This Inspirational Indian Team Speed-Builds Playgrounds From Trash!

Meet a group of architects who passionately believe that play is the right of every child.

May 21, 2021
Special Collections: CHANGEMAKERS
This Inspirational Indian Team Speed-Builds Playgrounds From Trash! | Meet a group of architects who passionately believe that play is the right of every child.

Pooja Rai, CEO of Anthill Creations, a nonprofit in India transforming scrap into colorful playgrounds, was inspired to name her fledgling organization by ants, really! “I called it Anthill after a beautiful example from nature of how tiny ants come together to build something bigger than themselves. We had picked up a large problem to bring play to all and wanted to create something similar through innovation and a collaborative culture in the company,” she revealed to Atlas of the Future.

But the real tipping point for this young architect was visiting an orphanage when still a student back in 2014. She was shocked to see kids make do with unsuitable “toys” because they had none, and nowhere else to play.

“Kids were playing with anything they could get their hands on… One group was rolling around a broken metallic pipe and brandishing it like a sword. Two boys were attempting to play badminton, using the soles of their flip-flops as rackets, Rai told Christian Science Monitor

This sight motivated Rai to see how she could do something to help when so many parts of India lack public space for kids. As Rai shares in a post by Brut media, she found herself wondering whether play is a luxury. Shouldn’t easy access to a safe and stimulating play space be the right of every child, no matter their family’s finances?

And outdoor play is about much more than entertainment. It helps children grow emotionally, intellectually, and physically, and learn how to make friends. They learn skills like problem solving, and empathy, compromise and negotiation,  and destress. And as the Anthill Creations blog details, a sedentary lifestyle is not healthy for anyone.

So this determined young architect-in-waiting, already more interested in spaces than in buildings and walls, got busy talking with friends about fundraising for a low-cost play area for disadvantaged children. She then had a lightbulb moment, deciding to incorporate some of the 100 million tires discarded in India every year to achieve this, and help the environment at the same time,

This first project became reality in 2015, when Rai and her friends used readily available discarded items, all cleaned, safety-checked and painted in appealing bright colors, to create a playground on a shoestring budget. Since she set up Anthill Creations in 2016,  it has built around 300 playscapes in former wastelands, in response to many requests, celebrating the value of play outside the classroom in public spaces, schools, and refugee camps.   

Today, Anthill Creations, the nonprofit Rai heads, is made up of a team of architects striving to bring play back into the lives of countless children. It aims, in its own words, to “bring back play in the lives of children by mobilizing their communities to create playscapes themselves and by upcycling waste material. In essence, we envision public interactive learning environments with a primary focus on sustainability.”

These incorporate insights from research done by the likes of the Lego Foundation and UNICEF, as well as those learnt from the children themselves. It is funded by charitable grants and business donors.

Based in Bengaluru in the southeast of the South Indian state of Karnataka, the team brings a flexible, solutions-focused approach to each new project. For instance in a playground by a school in Mullipallam, tiny holes drilled into the tires ensure that rainwater doesn’t collect or stagnate. This is because it’s an area where Dengue fever, a mosquito-borne tropical disease, is endemic.

While sites have elements in common such as swings made from suspended tires, there are specific preferences that are taken into account to optimize the way that the kids relate to the new play space. Animal designs are a hit in smaller villages, coastal themes dominate in areas nearer the sea, while city kids tens to favor cars, bridges and tunnels.

While each project is different, the challenge shared by all is creating a fun, interactive, sustainable  and cheaper play space out of recycled materials and crucially, involving the local community. Anthill Creations have 150 designs for playground equipment, all set up as modular units made of waste which is why, Rai explains, her organization can build almost 30 playgrounds a month.

For Anthill Creations, their “clients”— the children who will use and enjoy these play spaces, and the communities they are part of — remain top of mind. Each and every project starts with conversations with kids about what they want from a particular space. And no detail is too small for this passionate team. For instance, it is aware that interactive elements like jungle gyms can help a shy child emerge from her shell.                                   

Always adapting to benefit the kids they care about so much, their actions during the pandemic have been no different. Anthill Creations has developed a self-learning play-based games kit, “Play in a Box”, to keep the beautiful curiosity of children alive while they need to stay home, distributing these to over 1000 children so far.

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Daphne has a background in editing, writing and global trends. She is inspired by trends seeing more people care about sharing and protecting resources, enjoying experiences over products and celebrating their unique selves. Making the world a better place has been a constant motivation in her work.
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