Strictly all about child’s play

PLAYING with toys is one of the joys of childhood.

Unfortunately, not every child will be able to have their own toys. Especially those children living in poverty.

Shweta Chari is slowly changing this situation in her native India, through her non-profit organisation called Toybank.

Besides donating toys and educational board games to underprivilege children for free, Toybank has also set up toy libraries where she and her volunteers would have vigorous play sessions with the children.

“We are playing with the children below the poverty line,” says Shweta, 35, when met recently in Kuala Lumpur.

“Most of them do not know where their next meal are coming from.”

The history of Toybank started in 2004 in Mumbai, India when Shweta, an engineer graduate, decided to volunteer her service for free for a non-profit organisation. She was given the task to teach maths to underprivileged children.

“They (the children) were not happy to see me,” Shweta remembers.

“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 to create better empathy with the kids. She took some toys and board games that were lying aimless in the non-profit organisation as well as brought along her music posters and her music VCDs to the class.

“I used these objects to organise play activities with the children,” she says.

She found the children was having fun and were laughing. Eventually, they slowly let their guards down and began telling her their life stories.

“I thought the children were orphans,” she says. “But I was wrong. I learned they were runaway kids. They ran away from their small villages and came to Mumbai to escape from poverty. Once they arrived in Mumbai, they learned that the city life can be harsh too.”

Seeing how toys and board games had brought joy to these children, she decides to expands her horizon. She wants to donate more toys and gameboards to different non-profit organisations.

Some of her friends jumped on the bandwagon and began donating money for her mission.

“Some of the children cling to their toys as if they were Oscar awards,” she says.

“They did not want to play with their toys because they do not want [them] to be damaged.”

She learned 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 pointed out that some of the children had been abused and had lost their self-confidence, and Toybank’s play sessions was effective in bringing them out of their shell.

She cited a success story of Toybank when they were working with a group of children who staying at the dumping site.

“These kids were sniffing glue and once they get high, they became delirious and violent,” she says.

“We had engaged these kids in our play sessions. We told these kids that they will not be allowed to participate in the play session if they sniff glue.

“Six months later, we noticed the children were less violent and none of them went back to sniffing glue again. Children are like clay, and they need to be guided and moulded.”

Officially, Toybank was registered in 2009 and so far, it has over 300 centres all over India. It has worked with some 35,000 children so far. In the next five years, Toybank hopes to reach out to 500,000 kids.

“Toys and board games get worn out, so we constantly need new ones to replace them,” she says.

Shweta admitted that getting donations from corporate companies can be difficult. These companies are more eager to help non-profit organisations that are eager to end hunger and provide education to underprivilege children.

“These companies will tell me that they can’t give me money so that ‘you can play with children’,” 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 man.”