Toybank — An Eye Opener!

The ‘Right to Play’…one fundamental right which I always took for granted — just assumed that it was part and parcel of being a child! And then I came across Toybank, one of our partner NGOs. They are different, not focussing on Education or Food or Clothes but on providing children with the toys to play, the right environment to play in and the guidance and dedicated time to learn to play different toys at different ages!

As a volunteer, I was given a schedule where I could choose the timings and the centre convenient to me. I chose two different locations and in hindsight, that was a good decision as it gave me insight into two totally different but meaningful ways Toybank has been able to make a difference.

I decided this was a good time to take my daughter along so that she too could understand the joy which came from volunteering with children by spending time playing with them! So both of us ventured on a Saturday morning and met the Toybank coordinator at Andheri who was at an orphanage that day. He made the girls there play a memory game which also served as an ice-breaker and gave insights into what they liked in terms of food and movies. We played the game with them and then switched to dumb charades where we had to enact the tasks that the coordinator came up with. The girls were all so cheerful and fun to play with! Time passed very fast (didn’t help that we had messed up the timings and were half an hour late for our session!!). I had to tear away my daughter from there as it was time for the girls to do their weekly homework!

The next week, we went to Saki Naka and while we were hunting for the venue, it struck me that my daughter had never seen this part of Bombay! We lead such sanitized lives — from home to school to malls to wedding halls — that our children could live their entire life and not know how different parts of Bombay had different types of housing, cleanliness and crowd! We went to a community-run center where a lady was managing children of all age groups in a 400 sq ft area. Toybank had reserved a slot and also had boardgames for children of different age groups. So while everyone got busy entertaining themselves with Chess and Ludo and other games, I thought I would entertain the toddlers who were in a separate area away from the middle schoolers. The toddlers played pin-the-Donkey’s-tail and Simon-says and a lot of other free-form games while my daughter was busy playing board games. From there we moved to an Aanganwadi where there were a group of 12–15 toddlers in uniform and we reached just in time for their midday meal break. Again, it was such a revelation to see the total discipline with which the children went and washed their hands, opened their empty snack boxes while the class teacher served khichdi. We took out the 4 games that Toybank had supplied. They were toys which required hand-eye coordination and we divided the group so that each set of children could play with one set of toys. If I ever had to understand how these simple and inexpensive toys could keep children busy, give them a sense of achievement, learn the soft skills of sharing and compete in a healthy way then this was it! This place was where actually I learnt from the toddlers against my assumption that I was going to make a difference in their lives!

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It made me realize that if only 4 sets of toys could make such a difference, I should concentrate my energy on getting more toys to places like this one! Toybank is already on the right path, creating toy libraries, drawing up schedules and dedicated playtime and the only thing which would slow this juggernaut would be the lack of more toys in the supply chain! I went back, a much wiser person and immediately volunteered for their Toy collection drive! More on that in part 2!

Amisha Vora, #CFMember, reflects on her volunteering trips around Mumbai with her daughter and the emotions they felt post their experience.

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