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Creating positive childhood experiences

Friday, December 02, 2016

Shweta Chari, founder of Toybank

Shweta Chari, an Electronics Engineer and the Founder & CEO of Toybank had a vision of reaching out to children through fun and play using toys. The journey began on August 15th, 2004. A small idea that began in a small restaurant in Mumbai has over the years gathered momentum with the help and support of friends and volunteers from all corners of Mumbai. Within a short span of time and with very minimal resources, Toybank is bringing smiles on thousands of deprived faces. In conversation with Dominic Rebello, Shweta explains how Toybank acts as a leveler of society by taking toys from those that can give and distributing them to the ones in need.

Toybank, an NGO that aims at giving underprivileged children their right to play and subsequently their childhood. With a persistence for over ten years now, Toybank has made a significant difference in the lives of thousands of children and have successfully opened "toy libraries" across India. There are 145 play centres in Mumbai and 251 across the country

What is the idea behind Toybank?
Toybank was first started back in 2004, to simply encourage children to have fun and get them to open up. Backed by research and findings, we then took the concept of play and wanted to use it to impact the lives of children. At Toybank, our fundamental belief is to build strong children, than to repair broken men. By promoting the right to play and making an impact in the most impressionable years of their lives, we want to provide every economically disadvantaged and at-risk child an equal opportunity to education, achieved through healthy play and games. A happy childhood defines almost every aspect of a child’s life and in turn the society.  

How has Toybank helped to bring a difference in children?
If you look back at your own childhood, the most distinct memory is that of playtime, games and a favourite toy. We are helping our Toybank kids create memories and have positive childhood experiences. Through the process of healthy play and games, we want to empower every child and give them to right to childhood.

Also, by creating safe spaces for these children we aim to give them a platform to develop important life skills, social and emotional skills as well as cognitive skills. It is at our play sessions that the kids are encouraged to use their creativity, imagination, verbal and non verbal communication skills and motor as well as their fine motor skills.

How do you plan to build more Toy Banks across India?
We are currently impacting the lives of more than 30,000 children across 226 game libraries and play centres. We want to focus on creating a deep impact in our current centres, one which trickles down to making these children understand the real value of play influencing their lives in a big way. Once we stabilize our work in these 226 centres in Maharashtra, we will then look to expand to newer geographies.

To grow and sustain, a large part of our work is to empower volunteers. Volunteers are the main drivers behind most of our activities- whether it's toy collection drives, play sessions or helping out with organizational work. We encourage individuals from all age groups to volunteer with us and experience the pure, unadulterated joy of sharing in the joy of impacting the lives of disadvantaged children.

What are some of the challenges that you face?
Bringing on board a long-term anchor-funder posses to be the organizations biggest challenge. The right to play is seen as a new concept in India, with individuals only of-late understanding the importance of play in a child's life. Toybank is lucky to have the support of individual funders as well as a few corporates who believe in our work and back us up. As the awareness of how play is a function of development grows, we hope to garner the support of an anchor funder to support Toybank.

How are people responding to this initiative?
Brilliantly! Everyone who hears about Toybank loves the concept and is inspired that something as simple as play can be serious business! We hope to sensitize as many individuals as possible on the reason why we exist and promote play.

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