There is an honesty shop in Gimmelwald, Switzerland called The Honesty Shop. Clearly, it is unmanned. Meaning you can walk into the shop, check the products on sale, choose any you like and leave your payment in a box. No one is going to see if you secretly slide a little keychain into your back pocket and walk away whistling. It is just that they don’t believe anyone would, when they are so trusting.
The villagers in Vankulathuvayal, in Azhikode, Kannur, it would seem, feel the same way. Nearly all of them know each other, and trust that no one is going to come and take things away from an unmanned stall full of products made by the bedridden. So, on January 1 this year, an NGO called Janashakti Trust decided to open just such a stall in the village. It's called Pratheeksha Self Counter. And till date, there has not only been no theft, there could be Rs 5 or 10 more than what the total sales amounted to.
When it opened, the shop had average sales of Rs 1,000 a day, now it’s about Rs 750 a day.
“Every 10 days we check the accounts, there has never been any loss,” says Sukunan of Janashakti Trust. The NGO has been there for a while – since 1978 – Sukunan says. It was originally founded as a literacy mission to teach people how to read and write. But as years went by, it became a place that bought medicines for the really sick and sent volunteers as carers for patients who had none.
“We were engaged in taking medicines worth Rs 1,000 a month for each of the bedridden persons. We knew that some of them were capable of making home products such as soap and washing powder. But they didn’t have a way to market it,” Sukunan says. The NGO had before this run an ambulance service for the unwell persons they cared for, taking no money when it is a seriously ill person, and leaving a donation box when it was for transferring a dead body.
“The ambulance service received a lot of positive response. That’s when we thought we could use the same idea for a shop that would sell the products made by the people who couldn’t move without someone’s help,” Sukunan says.
It is a man called Khaleel who inspired the idea. After working for 23 years in a Gulf country as a painter, he had a fall and a back injury that left him bedridden. But it didn’t put him down mentally, Sukunan says. Even in his condition, he makes such nice soaps of different kinds, washing powder and other cleaning detergents that villagers often buy from him. Sukunan and team thought that they could keep products made by Khaleel and others like him in a shop and keep a box in there for people to pay for whatever they bought.
“We thought there was no point keeping someone to run the shop till we knew if the idea would work. And we trust each other in this village. A vegetable vendor called Sadanandan opens and closes the shop every day, the same time he opens and shuts his own shop. Nobody asked him to, he is just doing it on his own,” Sukunan says.
Sadanandan also went ahead and fixed one of his own CCTV cameras at the unmanned shop. Not that it was needed there.
The shop now sells products from five people, wheelchair bound or bedridden. Apart from Khaleel there is Subaida, who has not been able to walk since birth, there is wheelchair bound Sukumaran, there is Vinod who suffered a leg injury playing football, and persons with disability belonging to Ashreya home. Soaps, washing powders, skirts, candles, coconut shell spoons and paper pens are for sale at the shop.
“We have now received another product from a man called Joymon, who was injured while doing masonry work. He has made some 20 knives. We are not sure if it is a good idea to keep the knives at an unmanned shop and are waiting for a decision,” Sukunan says.