1400+ games distributed in Matheran and surrounding tribal areas

750 children from the main town and a remote adivasi vadi, Hashachi Patti, received Play materials

The misty mountains of Matheran may be idyllic, but the children of the hill station have been affected by school closures and lack of Play due to the COVID-19 lockdown just the same. While our collaborators, Caring Friends, have been doing exemplary COVID relief work there, they saw the need to club Play with their efforts to provide mental well-being and continued learning to the children. Thus, we got together for a games distribution drive across three schools—St Xavier’s High School, Matheran Nagarpalika School and Pracharya Yashwantrao Gavankar High School. 

A variety of games enabled kids to share them with each other while playing 
Play to reduce screen time 
Games were necessary for the children here as they were fatigued with digital learning, with cellphones being their only avenue for education and entertainment. Concerned parents wanted their children to stay distracted not only from the distress of COVID but also reduce their screen time. Even though Matheran is blessed with open play spaces near schools, the stay-at-home order at the moment has made these areas inaccessible for children, forcing them to stay indoors. So, while carefully following precautions, our collaborators distributed Toybank’s games to the children. We set aside two play materials per child, with some extra ones, so that no kid would be left without a plaything to call their own. 

On the day of the event, we found out that an adivasi vadi called Hashachi Patti had children who needed Play just as acutely. The residents are typically porters, handcart pullers or vegetable vendors in the main town, and thus their children face inequities. Instantly, we decided to give them Playful happiness and meaningful engagement, too. Even though providing games to more children meant the kids of Matheran would get only one game each, the meticulous curation of the games proved to be handy. As the children are all neighbors, the games were selected so that there was no duplication. If all the children received the same kind of materials, they wouldn’t share them; therefore, an array of games would prevent monotony while providing more meaningful engagement. This change of plan enabled us to bring Play to approximately 750 children.
'We were motivated and focused because we were reaching out to children in remote places where they needed our play intervention' —Pinkan Kedase, Toybank Inventory Team
Meticulous curation of games 
This requirement made planning a long-drawn process as the Toybank Program Officer (PO) and Inventory team had to keep in mind the different age groups, learning levels and variety of games. “We
Toybank curated games according to children's varied needs
took a complete stock of all the games and made a list of what we could give, which itself took us two days. Then came segregating them according to the age group. We clubbed Junior and Senior KG, Classes 1 and 2, Classes 3 and 4, and so on till Class 10. For this distribution, we paid more attention to planning according to the varied needs,” says Rashmin Shaikh, Toybank PO. 

Providing sustainable games 
 As hill stations such as Matheran do not have the same provision for Play or games as major towns and cities, the longevity of games was vital, and one-time use games wouldn’t have served the purpose. Thus, the Toybank team includes alphabetical and numerical games, puzzles, blocks and generic maths games. “Toybank Play2Learn Centers kids are familiar with and know how to play board games. But that wasn’t the case with these children, especially those from the adivasi locality. We couldn’t assume that a child from Class 3 will be able to play with games we typically stock at our centers for that age group,” reasons Rashmin. Pratham Education’s ASER (Annual Survey of Education Reports) assessment emphasizes that children in higher grades (including adolescents) have a poor grasp of skills taught in lower grades. Thus, we had to be mindful that all the children would benefit from the games. Hence, we avoided tough Strategy Games and chose simpler ones such as Teddy Rings for KG kids, puzzles of 6 to 10 pieces, Brainvita and Snakes & Ladders to cater to children of different learning levels. “We included art and craft games from Disney so that children do not have to work too hard or find it difficult as they may lose interest and give up playing,” Rashmin adds.
'Now, children also come with their parents to buy things from my store. They thank me for the games each time. It feels great' —Nitin Shah, Toybank's collaborator  
Overcoming challenging tasks 
Working and coordinating remotely had its set of challenges for the team, especially for the segregation of games. Rashmin and Inventory Team member Pinkan Kedase exchanged several calls each day. “We would both remind each other that we were doing it for these children, and we had to sort it out no matter what. So, even if we’d get frustrated, we made sure to come up with solutions and brainstormed with each other,” says Pinkan. “We were motivated and didn’t lose focus because we were reaching out to children in remote places, and they needed our play intervention,” he adds. 

Time slots were scheduled according to age groups for distribution
Support from our partners 
Our point of contact, Nitin Shah’s involvement in logistics and distribution from start to end, was invaluable. As the local storekeeper couldn’t have managed such a massive distribution on his own, our collaborators Nimesh Sumati, his wife Preeti and daughter-in-law Steffi lent their support. Unlike previous distributions, the new normal called for extra care, keeping the COVID-19 safety protocols in mind. For that, our supporters ensured scheduled time slots according to different age groups. The distribution happened seamlessly, and the parents were ecstatic to receive the games for their kids. Steffi later told us, “The distribution was such a wonderful experience. We are all so happy that the children will keep playing and learning.” 

Indescribable feeling 
For Nitin, the distribution was memorable as the children who received the games have started visiting him now. “Initially, only parents would come to buy things from my store. But now, children also accompany them. They thank me for the games each time. It feels great,” he says. For us at Toybank, too, it’s a matter of gratification as children in remote regions have received Play. As Rashmin points out, even if we cannot go to Toybank Play2Learn Centers, delivering Play hasn’t stopped for us, nor should learning and resilience ever stop for our children. “All the challenges of planning and execution fizzled out with the successful distribution. Each moment, I felt I should put in more than 100 per cent for these children, and we did just that,” concludes the Toybank Program Officer.

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