ACORN Foundation India stands strong and proud on four Rs: Reduce, Recycle, Reuse and Respect. ACORN Foundation India Trust organises ragpickers and train them in scientific methods of waste handling, segregation and recycling.
“We want to highlight their work in protection of the environment,” says Vinod Shetty of the Acorn Foundation. “We want the government to set up a board whereby polluters pay a cess of about one per cent which can go towards giving these ragpickers a proper income with safe equipment like gloves and other amenities. We want them to be trained in how to handle toxic waste and expertise in recycling goods in a non-hazardous way.”
The Dharavi Project in Mumbai is an initiative of the ACORN Foundation (India), and is a registered charitable trust. The Dharavi Project is a multimedia project that utilizes artists and social-impact programs to change the living conditions of over 100,000, ‘rag-pickers’ who are segregating waste in and around the landfills of Mumbai. Its mission is to increase the welfare of rag-pickers, and give their profession a legitimate and sustainable voice in the recycling and waste-management value chain at Dharavi.
The 8000 tons of waste generated daily by the city cannot be entirely picked up by the municipal corporation, and the gap is filled by Mumbai’s rag-pickers who pick up the tons of garbage littering the streets. For this work they are not paid by the city and the city does not recognize them as a workforce. These thousands of children women and youth earn a living by selling the dry waste to scrap dealers, and most of the rag-pickers make barely 75-100 rupees a day.
The Dharavi Project has been working with the community of rag-pickers in the slums of Dharavi, and hopes to give them the credit they deserve as green collar workers who are cleaning our vibrant but messy city. The hard labour of Mumbai’s rag-pickers has ensured a place for Dharavi as one of the largest recycling hubs in Asia.
For a start, all members of the Dharavi Project are being given identity cards. They have formed their own committee which is involved in waste awareness programmes. In one programme, young ragpickers are partnering with schools in waste management. Currently there are some 350 members of the Dharavi Project.
The foundation has also undertaken another initiative – to organise health clinics, programmes and workshops from which young children engaged in ragpicking can get some kind of informal education in music, photography and other arts. A number of artistes have participated in such programmes, among them singers Shankar Mahadevan, Sunita Rao and Apache Indian and Katrina Kaif. “Nearly 40 per cent of those in the waste business are children and women,” says Shetty. “We do not want to support child labour but realise that this sector needs alternatives. We hope such cultural events will help them think differently.”
Vinod Shetty is the Director of the ACORN Foundation India, and he is an advocate practicing at the Mumbai High Court. He has been working on communal harmony, environmental protection and human rights for a number of years. And he has also been the delegation leader for the Indo-Pakistan Seeds of Peace program.
ACORN Foundation is a registered charitable trust currently working in Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru. ACORN Foundation India is affiliated with ACORN International, working in twelve countries around the world. Our organisation in India was established in 2005, when our campaign focused on protecting the livelihoods of hawkers and small traders.
ACORN has been involved for the last two years in a Waste Matters campaign in 23+ schools across Mumbai. This multimedia and hands-on programme helps to increase the recognition of the rag-picker’s role in alleviating our waste issues in urban India. And it helps schools and other partners with moving towards zero-waste solutions. This work of ours has involved screening documentary films (funded by Dharavi Project) in schools, taking school kids together with Dharavi rag-pickers on trips to amusement parks, and initiating a waste collection, segregation and disposal programme in 23+ schools. ACORN’s rag-picker members from Dharavi also collect the dry waste twice a week from these same schools in Mumbai, to then be segregated in Dharavi. We are in the process of expanding this program beyond schools, to include housing societies and corporates. Because of our growing successes, we were also invited to the Lonavala’s municipal counsel’s tender for waste management and working with their rag-pickers.
Annual Eco-Fair and Ongoing Awareness Campaigns
ACORN partnered this year with The American Center, Mumbai, to launch a 1-month long Water to Earth campaign starting 22nd March, International Water Day. This campaign highlighted water and conservation issues in the city, and featured workshops, films on recycling, water preservation, global warming and alternative energy. The campaign spread awareness by distributing posters and leaflets in numerous school and retail locations around the city, and by taking a mobile exhibition around the city and connecting directly with youth.
This campaign culminated on the 18th April at a day-long Earth Fair in the Maharashtra Nature Park, Mumbai, which is a well-rehabilitated landfill that is now a park that also contains innovations in rainwater harvesting and solar heating. Attendees included 400+ students and members in attendance from all across the school systems of Mumbai, prominent artists, actors, writers and firms specializing in water treatment. The fair featured workshops, films on recycling, water preservation, and global warming and alternative energy demonstrations.
The music event Rags to Raga saw various musicians taking the stage. This Earth Fair of ACORN India is now an annual event for the citizens of Mumbai, specially dedicated to students. Last year’s event was a major success; and so was this year’s. “The idea was to bring children from different financial backgrounds together and make them understand their joint role in conserving the environment,” said Vinod Shetty, director of ACORN Foundation India. The fair began with a long line of students queuing up to be registered before moving on to experiencing nature walks organised by volunteers.
Other activities on offer to the kids included adventure sports, photo exhibitions, a drawing competition, and film screenings covering eco-friendly themes. The evening ended with a vigorous music session that saw Shankar Mahadevan’s troupe members Anushka Mani and Raghav Mahadevan belt out a succession of Bollywood numbers that had the kids on their feet and dancing to their tunes, while Suneeta Rao regaled the crowd with both her popular hits and a special song on global warming composed for the occasion. The last act belonged to rock bands Ankur Tewari and Something Relevant, who finished the evening in grand style.
ACORN has in the process of setting up a basic waste segregation facility in Dharavi, in order to give rag-pickers a secure area to collect and then safely segregate their dry waste and e-waste before then selling it on to traders and middlemen in the local recycling industry.
Purchase of Recycled Products
ACORN is helping some corporates gain access to ultra low-cost recycled items such as corrugated paper boxes from Dharavi recyclers that ACORN has a trusted non-profit relationship with. While helping the recyclers attain sustainable and fair price points, and increase the demand for rag-pickers.
Music/Arts Events with Top Performers
As part of our mission to use the arts to further our ACORN outreach, we have partnered with Blue Frog, arguably India’s leading musical-performance venue. Besides helping Blue Frog with their dry waste management, a number of artists who are invited to Blue Frog to perform are also scheduled to visiting Dharavi and the nature park to conduct ACORN-organized workshops with kids and then perform pro bono. ACORN also hopes to raise some funds through this activity, to further a number of our other programs (as mentioned above). Six musicians were present at the April 18th eco fair from 4pm onwards, under the banner “Dharavi Rocks.” The first major workshop and Blue Frog –related gig was on April 29th when the internationally recognized beatbox band Boxettes from the UK came to the Dharavi nature park.