Toys for all children
April 07, 2012
Started in a small restaurant in Mumbai, Toybank aims to provide toys to under privileged children.
Toys are synonymous with childhood. They give children a reason to smile and to express themselves as well as to learn. Poverty pushes children into child labour and denies them their right to education. Learning from toys is a distant dream as they can't even think of possessing a toy. It is to give every child a right to play with toys that Toybank, an NGO based in Mumbai, was founded by Shweta Chari, a graduate engineering student. It aims to give children a healthy and happy childhood.
Ms Chari, who actively volunteered with many NGOs before starting Toybank, says, 'NGOs give importance to issues like food, clothes, books or education, when they think of children. Nobody talks about toys and their importance in the growing years of a child. I noticed kids from financially deprived families playing with tyres, bottles, etc. I wanted to do something to give some joy to them.'
In 2004, Ms Chari with the help of her friends started what was a successful campaign to collect toys for under-privileged children. On Children's Day, 14th November in that year 2004, Toybank organized its first distribution programme for needy children. 'I realized that so many children don't have any toys to play with. It was then I thought that this can't be an ad-hoc activity and needs to be done on a regular basis,' says Ms Chari, who later took up a corporate job while continuing the collection drives.
Word spread and Toybank extended to four other cities, namely, Bengaluru, Pune, Delhi and Hyderabad, collecting and distributing toys to under-privileged kids. In 2009, Toybank was registered as a trust with the charity commissioner. Ms Chari quit her job to dedicate herself wholeheartedly to Toybank. The team grew and its work-base broadened.
Currently, it collects toys by conducting talks in elite schools. 'We do a 20-minute sensitization talk to make students understand their own lifestyle and that of children on the streets. Our aim is to sensitize these kids to become toy donors. But we don't use pictures of under-privileged children in our presentation,' she explains. Similar sensitization talks are conducted in colleges and corporate offices.
Toybank has collection centres across Mumbai comprising individual volunteers. Every month, toys from these centres are collected and brought to a godown where they are segregated. Many toys are recycled. Soft toys are washed, dry-cleaned and sterilized. These toys are then gift-wrapped and sorted according to age groups. However, Toybank follows a strict protocol on the kinds of toys it collects. Toys promoting violence (like guns, swords) or gender discrimination (like Barbie dolls) are not accepted.
Toys are distributed twice a week. For this, Toybank collaborates with other NGOs especially those that work on providing access to healthcare and education for children either through the formal school system or on their own. 'We can't give a toy to a hungry child and say we are solving his/her problem,'
Ms Chari adds. If they meet its criteria, Toybank sets up play centres at those locations. Toybank, through its volunteers, monitors the impact of its work. They regularly interact with the NGOs; and play with the children to understand their growth. However, it does not distribute the toys to street kids directly. 'We find that this will encourage them to stay on the streets,' she says. Toybank has also created toy libraries in government schools where students can play more formal board games.
Until now, Toybank has reached around 35,000 children. It has a presence in five cities and also in Bhutan. However, raising funds and getting volunteers on a consistent basis are some of its challenges.
One can volunteer for Toybank's activities, donate toys and can also make financial donations. All donations are eligible for tax exemption under Section 80G of the Income-Tax Act.
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