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Why ToyConnect   1

Samvitha Ram

ToyConnect

Gathering toys, gifting joy


Samvitha Ram

ToyConnect

Gathering toys, gifting joy


Because every child deserves a touch of happiness - a toy


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“You have not collected 7,000 toys.

In fact, you have created 7,000 and more smiles!” Mr. Nimesh Sumati The Caring Friends Group Supporter of this campaign


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Why

ToyConnect?

Every year thousands of schools around the world organize book drives and clothes collections for the underprivileged. The benefits of these are clearly understood – books for education and language skills, and clothes for basic survival needs. So, a question I was asked a lot was ‘Why toys?’ Toys are seen only for their entertainment value, and not as something educational or helpful for a child, but as Maria Montessori, founder and pioneer of the Montessori system of education once said, “Play is the work of the child.” Though to adults it may seem dull to sit for hours and engage in pretend play with dolls or push a small car across the room, research has shown that these activities contribute to the development of not only motor skills and tactile senses, but also socialization, personal awareness, emotional well-being, creativity, problem solving and learning ability.

“Play is the work of the child.”


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Brings happiness to young children Not only are toys beneficial to a child’s development, but playing is supposed to be the basic right of a child. Article 31 of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child reads: “This child shall have full opportunity for play and recreation, which should be directed to the same purpose as education. Society and public authorities shall endeavor to promote the enjoyment of this right”. Unfortunately, many disadvantaged children in India have neither the opportunity nor the access to this kind of play, and the ToyConnect initiative is a step towards changing this reality. By engaging high school students in the collection of toys, ToyConnect hopes to both bring play materials and happiness to young, less-fortunate children across Chennai and spread awareness amongst the youth on how important toys really are.

Full opportunity for play


Why ToyConnect   11

‘To my dear friend” ToyConnect- The Name I saw this campaign as a means to create a connection between people and amongst children, through the medium of toys. It started with just two friends from different schools who promised to promote this initiative at their school, and through word-of-mouth, we ended up with 8 schools, and many students ready to devote their time and effort to this initiative. The ‘connect’ also refers to the connection between the children from different socio-economic backgrounds. We received many toys that had little tags on them, saying ‘To my dear friend” or “I hope you like it!”, in neat, child-like writing. I found this little gesture of these kids so touching, and I saw that a connection has been made, however small, between those giving the toys, and those receiving them and reading these thoughtful little messages.

“I hope you like it!”


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The

Gathering

The Journey Begins‌


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8 participating schools 5 committed ToyConnecters The result?

7,000+ toys


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The schools that participated: Abacus Arsha Vidya Mandir Over a 3-week period from 15th June -4th July 2012, as schools in India just reopened for a new academic year, the ToyConnect team worked actively to involve as many students from the schools in this initiative and get them to donate toys. Our team spent many hours visiting the elementary school students in their classrooms and talking to them about donating their gently used toys to this cause. Through numerous assembly announcements, teacher reminders and Facebook messages, these ToyConnecters and I were able to collect over 7,000 toys.

Chettinad Vidyashram Church Park MCTM School MCTM IB School Sishya Vidya Mandir Mylapore


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The Gathering   17

The NGO’s

Our Biggest Supporters

ToyConnect’s biggest supporters and cheerleaders through this process have been two NGO’s, Goonj and Toy Bank, and their founders, Mr. Anshu Gupta and Ms. Shweta Chari respectively. Thanks to their official endorsement and active support of this campaign, we were able to collect so many toys! A warm thanks also goes out Mr. Ashutosh of Goonj’s Chennai operations for helping us with the storage and refurbishing of the toys.


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Goonj.. A Brief Introduction Goonj is a pan-India, New Delhi head-quartered NGO that channelizes unused materials in urban homes, to the far-flung villages of India as an important economic resource. Although they deal with all kinds of underutilized materials, their prime focus is clothing, one of the basic needs of human kind. GOONJ was formed in 1999 by Anshu Gupta, together with his friends. Besides Anshu Gupta, Founder Director, the organization is governed by a five member governing body and has regional offices in every major state of India.

