Welcome to a new Babyccino feature: the Babyccino Charity. We’ve been thinking a lot about how very lucky we are in this world, and about how our ‘everyday’ problems pale in comparison to the huge challenges that many other moms and children face. So we’ve decided to shed light on some lesser known charities that are close to our hearts, hoping to bring much-needed attention to some organizations which are doing a lot of good.
Our first charity is the The Anganwadi Project, founded by my dear friend Jodie. Jodie is the owner of Bholu, a fantastic interior furnishing company based in Australia. She started The Anganwadi Project when she was visiting Gujarat in India and saw the urgent need for safe, clean pre-schools (locally called ‘anganwadis’). This being Jodie, an energetic girl to say the least, she did not hang around too long musing about it. Within 3 weeks the first of 66 new pre-schools was built…
Here is her story:
I never thought that something as devastating as an earthquake could turn my life around in such a wonderful way and send me on a new mission of understanding of people, poverty, humanity and childhood. It was a few years after the horrific 2001 earthquake in Gujarat, India that I stopped what I was doing at the time (costume designing) to help rebuild the homes and lives of communities on the border of Pakistan and India. I had never experienced such a raw perspective on humanity, and being with people who have absolutely nothing but their clothes on their backs but still want to give you everything. I was fortunate enough to have lived and worked with the most beautiful families during this time, and it was during this time that I met the traditional Kaatchchi women whose skill is incredibly traditional embroidery which they use only for their own clothes and their daughter’s dowry.
I knew I had the opportunity to give something to these women and help get them back on their feet. I starting designing cushions and beds throws, which were merely a canvas for these women to do their embroidery. Little did I know, they found my minimalist and graphic designs quite amusing and likened the designs to the drawings of their own children, who they affectionately called their “Bholu’s”. ( Literal meaning is a term of endearment to a small child, or a descriptive word for niaviety or innocence). The light went on in my head and I realised that their children could become involved by drawing the designs and then I could turn these into the embroidery for the textiles. It was from here, Bholu was born.
Now, every year I spend time going into slum communities and taking art/craft workshops with young street children who are not in school and are being deprived of a childhood. I come bearing fruit and fresh water, crayons, paper, stickers and glue, and for a few hours these children can just be children. It is complete chaos but so incredible to see them forgetting to work. After many of these workshops I ended up with mounds of golden ideas and divine illustrative creatures which could only ever be imagined by a child. From here came the Bholu Bubalah range, a delightful and quirky range of children’s toys, designed by the children and hand made by their mothers, aunts and grandmothers. A wonderful circle of creativity had started.
One extremely hot day in India, May of 2006 in a slum community where I was doing the art workshops, I found more than 50 children between the ages of 2 and 5 sitting in a galvonised iron lean-to in a makeshift school. It was about 47 degrees outside and would have had to have been in excess of 50 degrees inside. The children looked listless, tired, uninspired, hungry and hot. I immediately asked what could be done about this and if we could rebuild this preschool to have ventilation, electricity, running water and a clean space. With the help of a local NGO, Manav Sadhna, the next morning, I had a meeting with a local contractor and the children were moved to a nearby house while demolition started. Within 3 weeks and $1200 USD later, the children had a new school. I will never forget the joy on their faces at the inauguration, a far cry from the moment I had seen them, 3 weeks earlier.
Inspired by how little the school cost and how little time it took to make, that The Anganwadi Project began. An “anganwadi” is the name of these preschools, where young children between the ages of 2 and 5, receive one meal a day, education, hygiene, discipline and love in some of the poorest and lowest socio-economic communities in India. The Anganwadi Project is set up to rebuild preschools for slum children and is now run hand in hand with Manav Sadhna, an NGO based in Gandi Ashram, Gujarat and AWF, Architects Without Frontiers- Australia.
It is only the children from wealthy and middle class families can afford to go to a formal pre school in India. Over 18% of children do not get any formal education at all and children from these poor families are often lack the proper nutrition and more than 43% of children in India are malnourished. Proper care, hygiene and discipline are also lacking in these children and it is proven that a child given a chance to attend a preschool will more likely to start formal primary education. Many of these children, if not in school, are begging, rag picking or working with their parents, depriving them of a childhood and essential life skills.
Through The Anganwadi Project we aim to rebuild and renovate 66 anganwadis in the slum areas of Ahmedabad, Gujurat, India. Our architect volunteers transform a tiny, ill-ventilated, galvonised iron lean-to into beautiful, safe, clean, ventilated and light space for the children. Often the design of the Anganwadi has educational elements including water catchments, hygiene games like snakes and ladders mosaics ( made by local artisan women) on the floor of the school which sends a dirty child back into the bathroom and many more architectural elements to make learning fun.
We make sure the anganwadis are constructed by local labourers, sustaining local employment and use largely re-cycled materials in order to support the Manav Sadhna philosophy of ‘Re-Use, Re-Cycle, and Reduce.’ It is so exciting to think that since September 2007 The Anganwadi Project we have completed the build of 8 Anganwadi’s with over 300 children now in school. This is all possible thanks to an earthquake, the time and skills of incredible volunteers, part profits from the sale of Bholu products and generous donations from companies and individuals. We aim to make this project sustainable for the teachers, mothers, children and the local contractors for the next 5 years with our goal to complete all 66 anagwadi’s in the area.
When you see the children’s faces and you see them getting a little bit fatter and healthier every year and you hear the happy voices coming from the schools, it is such a treat and all so rewarding. It certainly makes you really think about how lucky our children are and how a little goes a long way.
If you are interested in sponsoring the Anganwadi Project or helping out in any other way, click here for more information.