My name is Jodie Underhill and I am the co-founder of Waste Warriors. People always ask lots of questions about my work and my life so I thought it made sense to answer the most popular ones here. My journey with waste is on the Our History page so feel free to have a look at that too.
Why did I choose to work with garbage?
I didn’t choose garbage, it chose me! When I witnessed how severe India’s garbage problem is, it completely broke my heart. I also realised then that I’d found my life’s mission. I love a challenge and I’ve picked up lots of garbage whilst on my travels even before coming to India.
There is a social stigma attached to garbage that simply doesn’t affect me as I’m from a society that doesn’t have a caste system. I’ve been raised to believe that we’re all equals. Sweeping, scrubbing paan stains, picking up dirty nappies or garbage that has been urinated on doesn’t bother me one bit. I don’t see it as someone else’s job, I just get on and do whatever needs to be done As the organisation grows I have less time to get involved in clean ups and it’s something I genuinely miss. They make you feel very close to nature.
Where did the name ‘Garbage Girl’ come from?
Soon after I started organizing mass clean-ups in McLeod Ganj some of the locals then the media started calling me Garbage Girl. The name has stuck but it doesn’t bother me, being called a girl when was 39 years old was actually quite nice.
What inspires me to keep going?
My motivation and inspiration comes from my love for India and a strong belief that change is possible. No matter what situations we are faced with and no matter how difficult things get, I never feel like giving up. Every challenge and hurdle we face makes me more determined to succeed. My team and volunteers are also a constant source of inspiration; I am blessed to have such fantastic people in my life. I couldn’t do this without them.
What are your other passions?
One of our values as an organisation is the welfare of all beings, including stray and abandoned animals. When I was a child my Mum always used to rescue them when they were injured or unwanted and would talk to them as if they were people. Now I understand why and I share the same passion. I understand animals better than I understand people. They are God's children too and it breaks my heart to see how animals are treated here in India. One day we hope India will have rescue centres across the country.
What did I do before coming to India?
I didn’t go to university, I left school and went to the British Racing School as I spent most of my childhood riding horses and wanted to be a jockey. During my ‘twenties’ I started travelling the world and did a number of jobs in the UK to make that dream possible. I worked as a Fundraising Assistant and Volunteer Co-ordinator for charities, a Receptionist, a Personal Assistant and a Legal Editor to name a few. I now realise that all of those jobs gave me the experience and skills I need to successfully run an NGO.
Do I really think Waste Warriors can tackle India’s Garbage Crisis?
Yes, 100% ! I have already seen improvements especially in the areas we are working in and know that one-day our initiatives will be all across the country.In the areas we have transformed, people are starting to feel a sense of civic pride and that’s very important. India may not be clean in my lifetime but we have to start somewhere and the work will most certainly continue long after I am gone.
What can YOU do to help?
I want you to know that you can make a difference, what we do as individuals, families, schools, businesses and communities really does matter. Vow never to throw garbage on the ground and teach your children to do the same, segregate your waste at home, sign up to a waste collection service whenever possible, say no to plastic bags and carry a cloth one with you instead.
Talk to your family and friends about India’s garbage crisis and how much nicer things would be if it were clean. If you genuinely love India you won’t have a problem with doing all of the above. Change is possible but it has to start with YOU!
Hi! I am Tashi Pareek, the “unofficial” co-founder of Waste Warriors. Why unofficial? Because when we were setting the organization up, I had absolutely no clue of what I was getting into or what would come of it! I just did what seemed right.
Here’s a little about me and how I came into the picture.
How did it all start?
With Google! Like most city slickers, I wanted a way out from the madness of Mumbai. I decided to volunteer for a few months in search of a different experience - and different it was!
I spent some of the coldest months of my life in Dharamsala, trash picking, hiking, managing volunteers, working with waste and waste workers, participating in a flash mob, facing the camera, public speaking. In short, doing things I had never done before. I let go of my inhibitions, embraced what came along and sunk deep into the world of waste.
When my time was up, I felt I hadn't achieved enough. It was an unfinished job (and still is). I didn’t want to go back to Mumbai so continued working till it became my life’s purpose.
How did I become the co-founder?
My new job as Project Manager of Mountain Cleaners, post the volunteering phase didn’t last for too long as Jodie and I resigned in August 2012. We decided we wanted our work to benefit the whole country not just the mountains so we registered Waste Warriors in September 2012 supported by a well connected and highly experienced Executive Managing Committee.
The beginnings of Waste Warriors were as scary and as beautiful as giving birth to a child. Every little step was a big moment, there was always so much to be done. Those were the days of no money, our waste workers were richer than us. Interns were invited for a project that was not even ready. We sold cakes on the street to get some money coming in, our scrap dealer gave us free bags to pick up waste. When you hit rock bottom, the only way is up. So that’s what happened and all our hard work paid off.
Life Prior to Waste Warriors?
A typical city life, but also unconventional in the sense that I was raised by a single dad, was the eldest of the two daughters, was rebellious and responsible at the same time. I took over my dad’s business at the age of 22 and was running it for three years before I ventured into waste management.
Why work with waste?
It’s a problem that is in our face every single day, but we choose to ignore it. Waste affects every single person on this planet irrespective of who we are or where we come from. We are all interconnected by this word called “the environment”. I am happy knowing that I will spend my life serving it.
How is it working with the Garbage Girl?
It’s fun, crazy and you end up surprising yourself and others. It’s also tough, because you have to listen to your fellow Indians make stupid and embarrassing comments like “only a foreigner can do this”. There are many Indians doing excellent work in this field, they simply don’t get noticed as much. Let’s not be biased.
My prior qualifications and experience?
In the field of waste management, I had no experience or qualifications but running my own business taught me many skills, combined with plenty of life experiences. I learnt the same way as Jodie, by being in the field and getting hands-on experience.
Why did I leave Waste Warriors?
Waste Warriors will always be a part of my life no matter where I go. I am eager to learn and grow more and hence I have taken a decision to explore more in this field. After studying waste management and environment studies in Germany, I am now back in India to put what I have learned into practice.
Most of us strive to find our true passions and just end up succumbing to the mediocrities of life. I am fortunate to do something that I completely believe in. I owe this to Waste Warriors.
The filth is in our minds not just in our surroundings. If we can’t change our attitude, how and when do you think will the system change in our country? Let’s all take that small step towards a cleaner India!