Where there is a will there is a way.
This favourite quote of optimists around the world explains Anthill Creation’s journey best.
The Bengaluru-based non-profit organisation had made it their mission to build playgrounds for children from scrap — mostly sustainable and local. The team led by IIT Kharagpur alumnus Pooja Rai employed their technical knowledge to provide underprivileged kids with the room to explore and enjoy their childhood to the fullest.
Anthill believes playgrounds and parks play a vital part in developing the spirit of sharing, teamwork, and mutual respect among children. Mostly funded by Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), and governments in some other cases, the team was making children across the country smile before the pandemic struck.
The fast-dwindling play areas for children in modern times pose a great challenge. Anthill exists to build play areas so that the kids can smile freely. But today, to quote Pooja, the team has “gone a long way from there”. This was because they needed to change their ground rule as face masks and hand sanitisers forced their way into the world.
The Covid spread meant children are no longer safe outside. So, Anthill needed a different course of action; if children can’t go out to play then play should reach them. Thinking out of the box, they came up with project “Play In A Box”.
An indoor play solution that allows children to play beyond their school playgrounds, Anthill is distributing these educational play boxes for the second year running among selected communities. Ever since the country went to a lockdown, they have distributed around 11,000 boxes!
“Play In A Box came into being last year around March-April. The idea was that since children can’t go out and the schools are closed, we wanted to design something that can help while they were at home. We are continuing with it for the second year as schools remain closed due to the second wave,” Pooja said.
The idea behind Play In A Box is to introduce play-based education to ensure the holistic development of children. One unit of the box contains five unique games that are meant to aid in both the social and emotional development of the child along with sharpening their cognitive skills.
Take, for example, the game of “Kith-Kith Ginti”. The team game introduces children to an age-old hopscotch game that involves a colourful rollout mat. While it is a physical drill for the players, it also introduces them to the number system. The mat is thoughtfully designed in such a way that children a chance to learn the numbers in regional languages.
Named “Kala Kit” by the innovative creators, a drawing book along with craft dice is another integral part of the Box. It consists of multiple creative activities including introductory lessons to drawing India’s traditional kolams and Madhubani paintings.
As educational institutions across the country have started a second academic year via online sessions, Anthill’s target group is those kids who remain suspended from mainstream education due to the digital divide.
“Our idea is to reach out to the most marginalised children from low-income communities who have no access to digital devices. Last year, we were focusing on cities, but now we have turned our focus to rural areas and have redesigned a few games in the Box to be make them contextual to rural kids,” Pooja said.
Play In A Box was the end product of a well-thought-out plan that has got most problems coming out of a self-learning project covered. To begin with, parents need not bother about teaching or explaining the games involved to their kids. All the games are self-explanatory, as they come with graphical instruction cards. This means elders can carry on with their professional chores without worrying about teaching their wards. The issue of English competency is also addressed as these instruction cards come in the regional language of the respective state.
Never stopped building
The pandemic and the success of the new project haven’t made Anthill drop their original programme. They are actively looking for opportunities to construct playgrounds with swings, see-saws and animal figures from scrap. Believe it or not, 90 of Anthill’s all-India tally of 284 playgrounds were built in the Covid era.
“It has been on and off lately depending on the Covid situation. However, we managed to finish 90 playgrounds – mostly existing MOUs that we helped to finish in association with governments”, Pooja said.
Before Covid, Anthill was largely funded by corporate CSRs. But when companies began diverting their CSR towards PM Cares and other Covid-related campaigns, a new challenge was born. But community contributions and empathetic interventions from authorities keep them afloat.
Anthill will readily accept offers from government bodies, she said, while briefing about her team’s previous associations with authorities.
“We have worked with Odisha government’s Bhubaneswar Development Authority to make the city more child friendly. Andhra government involved us in the Nadu Nedu scheme to improve the infrastructure of government schools. The government reached out after understanding that we have the expertise to complete pilot projects”, she said.
The pandemic also gave the team a much-needed opportunity to brainstorm and update their plans. “We have become more innovative and inclusive over the past one and a half years. Apart from building for regular kids, we have also built sensory parks for the blind and are working on a park for children with muscular dystrophy,” Pooja said.
Anthill offers means of livelihood to local people as building rides, animal shapes, tyre benches etc needs manpower. These projects help carpenters, weavers, painters etc find work at a time the unorganised sector is struggling due to the lockdown restrictions.
Anthill’s improvisation meant they also started to include rural areas in their schemes despite urban areas being a comfort zone due to financial reasons. So far, they have built 42 play areas in village communities.
“A few IAS officers brought this idea to their districts and we built playgrounds there, while communities also helped when CSR was low”, she added.
What lies ahead?
People like playgrounds so that children are excited to get back to school. And sooner or later, education is going back to the way it was and Anthill is all geared up to surprise students when they are back. Pooja is not even ruling out the possibility of outdoor classrooms being tried by institutions.
“When schools reopen, outdoor spaces will become important. And there are so many villages that can be transformed. Hopefully, we will be able to reach out to some of these parts through our statewide collaborations”, she signed out.