A few days ago, 100 Parsi children between the ages of 5 and 15 set out to make a difference to the lives of underprivileged people in the city, and in the process, set an example of giving.
The children, affiliated to Xtremely Young Zoroastrians (XYZ), a voluntary organisation, collected old and unused shoes from homes in 21 Parsi colonies across the city, from Colaba to Goregaon. Between 9.30 a.m. and 12.30 p.m., they collected 12,199 pairs of shoes, which were given to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) like Hamara Footpath, Goonj, Angel Xpress Foundation, Oscar Foundation and others, to be distributed to those in need.
“We are a small community, but wanted to make a big impact on the city,” says Hoshaang Gotla, founder of XYZ Foundation.
The collection drive was termed ‘XYZ Stepping Forward’, under the organisation’s MAD (Make A Difference) initiative. Apart from the shoes, the drive also included collecting money from Parsi residents, which will go towards buying football stockings and studs for the Organisation for Social Change Awareness and Responsibility (OSCAR) Foundation. The NGO addresses community issues in the Ambedkar Nagar slum through football.
XYZ also plans to raise money for the Jaipur Foot. It aims to donate at least 10 to 20 prosthetic legs to those in need.
The rationale for the event was simple. “All it takes is one pair of shoes to make a difference. A lot of people suffer foot illnesses or have no footwear, whereas the middle and upper middle classes have at least one or two extra pairs at home,” says Mr. Gotla. The idea was for the Parsis to initially tap into their own homes for shoes, as this would be relatively easier to start with.
The drive involved running an advertising campaign in the community newspaper, Parsi Times, which gave XYZ the space for free. The campaign had three components. The first was ‘Donate’, which spelt out details such as where, when, and to whom the shoes could be given. Children from the community also made posters which they stuck in their respective housing societies. Messages were also sent on social media.
The second component was ‘Recycle’, which urged families to give away shoes they were not using, while the third was ‘Boot Aapo’, which translates from Gujarati to ‘give your shoes’.
Once the shoes were collected, they were sorted by volunteers into categories like, ‘male,’ ‘female’ and ‘child’, and packed into bags along with labels indicating the number of shoes in each category. These were then transported through tempos to various NGOs, and where the numbers were large, to the godown of NGO, Goonj, in Mira Road. The response was so overwhelming that storage became an issue. “We had to hire a second godown, and two more tempos,” says Mr. Gotla.Goonj, for instance, needed the shoes for distribution all over the city, and has told XYZ it can handle larger numbers for use across the country.
The drive also faced some obstacles. Children tire easily, plus this was exam season. The result was that only 100 children came out with their parents and friends to take the drive forward. But those who did, say it was transformative. The experience made 13-year-old Riyan Karbhari “very happy”. When he went out to collect shoes from seven buildings at the Salsette Parsi Colony in Andheri with his friends, there were the odd residents who slammed the door in their face or simply refused to part with shoes or money. “We did feel bad, but we didn’t let that spoil our mood,” says Riyan. His mother Nazneen, was happy about the leadership qualities the drive had instilled in her son and the other children. “During the conversation back at home, the children were saying things like, ‘Every time I want a new pair of shoes I’ll stop to think about whether I need to buy it’.”
The children also had to do a good bit of planning and execution in the stipulated three hours. “They had the opportunity to interact with various types of people and age groups, which gave them a different perspective.”
Pakzin Khodaiji, 13, who was also involved in the drive, said she had spread the word among her friends in school. “I feel very nice that I am helping someone lead a better life,” she said.
This may just be the beginning, though. Under phase-II of the drive, XYZ has set itself a target of nearly 60,000 shoes. On December 17 this year, XYZ will have children, parents and volunteers fan out to 60 schools across the city, and aim to collect at least 1,000 pairs from each school. And if it’s shoes this year, XYZ will look at extending the ‘giving’ to one new item in every successive year for people in need.
It’s not difficult, says Mr. Gotla.“This is not an XYZ initiative only. We want to be a catalyst for change. It just takes a little effort. People have not just shoes, but blankets, soaps and even umbrellas to spare. All they need to do is reach out.”