10-16 July 2015 #766

Toys are us

Mothers in Saptari get together to make toys to educate their children
Sahina Shrestha in SAPTARI

PLAYTIME: Sushil Marik plays with toys made by his grandmother who says the three-year-old has grown smarter with increased playtime. Photos: Sahina Shrestha

Karo Marik beams with pride as her three-year-old grandson, Sushil picks up a clay bird and says 'chunmun', Maithili for baby chick. Sushil’s mother, Babita Marik stands on the side, smiling. Sushil then picks up empty nail polish bottles and starts naming the colours. Figures of birds and animals, colourful corn cobs, and rag dolls lie scattered all around him.

All of Sushil’s play things were made by his grandmother who learnt the skills at a workshop conducted earlier this year by Seto Gurans, which works in the field of early childhood development (ECD) in Saptari. The workshop, a part of the Ek Tokari Khelauna (A basket of toy) campaign that encourages mothers to use ‘learning by playing’ method has been conducted in 30 communities in this Tarai district.

“Ever since we gave him toys he’s grown smarter, he now recognises different colours and shapes,” says Babita. Karo adds: “He has also become more active. Earlier he would only cling onto his mother but now he plays independently.”

During the training the women are taught to make toys from locally available resources like clay, paper and old clothes. Empty shampoo bottles, juice cartons, old clothes which would otherwise be disposed are recycled to make new toys. The women also learn how to craft toys from bamboo and clay.

Radha Devi Thakur of Saptari uses toys she made to educate her children.

At the end of the workshop each participant walks home with a basket of toys for her child. Some are distributed to ECD centers in the communities.

“This is the first time we introduced the campaign here and it’s already become very popular,” says Laxmi Rai of UNICEF, which provided technical assistance and funding to the program.

Parents say children have become more interactive, creative and confident since they were given toys a month ago. The women in the community have also had to come out of their shells to participate in the workshops. Most of the participants are daily wage earners and work in the fields. Around 30 women participate at each workshop.

“I attended the training for my son,” says 23-year-old Binita Thakur as she watches her three- year-old son Ayush play with the house she made. Thakur herself wasn’t allowed to play much as a child and she doesn’t want her son to suffer a similar fate. “I want my son to play as much as he wants," she says.

Even though Ayush keeps breaking the toys she makes, Thakur has no complaints about making a new set of toys almost every week. “Because I use whatever resources is available in the house, it doesn’t cost a thing,” she says.

The workshops have targeted women from socially marginalised communities with poor economic background. Nineteen-year-old Kalawati Thakur says her mother Radha Devi has grown more attentive to her sister’s upbringing after attending the workshop. “In my case, I was left on my own. But she’s become more attentive towards my sister's development,” says Kalawati.

“I did not know how to make toys or the benefit it brings to my children back then,” says Radha Devi, “but things are different now and I feel glad to see the joy these toys bring to my child.”

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