Editors note: Usha Bhende interviewed Shweta Chari, founder of Toybank.
Toybank is an organization whose mission is to deliver happiness to underprivileged street kids, and to give them the opportunity to have a childhood.
Usha: Hello Shweta, can you tell us what Toybank does?
Shweta: We want to ensure that every child has a happy healthy childhood and that play is a part of that childhood.
We also want to teach these underprivileged kids about ‘giving’ and ‘sharing’ using toys as a medium. These are taught via workshops/magic shows by volunteers, who spend time with the children.
Usha: When did the Toybank idea occur to you?
Shweta: I’m actually an engineer by profession. We noticed that underprivileged kids are subject to malnutrition, hunger, health problems, substance abuse, theft, harassment by the police. So childhood and adolescent depression is on the rise through the growing years. Play through toys helps.
Some social organizations fulfill basic needs like food, clothing and education while some like us focus on bringing happiness through play into the lives of children.
Usha: How does it work?
Shweta: New and used toys are collected and recycled. We never buy toys. Old toys are picked up from individuals, corporations and organizations from all over the country. We clean and gift -wrap and distributed these toys to underprivileged kids, in the age group 1 to 15 years.
We work with NGOs, Government schools, community play centers, Government hospitals and orphanages. We stress on morally correct toys. So violent toys like guns are rejected as are Barbies or battery-operated toys which create lifestyle conflicts and class differences. Board games that are stimulating, educational and promote team-building are welcome. Books are discouraged because they promote solitude and not all kids are literate.
Usha: What was the response like?
Shweta: Oh it’s been overwhelming! I can’t forget the joy that lit up the kids’ eyes when they realized that they actually OWNED the toy! Also we do video’s in regular schools, to explain to children the lives of these underprivileged kids. The response is heartening.
Children are really motivated. A boy collected 200 toys! They are motivated into giving sometimes even their own favorite toys. Inscribing them with encouraging messages like ‘study hard’, ‘go to school’, ‘do well in life’, ‘all the best’.
At present Toybank has given toys to over 10,000 kids and we hope to triple the number in the next 2-3 years.
Usha: And how have the children reacted?
Shweta: We have witnessed clear changes in many of the children. The kids have learn’t the importance of sharing, of being more sensitive towards their environment, of respecting their elders and even their brothers and sisters, of controlling their temper and most of all through the toys they receive, they have become children again! Happy, and smiling. Just as how children should be.
These observations convinced us that there is a definite need for an organization like ours. The two hour interaction sessions with our volunteers has given voice to their bottled-up dreams and aspirations in unique ways. For example, we’ve met girls who want to be pilots! In such cases, the toys we give them are matched with their aspirations.
Usha: How do you manage logistics?
Shweta: With a core team of 3-4, and 50-100 volunteers. Toybank has now spread across metropolitan India, in cities such as Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore and Delhi and a small operation in Bhutan.
Usha: What are your future plans?
Shweta: By June 2011, we plan to setup toy-libraries in Maharashtra, India. We also plan to go international some day, especially in war torn areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa.
To volunteer with or donate to Toybank, please contact them via their website.