Today GOONJ sends out more than 70 tonnes of material every month across 21 states of India. GOONJ is a recipient of multiple national and international awards, with its founder, Mr. Gupta, being awarded an Ashoka Fellowship. For more information, please do visit www.goonj.org.


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Goonj Endorses

ToyConnect

Goonj’s official letter of endorsement gave ToyConnect support and legitimacy amongst school principals and administrators, thus facilitating their schools’ participation in this initiative.


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Toy

Bank A Brief Introduction Toy Bank is a Mumbai based non-profit organization, started by Ms. Shweta Chari that has been set up with the aim of providing toys to all children. Their vision is to have a world where all children have a happy and healthy childhood. They describe themselves in terms of their goals, a few of which are as follows: To ensure that children from under privileged backgrounds receive toys through collection and distributions. To bridge the gap between children from different backgrounds by creative play/group events/ community events. To make play space available for children through-- Toy libraries in available infrastructures; reclaim open public spaces for children. To impart education and values through a Toy curriculum; play groups; children’s parliament.


The Gathering   21

Ms. Shweta Chari

Speaks…

The planning and execution of the ToyConnect initiative has been impeccable. It is remarkable to see the energy behind this and having raised so many toys, it definitely is on its way to being a successful campaign! Toys have a subtle and powerful impact on the mind of a child. At Toybank, we have researched heavily on this and worked with professionals, so we are able to provide appropriate toys based on specific needs that the kids may have. Toybank strongly advocates the right to play, right to development for a healthy, joyous and empowered childhood for children from all categories/ social groups. We believe in inculcating the culture of giving and sharing within children from well resourced backgrounds and individuals of decent financial and resource capacity thereby bridging the resource and status gap between these groups and the social groups of children which Toybank caters to. Clearly, ToyConnect is a great step towards helping to achieve these goals. This venture surely needs to be continued. It is a motivation for many others to follow suit to this fine example of a simple idea being driven by a youngster and achieving the goals, steadily. I hope that through this, thousands of children are able to find their childhood again. Congratulations on the success of this campaign, Samvitha! You make us all so proud.


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Poster

A special thanks to Mr. Edward Doherty, my Graphic Design teacher for so patiently teaching me how to create beautiful posters digitally and for spending a great deal of time looking over and helping me out with the ToyConnect Campaign Poster.


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Bags and

Boxes

We wanted to make this initiative as eco-friendly as possible, so we decided to access secondhand cartons and jute/polyester bags to collect the toys. The schools were very helpful and pitched in some of their old boxes for collection as well. A big thanks to Newman Press for sponsoring us by donating free second-hand cartons and polyester bags. Also, a big hug to Aadhavan Adityan of AISC for printing the ToyConnect posters free of cost and donating them to this campaign.


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The Gathering   25

The

ToyConnecters

An event like ToyConnect requires a lot of planning and hard work, and I just could not have pulled it off without the help of these amazing students.


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The

ToyConnecters

Speak These 5 ToyConnecters have dedicated many hours of their time before and after school to this initiative, talking to their friends about the campaign, collecting and sorting the toys within their schools, and expecting nothing in return. Here’s what they have to say about their experience!


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Sehr Raheja Arsha Vidya Mandir

Initially, I only wanted to be a part of ToyConnect to spend all the time I had to kill during the summer holidays. But as I discovered what I had actually signed up for, it made me happy to think I’d made the right choice. Organizing this in my school and helping Goonj with Samvitha has been just AWESOME! To be honest, there is not much to say about my experience, except that it has helped me to not only recognize the fact that not everyone is as privileged as I am, but also do something about it and spread joy, in my own small way.


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Swetha Rakhecha Chettinad Vidyashram

There are just some people who are into such kind of activities and I head the list. I believe that the youth of today are the change makers; we have the energy, the passion and most importantly the free time necessary for creating an impact for bringing about a positive change. The concept of ToyConnect was different but the general agenda remained the same and thus I was really excited when my Principal gave the green signal. Just collecting old toys was not what I wanted to do, I wanted to talk to the kids and make them understand why and for what they were doing it. It burned a hole in my clock but my juniors helped me through every step of the way, apart from which, posters were also put up on the notice board. The efforts of my team were highly rewarded when toys kept pouring in from all directions. I would definitely like this to continue but I am afraid that we might have taken up all the available old toys!


