Hospital. ‘‘We can carry the material to our homes and make bags in our spare time,’’ she said.

‘‘Cloth bags are very easy to make. We get cloth pieces cut in appropriate shape from the centre itslef. We just need to stitch it. For every bag, we get Re 1. In one lot, we typically stitch five dozen bags,’’ said Rukmani Devi, who has been making these bags since the project started last year. In fact, the success of the initiative led the to join the trade fair at Pragati Maidan last month. Armed with anti-plastic bag slogans, they sold hundreds of bags to shoppers at the fair. After the exposure and response they got at the fair, Chandrawati and her team is now determined to take forward their eco-friendly message and business beyond St Stephen’s.

From TOI

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