Games and gainful engagement for the tribal kids of Mulshi-Tamhini

The tribal settlements of Mulshi-Tamhini in the Sahyadri Range off Pune lack even basic necessities such as clean water, clothing and healthcare. Residents need to fetch water from a hill and they travel three villages away to reach a rudimentary healthcare center, which is shared by other settlements and villages. With most parents working as daily wage laborers—as and when they do get work—illiteracy and lack of education are rampant in this community. Thus, children’s education and healthy development is a big ask. There are only two teachers from an NGO who visit once a week to guide them with simple learning but not academics. While most children there are deprived of learning, teenage girls are even more severely affected due to child marriages that not only prevents their holistic development but also burdens them with household responsibilities. 

Why is Play so crucial in Mulshi-Tamhini: 

During a sanitary pads distribution drive in Tamhini due to lack of menstrual hygiene products, Gillian Pinto, an individual do-gooder, noticed that children weren’t learning due to inadequate facilities for online classes. Even though parents and children bond over play and do household chores together, illiteracy among elders prevents them from fully supporting young children’s learning and development. Moreover, though children have ample open play spaces and the small settlement is relatively unaffected by the coronavirus or the lockdown, families are financially impacted as the daily wagers have lost employment. So, there was a severe need for Play in these children to distract them from economic hardships.

“Children here do not have any games or toys to keep them gainfully engaged and occupied as well as learn,” Gillian states when asked why she reached out to Toybank. 

Games were carefully curated

51 children from the age group of 1 to 15 were chosen as part of the distribution. We carefully selected games that would ensure various needs by the age were catered to. “We included simple playthings such as teddy rings for little children as well as English and Maths games for older ones. We knew how drastic things were for the kids. So, while we planned only to give board games earlier, we felt they should also have something comforting like a soft toy, and made a set of two games for each kid,” Rashmin adds. Another thing to consider was that the children’s teachers who visited once a week found it taxing to guide the children due to restrictions in terms of facilities. “Hence, we provided simple games that strengthened children’s foundational learning so that they could at least recall what they had studied,” says Toybank Program Officer Rashmin Shaikh. 

Gillian points out that during her visit, she spotted a couple of girls playing with dolls and make-up. Toybank has always been mindful and vocal about genderization of Play and games promoting stereotypes and biases. Our curation of games avoids this as we encourage girls to play with Mechanix sets or boys to skip the rope.

“Married at a young age, the girl child is typically expected to engage with traditional art and craft activities. However, we wanted them to know the world beyond their household and village. Thus, we gave them puzzles on the India map and the solar system,” Rashmin adds.  

Not just children, parents were thrilled too

Like Toybank, Gillian is happy to be able to provide something the kids were never exposed to before. “This brought so much joy to them. The soft toys were a big hit and even parents fell in love with them. They were also thrilled at the quality of the toys, how delightful the games looked and that their children would have fun with them,” says Gillian. 

Working together to support at-risk children

At Toybank, we have always relied on our supporters’ backing to deliver resilience and learning through Play to at-risk children, no matter what the challenges we face. For this distribution amid the lockdown, logistics proved to be a challenge as the volunteers were an hour-and-a-half away from Pune. However, one of our solid supporters was traveling to the city from Mumbai and handed over the package to Gillian. “I saw this as a sign that everything was meant to fall into place just so that the kids could play. The games were so systematically and beautifully packed and of such good quality,” Gillian signs off.


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