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Keshav Padmanabhan Sishya

This was a really memorable experience for me. In fact, I got to play with a ‘Hello Kitty’ doll for the first time! But all jokes aside, I became involved with this just because Samvitha had asked me to, and I wanted to help as a friend, but it turned out to be fun, even though it took up a lot of time and work. The Interact Club (which I am a part of) really took a special interest in this project. Next year we’re all looking forward to continuing this initiative, and I hope that it will return next year.


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Priyadarshini Shivakumar Church Park

I decided to be a part of this venture because the idea was new and appealing – it was clear that something like this had never been done before, at least not in a city like Chennai. To get the maximum number of toys at my school, I emphasized the underlying good cause and that got a lot of people’s attention. People, students especially, are not unwilling to donate when they know exactly where their things are going and how it is going to be used. Thankfully, Samvitha had previously outlined her goals on building these toy libraries, and so I was able to share this information with my fellow classmates. Overall, this has been an exciting project for me to be a part of!


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Shrinidhi Madhushan Abacus

I can’t begin to describe how great this experience has been for me. From the first meeting with the other ToyConnecters, to going along with Samvitha to talk to all the younger students, to informing teachers and getting their consent and support, it has really been an amazing project. Several of my teachers have commented on how ToyConnect has shown many students of our school (those who come from privileged backgrounds), what it means to do something good for the less fortunate – I think that’s what this whole thing has really been about, just lending a hand and helping other children out.


Abacus

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ToyConnect was an excellent opportunity for city kids to think of those who are less fortunate than them. It also showed them how simple it can be to reach out to someone. We hope that this is a first step in a lifetime of sharing! Ms. Gayathry (Teacher, Abacus)


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Arsha Vidya Mandir

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I’m sure everyone has really appreciated what Samvitha and the ToyConnect team have started this year… but I think what stands out the most to me is how Samvitha pulled together so much in so little time. To rally so many students to the cause, to get thousands of toys in donations, and to set up and distribute all of these toys shows a dedication and passion to the cause. A job well done, ToyConnect! G. Revathi (Teacher, Arsha Vidya Mandir)


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Chettinad Vidyashram

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I have been involved in this process quite closely, helping Swetha (a ToyConnect student coordinator) with collecting the toys from each of the classrooms over the past few weeks and basically talking to young children and getting them to participate. So I think I can say on behalf of myself and the other junior students who helped Swetha that though it was quite a tiring process at times, we think it has been worth the effort. Indira Sankara (Student, Chettinad Vidyashram)


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Church Park

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ToyConnect has been one crazy journey! Can’t tell you how many times Priya (a ToyConnect student coordinator) has yelled down the stairs for me and other innocent bystanders to come and help her lug huge bags of toys around. On a more positive note, this is definitely a step in the right direction for the young generation and I’m so glad to see that we are making a difference in the lives of children. Hasna J (Student, Church Park)


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MCTM

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We want to thank Samvitha for giving us this opportunity; she has clearly done a great job in pulling all of this together. We never realized the extent of lack of access to toys amongst the poor. People always do book drives or stationary… but toys is a whole new idea. Very creative! Ms. Leema Rose (Interact Club Teacher, MCTM)


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This initiative was really fun! We tried to generate as much awareness as possible by constantly reminding students, making announcements at every assembly and talking to the parents of the primary students. We would love to see this happen again. Deepika Suresh (Interact Club President, MCTM)


MCTM IB

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I decided to be a part of this initiative when a friend roped me in, and I soon discovered how much fun it was! It really brought the IB group together, since we shared all the work – making posters, and talking to the other students about donating. I’ve really loved working on the campaign. Vaishnovi Reddy (Student, MCTM IB School)


The Gathering   43


SISHYA

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At our school, we had a really good response in the junior section! The younger kids were so responsive and they really wanted to contribute to this effort. We got tons of dolls and stuffed toys, these seem to be the most popular. Our collection efforts were studentbased. I think it’s so amazing that students are doing this rather than an NGO or an organization; it makes it all the more special. Krithika Prasad (Interact Club President, Sishya)


VIDYA MANDIR

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This is definitely the kind of initiative that Vidya Mandir likes to support and promote within the school. I can tell you that the students of the elementary section were very excited at an opportunity like this, and I’m sure even the parents will support ToyConnect because they have to give away their old toys at some point. It’s a great idea and I hope it was fruitful. Ms. Sudha S (Elementary School Principal, Vidya Mandir)


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Our

Media Supporters!

