At Chennai’s first repair cafe, children learn to tinker and fix

Watch: At Chennai’s first repair cafe, children learn to tinker and fix

Bicycles, clocks, cameras, and toys: Chennai’s first repair cafe had children learning how to repair, maintain and care for things as a useful skill

Updated - July 05, 2024 06:10 pm IST

Published - July 04, 2024 02:24 pm IST

What do you do when your bicycle needs a repair? Or when your favourite stuffed toy has a tear and needs to be sewn up? Do you know how to tinker around with, and fix a watch or a camera that has stopped working? A collective of homeschooling parents from Chennai, and The Repair Cafe Bengaluru Foundation came together for Chennai’s first repair cafe to answer these questions. 

“As a group of volunteers, we organised our first repair cafe in Bengaluru in 2015, inspired by a similar initiative from the Netherlands. The concept was modified to suit our cities, and we have trained the focus on children. We have tied up with residents associations, parenting groups, and even individuals who wish to introduce this concept to their community,” says Poorna Sarkar, coordinator.

Learning how to repair a bicycle at the repair cafe in Chennai

Learning how to repair a bicycle at the repair cafe in Chennai | Photo Credit: Thamodharan B

Poorna, and a team of volunteers from Bengaluru were present at the repair cafe in Chennai on Sunday. While it was only a half-day pop-up of sorts in Chennai, the Repair Cafe community in Bengaluru has been conducting workshops during the summer break, through weekends for children there.

At the portico of S Meenalochani’s home in Chennai, small stalls were set up in different corners for darning and sewing, electronics and carpentry, and bicycle repair. Children who walked into the repair cafe, came with cameras and watches that needed repair, niggles in their bicycles, stuffed animals, remote-operated cars and more — all in need of tinkering. 

Melvie Pearlita was one such participant, keenly focussed on her clock, at the electronics repair station. As a volunteer patiently explained the different moving parts of the device, the ten 10-year-old followed instructions, and began her repairs. 

A participant at the repair cafe in Chennai

A participant at the repair cafe in Chennai | Photo Credit: Thamodharan B

“We have had around ten participants come in, and the electronics repair station is a big hit,” said Meenalochani. A homeschooling parent, she said that learning how to do at least a first level of repair for things at home was an extremely useful skill for children to pick up, and was something often ignored by the current education system.

“Learning what is a diode may not really be in a child’s everyday context, but understanding why his remote car is not lighting up, is. A repair cafe is a wonderful opportunity to give products a longer life, and is important in a world where overconsumption thrives,” she added.

As children crowd around the electronics repair table, 10-year-old Yash Mrityun stands nearby, watching and learning as Ashok Urs, a volunteer fixes a children’s bicycle. “We have an array of tools and resources here to fix brakes, punctures, and even clean and care for their bicycles properly. There is a lot children can learn,” Ashok said. 

The repair cafe has been a great way to initiate children into the environmental benefits of learning to repair, according to the parents. “There are so many toys and other small things we end up throwing out. Learning how to repair, as well as being aware of the effort this takes, is a good way for children to learn to care for their possessions better,” says Auxilia Rajaratnam, a parent. 

The Repair Cafe Foundation in Bengaluru has been conducting workshops during the summer break, through weekends for children there. This is something that the community in Chennai also hopes to replicate, and Meenalochani says this will not be a one-off session. “With more awareness among parents and when interest grows, we hope to build on this and reach out to more children about the importance of repair as a skill,” she adds. 

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