“Life is a wonderful gift of nature and we can realize it through sharing and giving. God the Almighty can be witnessed in the smiles of the innocent faces.”—Shweta Chari
In our homes, in some corner, packed inside cardboard boxes, we have toys that lay unused and less bothered. Have you thought that they could bring joy to the life of children who never had toys to play with? So, let us take them out of those boxes, wrap them up and send across to Toybank, which aims to bring smiles on thousands of deprived faces. You’ll feel a silent satisfaction sweep inside you.
This is the story of Shweta Chari, a young and energetic Electronics Engineer, who found a calling inside her and decided that she will bring fun and play into the lives of disadvantaged children. She founded ‘Toybank’ with an honest vision of placing a toy in the hands of every child in India and the world.
A simple idea that gives thousands of children, the chance to regain their childhood.
With a background in engineering, Shweta Chari at the age of 21 was concerned about the issues related to child harassment. The journey began on August 15th, 2004, in a small restaurant when Shweta was having dinner with her friends. The idea of Toybank illuminated her mind when everybody was sharing their views on child harassment cases.
In India, due to the large population, many children live invisible lives. They go completely unnoticed by society; whether they live or die, it hardly matters because there are so many of them. This cold attitude shook her and a deep desire to bring about sustainable change, made her establish Toybank, where underprivileged kids, including orphans and survivors of abuse, are empowered through healthy play.
Shweta and her team volunteers at Toybank started gathering toys for street children in Mumbai. The very innocence of this initiative attracted fabulous responses from people. Toys started flooding in and Toybank gift-wrapped the donated toys with love and placed them in the hands of these kids. It might seem like a simple toy gifting idea, but there is enormous mental, emotional, and creative development that these toys trigger.
Shweta soon realized that the beneficiaries of toys impact much beyond her expectations. The children began to realize that play is one of their core rights. They also began expressing themselves better and were more in tune with their lives and circumstances. The kids were slowly opening up and began to feel important and wanted. Most of all, they had something that they could say was their own – a strong sense of belongingness came along. As they grow, like we all remember some toy or the other that we played with, these children will also have a special toy to remember.
Currently, they use premises of communities, schools to set up their highly curated play centers. They work with 47,000 children, in over 3,000 centers across India. Toybank has now become a global giving platform, where you can give access to play to disadvantaged children through one-off or recurring donations.
“If our kids are happy, then the world is happy.” – Shweta Chari
A toy shapes the psyche of the children, so utmost care is taken to give only unbiased and morally correct toys to children. Toybank does not take Barbie dolls; toy guns; violent toys or any other toy that discriminates. One of the incidents that shook her hard from the inside took place when she was distributing toys to street children, in Bombay. In their early distribution drives, they used to give toy guns to the children, when a kid came up to Shweta and said ‘I want to be a Gunda’, at that moment she realized the power of play. His parents were petty thieves by profession. It was normal for the kid, even though it seems blasphemous to us.
It is important to be responsible for what should be given. Toybank has constantly pushed themselves to as if they are really solving the kids’ problems and properly addressing their needs.
A small idea that started in a small restaurant has over the years gathered momentum with the help and support of friends and volunteers from all corners of Bombay. Within a short period and with very minimal resources, Toybank is bringing smiles on thousands of deprived faces. Toybank acts as a leveler of society. The happiest thing for Shweta is that children from different economic backgrounds are mixing at the toy library.
‘Education through play’ is something that Indians don’t support. But the selfless and continuous efforts of Shweta Chari from the past 17 years are giving and will continue to give unprivileged children their right to play.