Thank you, Archana Subramaniam, for visiting the schools with me on a hot summer day and for helping us generate support by covering this story in ‘The Hindu’.


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Sharing toys that you don’t use anymore and giving them away for a good cause is something that is truly inspiring. What better way to express your sentiments that show that you really care. Samvitha’s campaign encompasses what many have just thought but have not really done. Loved her spirit and the execution of building smaller teams in school and thereby reach many more who want to donate but did not know where or how. With this you know that your toys will be loved a little more by kids who are probably using them for the first time. A great initiative to sensitize everyone to be a little bit more caring and sharing and actually make a difference to the society at large.

Ms. Archana Subramaniam (Journalist at The Hindu)


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The

Gifting

The Joyful Journey…


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Lotus Montissori Balwadi Toy Libraries at: Sri Ramacharan Trust’s Mylapore Balwadi Olcott Memorial School (Theosophical Society, Chennai) Seva Samajam Children’s Home Hope Foundation Primary School Advent Christian School

The second stage of this initiative was to gift away all the toys that had been collected. However, I didn’t just want to donate them to an NGO or gift them to children. I wanted something more sustainable to be set up, and after some research, we came up with the idea of toy libraries. Such libraries have been set up in the past before, but there are very few in Chennai and around Tamil Nadu. By setting up a toy library, we would be ensuring that a wide audience of children had access to these toys, and that they would be properly cared for. During a 3-week period from 29th June -18th July, the ToyConnect team set up six toy libraries in Chennai and the wonderful journey continues during Fall 2012 in rural Tamil Nadu through the Goonj network.


The Gifting   53

Background on Balwadis Started by the Government of India in 1975, the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) has been instrumental in improving the health and wellbeing of mothers and children under 6 by providing health and nutrition education, health services, supplementary food, and pre-school education. Delivery of these services is managed through Balwadis or child care centres. The ICDS national development program is one of the largest in the world. It reaches more than 39 million children aged 0-6 years and 8 million pregnant and lactating mothers. Major program beneficiaries are the poor of India.

Ms. Padmini Gopalan (Director, Sri Ramacharan Trust) We would like to thank Samvitha and her ToyConnect team of students for all their support and the toys. It will certainly add a lot of color and zest to these balwadi children’s lives. We would request that more of these toy libraries be set up in other balwadis across the city, to spread the joy. Wishing Samvitha and ToyConnect all the best!


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Lotus Montessori Balwadi

Ms. Arulselvi (Head Teacher, Lotus Montessori) We will mainly be using these toys to aid in story telling. These props will definitely make the stories a lot more interesting for the children. Also, we can use them to teach names of different animals, fruits, vegetables, etc. For all of these things, the toys are a big help in making the learning come alive and giving the children another outlet to build and imagine.

I love dolls. I like to comb their hair and dress them up in pretty clothes. –Rohini (translated from Tamil)


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Sri Ramacharan Trust’s Mylapore Balwadi

Ms. Ashwini (Head Teacher, Mylapore ICDS Balwadi) There are no rules when it comes to toys and that’s such a break and a benefit for these children. They have seen these toys but have never been able to play with them before. In the Montessori method, we aren’t always allowed to use toys, only the materials given, but toys are what the children love the most! Sometimes, the kids will take the toys home, and then they will grow so attached to them that they will eat with them, sleep with them, do everything with the toy right there!

What shall we name this teddy bear? I think it should be John. – Mahesh (translated from Tamil)


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Olcott Memorial School The Oclott school’s vision is “Social change through education of the underprivileged” and it caters to the children who come from the socially and economically disadvantaged sections of society in the school’s neighborhood in Besant Nagar, Chennai.

Ms. Lakshmi Suryanarayan (Director, Olcott Memorial School) It has always been a goal of mine to include more toys and interactive play in our primary children’s curriculum. We had even designated a room for this very purpose. So, when Samvitha approached us with the idea of having a toy library, I was thrilled. The kids will have a chance to just let loose and relax at the end of a tiring school day, and it’s great to see them having so much fun.

