Wednesday, August 9, 2017
Shweta Chari from India has set up an organization that donates toys, board games and have play sessions with under privilege children . She talks about her organization to theSun. Read the full interview here
Headline: Strictly All About Child's Play
By Bissme S
Playing with toys is one of the joys of childhood. Unfortunately, not every child will be able to have a toy of his or her own, especially those living in poverty. One woman, Shweta Chari, is slowly changing this situation in her native India, through her non-profit organisation Toybank.
Besides donating toys and educational board games to underprivileged children, Toybank has also set up ‘toy libraries’ where Shweta and her volunteers conduct play sessions with the children.
“[The sessions are] with children [who live] below the poverty line,” says Shweta, 35, when met recently in Kuala Lumpur.
“Most of these children do not know where their next meal is coming from.”
It all began in 2004 in Mumbai, when Shweta, an engineering graduate, volunteered to teach mathematics to underprivileged children.
“They were not happy to see me,” Shweta recalls.
“They were not that friendly. And they were not paying attention to what I was teaching. I felt so frustrated that I could not connect with the children.”
Shweta decided to change her strategy, and attempted to build up some trust with the children. She picked up some toys and board games, and brought along some of her posters and music CDs to the class. “I used these objects to organise play activities with the children.”
Slowly, the children began to laugh and to have fun. Eventually, they let their guard down and began telling her their life stories.
“I thought the children were orphans,” she says.
“But I was wrong. I learned they were runaways. They ran away from their small villages and came to Mumbai to escape from poverty. Once they arrived in Mumbai, they learned that city life can be harsh too.”
Seeing how toys and board games brought joy to these children, she decided to donate more of these items to other non-profit organisations. Some of her friends decided to help out, and began donating money for her mission. Eventually, with the help of volunteers, Shweta began organising toy library play sessions for children in disadvantaged communities. Sessions would take place twice a month at each centre.So far, Toybank has over 300 centres all over India, and has worked with some 35,000 children so far.
“Some of the children clung to their toys as if they were Oscar awards,” she says.
“They did not want to play with their toys because they did not want [them] to be damaged.”
She learned that the language of play is an important factor in a child’s development.
“Play is a character-building process,” she says.
“It teaches children to make better life choices and handle conflicts effectively.”
She points out that some of the children had been abused, and had lost their self-confidence. But Toybank’s play sessions managed to bring them out of their shell. She recalls one of Toybank’s
projects working with a group of children who lived around a rubbish dump.
“These children were sniffing glue and once they got high, they became delirious and violent,” she says.
"We engaged these kids in our play sessions. We told [them] that they would not be allowed to participate in the play session if they sniffed glue. Six months later, we noticed the children were less violent, and none of them went back to sniffing glue again.”
Shweta believes that children are like clay, and they need to be guided and moulded. She feels that Toybank’s play sessions are one way to do this.
She hopes to reach out to 500,000 children through her non-profit organisation in the next five years. But, she adds, as the toys and board games get worn out, they constantly need new ones to replace them. However, she laments the fact that it is hard to get donations from corporate companies to buy toys.
“These companies will tell me that they can’t give me money ‘so that you can play with children’,”she says, adding that many of them prefer to help non-profit organisations whose aim is to end
hunger and provide education to underprivilege children.
But she says: “With hunger, most of us can see a child being malnourished physically. But what many cannot see is a child being malnourished mentally.
“Our play sessions create strong children. It is easier to [build] strong children than to repair a broken ones.”
For more, visit the Toybank website.