Two little boys were engrossed in a game of badminton: their slippers served as racquets. Nearby, two other kids played atop broken sewer pipes. This sight made Pooja Rai think: “Playgrounds should not be a luxury. It is something every child should have access to for free.” And that is when the then 23-year-old student of architecture in IIT-Kharagpur made her first playground for children within her institution’s campus, using colourful tyres from cars and two wheelers re-purposed as play equipment.
In 2017, Pooja started Anthill Creations, an NGO that builds sustainable playgrounds for all kids. “This is a simple solution. We don’t understand that a child can learn so much while playing in a natural state.”
Over the years she has built them in Government schools across 18 States.Anthill Creations also recently cleared dumpyards in Bhubaneswar and Bengaluru, and turned them into community spaces. The playground uses nearly 80 tyres — some sourced from scrapyards or sponsored by tyre companies such as Michelin, Yokohama, Apollo, and Ceat among others.
While most playgrounds have a standard slide, swing and see-saw, the ones built by Anthill provide variations like punching bags, elements like climbers, octopus, elephants and horses all made out of tyres. “We speak to children to ask them what they want and create accordingly,” Pooja says; she chose tyres as her choice of material as they are sturdy and safe with no sharp edges.
Last year, when lockdown was announced, Pooja realised that children would not be coming out to play anytime soon. “So I came up with ‘Play in a Box’ that has seven games. These can be played in three to four different ways.” For example, the domino blocks are being used to play Jenga-inspired games, or as a substitute to Lego blocks or puzzles. The kit also has a hop scotch mat to ensure that kids get some physical activity as well. “Each box is priced at ₹1,000 and we get corporates to sponsor boxes for different communities across the country,” she says, adding that they have sent around 5,000 boxes so far.
Pooja’s other plans are to make outdoor seats for schools using tyres so that when children return to school, they can have classes outdoors.