I really like this butterflies book. Other children like playing with dolls, but I like seeing the pictures. – Harini (translated from Tamil)


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Seva Samajam Primary School Run by the “Guild of Service” a nationally recognized social service organization, the main objective of the Seva Samajam School is to impart quality education among under privileged and orphaned children.

Ms. Jayarani (Head of Elementary School, Seva Samajam) Students between grades 1 to 5 will be brought here once a week, as a ‘library/free play period’. The older children have an opportunity to go to our library room, but these young kids can’t really enjoy that, yet, so this room gives us a good alternative. These toys will serve mainly as entertainment and pretend play. The students, especially the younger ones, get very bored sitting in the classroom all day. They need some time to let loose!

I wish I could take them home and show them to the other kids in my town. – Dinesh (translated from Tamil)


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Hope Foundation School HOPE foundation is running a school with the purpose of imparting education in English medium to the children from the Kannagi Nagar slum rehabilitation colony in Kannagi Nagar, Thoraipakkam, Chennai.

Ms. Manjula Seraf (Principal, Hope Foundation Primary School) A lot of these children come from very troubled backgrounds. As you can see, this school is not situated in a very comfortable neighborhood. The parents are mainly laborers and housemaids. So the adults tend to be aggressive around the house. The children pick up these aggressive habits and start to behave like this at school. The toys will give an opportunity for the children to just let loose and channel their energy positively… it will serve as a great outlet!

Akka (sister), thank you so much for these. Storytelling will be more fun with toys as props. – Priya (translated from Tamil)


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Advent Christian School Catering to the socio-economically disadvantaged children of the fisherman colony in Neelangarai, Chennai, the Pre-K to grade 8 school has a student population of 500 children.

Ms. Usha and Geetha (Teachers, Advent Christian School) We are functioning on the bare minimum here at this school. As you can see, multiple grades’ classes are held in the same room, separated by empty shelves. Now, with these toys, we can add some color to the classroom and it gives the children something to look forward to everyday. The classroom looks more appealing.

Wow, I can’t believe there are so many toys! I want to come in here and play all the time. – Shankar (translated from Tamil)


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Off to

Goonj

Though 6 toy libraries have been set up through the local networks and friends, the rest have been given to Goonj’s Chennai centre for distribution to rural Tamil Nadu. Under the direction of Mr. Ashutosh, the Chennai Goonj representative, special boxes of about 250 toys each are being created for distribution to about 150 rural balwadis and primary schools in fall 2012.


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FacebookSupport Here are some of the responses we received, regarding the campaign. I really wish the ToyConnect team had spread out to more schools… I would have loved to donate and I’m sure my friends would have too! Maybe next year. – Simran Shankar, college student I would love for this campaign to be an annual event and for every school in Chennai to participate! – Ishu Baid, student

More than toys, just spreading awareness about this campaign is making a difference, I feel. It shows what these other kids are missing! – Akshay, student

The toy libraries look really amazing. I’m sure the kids are loving their new toys. Can’t wait for this to happen again next June. – Asvika Ranganesh, college student Samvitha Ram and her ToyConnect are going places! An amazing initiative… Congratulations to all those who donated and participated. – Raja Nirmal, student


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Sustainability ToyConnect has brought about so many positive responses this year that we want to keep it going and spread the joy every year. Each of the schools that have participated this year are willing to do it again next year, and each of the students that have been really involved this year have identified 2 or 3 of their junior classmates who are interested in taking charge of this initiative next year in their school. New schools that were made aware of this initative through our student supporters and media coverage have also expressed their interest in being a part of the ToyConnect campaign. Since ToyConnect is all about the connections that we build, whether that is through a friend, through a toy or even through a stranger, I hope that next year this network will expand and we’ll have an even greater participation from schools, teachers and students. So look out for ToyConnect 2013!


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Concept, Copy & Photography – Samvitha Ram Creative Design & Layout – Deepa Elangovan


Why ToyConnect   71

Samvitha Ram

ToyConnect

Gathering toys, gifting joy

toy connect  
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