A group of kids is using a set of hanging scales to weigh various objects, while another group estimate each others’ weight and then stand on a scale to check. Sounds like it could be a standard lesson on measurement in any classroom, doesn’t it?
The difference is I am at Khelghar, an after-school centre for slum kids in Pune, and these particular children would never be learning this way at the local school. They’d typically be sitting in rows facing the teacher and perhaps filling in answers to questions about measurement such as how many grams in a kilogram.
Khelghar provides a place for children to play, read, learn and create. There is little time, space or opportunity for such things in their normal daily lives. It caters for kids of all ages, providing academic support for the older students as well as an informal self-development program. I’m introduced to the serene Shubhada who runs the place and she tells me her story…
She is an architect who worked as an interior designer till deciding that she didn’t want to work for rich people for the rest of her life, preferring to do something more meaningful. She’d been involved for some years in publishing a magazine about social parenting and decided to pursue this further by putting the ideas into practice in a way that could make some small difference.
The initial project involved a program for local slum kids to experience learning through play. The only available place was Shubhada’s own home, so that’s where they went. As the numbers of children and volunteers increased, they spilled from the crowded living room onto the veranda, till it was time to seek funding and search for a more permanent venue. The current home of Khelghar is up 3 flights of stairs, in a building near to the slum in which the children live.
The ratio of adults to kids is deliberately high, and there seem to be almost as many volunteer workers as children. Shubhada tells there are other visitors today, observing the way children learn through play, so that they can develop similar programs in other places. It’s encouraging to hear that the model is being used in other settings and there are apparently other Khelgars (it means Play House) springing up gradually across the state of Maharashtra.
One of the best parts of this story is that of the group of young adults who attended Khelghar themselves who, in turn, provide similar opportunities for even less advantaged children, from an even poorer slum than theirs. They regularly organize games and discussions for the kids, using the principles they learned from their own experiences at Khelghar.
I’m inspired by Shubhada and others like her whom I met in Pune. There is no sitting back and saying ‘I can’t change the world so I’ll do nothing’. They simply decide not to be deterred by the overwhelming inequities and problems around them. They know they want to do something and they do.
A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead.
(4th in a series of reflections on my recent visit to Pune)
3 thoughts on “Play House…”
A shiver ran through me when I read this, and it wasn’t because of a drop in temperature! How absolutely brilliant that there are people in the world who can take it by the shoulders and shake some sense into it! People who see a need, challenge memes and take action. What is equally brilliant is that you were able to be there, because you are also a person of action! Thanks for sharing your journey.
I too was in Pune for about 3 months on a study-abroad program with the University of Pennsylvania. Never have 3 months more changed the way I looked at the world. I encountered many beautiful people like Shubhada, and I carry their insight with me in some small way today— my host parents, the yoga teacher I had, one of Gandhi’s good friends who came to spoke with us (who had spent time in jail with him). It’s a long list.
I encourage anyone reading this to consider travelling to India. It’s another planet in many ways, and there are TONS of great volunteer opportunities in contexts like the one Edna has mentioned here.
Thanks for sharing. Cheers, Brad
Thanks for the comment, Brad. Just to clarify… I was only a brief visitor and this isn’t a volunteer program where Westerners ‘come to help’. The volunteers I saw were all members of the local community.