In many communities throughout India, a void has gone largely unnoticed: the lack of playgrounds.
We all understand how important play is for children. Especially for low-income families living through the pandemic, the lack of safe options has been felt deeply. Luckily, back in 2015, a woman named Pooja Rai began solving this problem one playscape at a time!
In the village of Mullipallam 250 miles outside Bangalore, there is a small government-run primary school that has seen many struggles since the novel coronavirus pandemic began. Since they mostly don't have internet access, the community has experienced feelings of isolation and loneliness — particularly the students.
Fortunately, the school made the excellent decision to renovate its playground in October with the help of Pooja's Bangalore-based nonprofit called Anthill Creations.
As a student studying architecture back in 2014, Pooja started making food donations to a nearby orphanage when she saw something that stopped her in her tracks. She noticed children using flip-flops as badminton rackets, broken metal pipes as swords, and a slew of other heart-wrenching sights.
"Kids were playing with anything they could get their hands on," Pooja said. "Play shouldn't just be part of a rich, privileged kid's lifestyle. All kids have a right to enjoy their childhoods."
Soon after, she began raising money to put together a simple playground for them. She even came up with the perfect play material: old tires.
Pooja discovered that around 100 million tires were going to waste in India each year, so she thought, why not upcycle them into brand new playgrounds?
So in 2015, Pooja and her friends got to work recycling, cleaning, and inspecting dozens of tires. They painted them and converted them into a kid's dream play space.
She quickly turned her tire-to-playground project into an official nonprofit in 2016. With a team of 800 volunteers, Anthill has already created 275 playgrounds across India and counting!
These tire playgrounds can be found in schools, public spaces, and refugee camps, helping kids across the nation celebrate and enjoy the power of play!
As for the village of Mullipallam, it is already being transformed by the children's colorful, imaginative, and tire-filled play place.
As second-grader Srilekha Murlikrishnan put it, "I come to school now just to play here every day, and I'm really looking forward to it reopening again."
For funding, Anthill relies on donors, namely big businesses, and assists communities in matching with corporate fundraising partners. This financial support is crucial as a small playground can run Anthill up to 60,000 rupees (about $830), and larger playgrounds can cost up to four times that amount.
Of course, the price is only a small measure of their exciting and creative process!
"Our work always begins with a series of conversations with kids about what they want from this space," Pooja said. The children usually want designs that are familiar to them. For example, kids in one coastal village requested a ship design, whereas those in smaller villages tend to prefer animal designs, such as elephants or horses.
In one particularly fun project at a girls' school in Bangalore, the students were adamant about fashioning their playscape in the style of a boxing ring. Though the teachers seemed hesitant, the girls remained clear on their vision.
"They said they didn't want people to perceive them as fragile and weak," Pooja said. "They wanted to practice self-defense, to grow stronger, and have a space where they could get physical and work off stress."
Anthill has also built an accessible playground for children who are blind, involving textured pathways made of materials like marble and grass.
Principal Kanthamani said it is the "attention to detail" that makes all the difference with these playgrounds, such as holes drilled into the tires to prevent the collection of rainwater and the potential for a dengue outbreak.
And Anthill doesn't stop at playgrounds! To help low-income parents with the challenge of entertaining their children indoors during the pandemic, the nonprofit designed a product called "Play in a Box."
Each box is full of educational options curated for each age group, featuring activities like team games, creative expression play, and strategic thinking games. The project earned Anthill recognition from the International Play Association.
With the vital, fun mission behind Anthill Creations, we know their best work is yet to come!
"We often forget how vulnerable these growing years can be," Pooja said. "The right to play should be considered critical to a child's cognitive growth, physical and emotional well-being — we believe that it is indeed a basic human right."
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