Saturday, 3 June 2017

How 5 IIT graduates are changing the way slum kids play

How 5 IIT graduates are changing the way slum kids play

Swings made from old car tubes

By: Vidya DeshPande

Get five architecture students from IIT together. Throw in some used tyres and what do you get? The most colourful play zones for underprivileged kids. That's exactly what Pooja Rai, Nancy, Nupur Agarwal, Vishesh Gupta and Souradeep Paul from the 2015 batch, IITKharagpur do, with their company, Anthill Creations.

The five batchmates decided to put their architectural training to good use by building slides, swings, jungle gyms for kids who don't have access to proper play zones. What started as a college project has now turned into a full-time passion. In fact, two of them, Pooja and Nancy, have quit their jobs and are devoting all their time to setting up these play spaces.

Power Play
They chanced upon this idea of recycling tyres while one of them was on a college internship in Morocco.

The architect they were interning with was passionate about recycling non-biodegradable materials and using them in buildings. They decided to use this as the main theme for their playground projects. Their first project was on their college campus, the Disha Seema Care Center, a school for children from villages around the IIT-Kharagpur campus.

They got tyre company Michelin to help them with the funding and set up a colourful playground that became the talk of the town. "We all started working in our fulltime jobs, but my passion was to build these playgrounds," says Pooja Rai, cofounder and CEO at Anthill Creations. "We set up the company in Bengaluru after we graduated but, last December, Nancy and I decided to quit our jobs and devote all our time to fulfill this passion," she says. The other three are part-time directors and help with projects in Delhi, where they are based. Nancy is the company's chief operating officer, while the other three function as parttime directors.

Their first project was in a Bengaluru slum area, where they built a small playground. "The whole setup cost us about `20,000 and was finished in just five days," says Pooja. Inspired by the success of this play zone, they tied up with a local non-profit, Mantra4Change, and set up an innovative library using recycled tires for chairs and tables at the Florida English School in Goripalya, which caters to children from slum areas.

Another volunteer group, Storytime, ran a campaign in Bengaluru and got books for this library for 850 students. Since then they have done eight other projects in Pune, Delhi, Auroville and Nizamabad.

But now they have hit the financial hurdle. "While we have some projects in hand, we are finding it difficult to find funding," says Pooja. Why haven't they approached tyre companies to help them out? "Most tyre companies have waste/old tyres in their factories and it costs us to transport them to our site. We find it easier to source the tyres from scrap and tyre dealers locally," she explains.

Anthill Creations is looking for a way to monetise the projects better. They are trying to contact private builders and set up play areas in their condominium projects. The plan is to use the money they make from these private projects to fund the playgrounds for underprivileged kids.

"We want to scale up by doing 100 projects in the next six months," says Pooja. Anthill is also talking to central and state governments to set up cost effective, eco-friendly play areas in government schools. It isn't proving easy. "Somehow, we have not been able to get access to the government and have been finding it difficult to explain our process to them," says Pooja. But these charged youngsters don't want to wait for collaborations. "We will continue building projects and are willing to form collaborations as we move on."

Anthill also wants to revitalise public spaces not only for kids but also for the whole community to use. "Unused spaces, streetscapes, parks, public plazas can become hubs for community interactions, if properly planned," says their mission statement. Congestion, traffic, has overrun most public spaces and the green zones have got eaten up by pollution and over population, explains Pooja. By reclaiming these spaces and building them with recycled materials, Anthill wants to create sustainable and long-lasting solutions.



There's no doubt that their playgrounds have become a big hit. "Our biggest testimony: the smiles on kids' faces when they have fun on Anthill's colourful tyre swings, tyre tunnels, and tyre slides," grins Pooja.


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