Pooja Rai is the founder of ‘Anthill Creation’, a non-profit organization that has built 283 playgrounds using nothing but tires all across India.
It all began when Pooja Rai was in the final year of her college and saw some poor kids playing with slippers and concrete. It moved her, and after 3 months she built a playground with tires for them with her friends. ” I used to visit this school for underprivileged named ‘ Disha Seema Care Centre’, and one day I saw a few kids playing with broken cement pipes. They were using their slippers to play badminton, so I just spoke to my friend about building a playground for them. We got on work and built a playground with 80 truck tires.”, says Pooja Rai.
This colorful playground had a swing set, a square climber, a caterpillar, and a tunnel. ” When we were painting the tires many children had even joined in, and it was beautiful.” Initially, she thought that the tires will cost nothing but then had to hunt for them. After a lot of searches a company liked their idea and sponsored them with the tires. In April 2015, this beautiful and eco-friendly playscape was ready. 2 years back when Pooja visited the park again, she was surprised. “I was invited by my college for an award and after that, I visited the ground, and I was so happy to see it again. Nothing was broken, only the paint had faded a bit, but the children continued to play there.”, she says.
Now, Anthill Creation takes around 4 to 5 days to build a single playground. ” It depends on the location and the size. If it’s in Bangalore it takes even lesser days, but if it is in remote geography then it can go on for a couple of days more. Until today, Anthill has made 283 playgrounds across 18 Indian states. ” We have been impacting more than 200 K children, and in between the pandemic, we were able to reach out to 10 K kids.”, she adds.
During the pandemic, Pooja and her team at Anthill came up with their epic indoor ” Play in a box” games kit. Talking about how that happened, she says, ” Last year we had to halt all our operations. The team had to fly back. There were half build playgrounds in Odhisa and Maharashtra and we had to leave them due to the lockdown. After 3 months, we started building the playgrounds again. But, then we realized that the kids were not coming outside, so we thought there is no point in building them and decided to take games to their homes.”
After this Anthill introduced ‘Play In A Box’ with 7 different games inside. “Through these games, we ensured that the children continued to have fun along with some learning.” Each game kit has interesting indoor games like Hopscotch Mats, Domino Blocks, Balancing games, Puzzles to make kids remain curious and continue to enjoy. They have been able to distribute 11593 kits to date. Amazing right?
With her start-up, Pooja has built playgrounds not just in cities but also in rural areas. These rural regions include Joda in Odhisa, Maligaon in Assam, Kharagpur, and many tribal villages in Maharashtra. Pooja feels working in such rural areas is totally different and beautiful compared to the cities. ” In such villages, a school is not just a school. It is more like a community centre. You will see adults come there and spend time with them. Making playgrounds in such regions has been my favourite. We spend time with the community, we even stay with them. We had old people and kids helping us in different ways. They give us food and it doesn’t feel like that you are working there as a client. There is a community angle through it and I love it.”, she says.
Anthill Creations is bringing back playing to all children by building inclusive and interactive playgrounds from upcycled waste material like scrap tires & drums. The name is an inspiration too and reflects a lot about their work. “Anthill is a structure and it represents that even though the ants are so small, they can build things as sturdy as a hill. We wanted to make Anthill an organization where communities come together and build playgrounds that can create a massive change and positive impact in their lives.’, she explains.
What started with a glimpse of some kids, and then in a room where Pooja and her friends decided the name, Anthill has come a long way. In such a small duration they have made an impact, and it’s impressive. But, all of this success came after creating opportunities through different challenges. From working in cities where there is a language barrier to functioning with low funds in the initial years, Pooja has been through many things.
” One of the constant struggles that we still face is that people don’t take this seriously. They believe that playing is something trivial, but it is very important. It helps the kids with growing up and teaches many essential aspects of life like settlement, and negotiation. We don’t learn these things in classrooms. So, lack of this awareness is one problem. Then getting enough funds has been challenging too. The first two years were tough even though we were working with the government. Also, people have this misunderstanding that as these playgrounds are made of waste, it’s not good. So, it’s very difficult to convince them and change their mindset.”
One of the philosophies that everyone follows at Anthill is to constantly keep innovating. The fact that they were able to grow even during the pandemic was because they came up with a solution and something relevant. Talking about Anthill’s future projects Pooja says, “We will continue to build playgrounds. We are hoping to work with the government to make cities more child-friendly. So, looking forward to identifying spaces that are dead zone, and convert them into community parks and children’s play areas. Also, ensuring that the cities are more liveable and child-friendly. We want to come up with play-based inventions.”.
Currently, Anthill is distributing indoor play kits to underprivileged kids. They are also a part of BaLa intervention, an innovative concept developing child-friendly, educative, and fun-based physical environment building in school infrastructure.
Pooja Rai is one young enterprenuer. She is talented, and someone who is always finding opportunities even in the darkest times. Advising other young entrepreneurs she says, ” If you are not sure about starting with something, know that you will never be 100% sure. So, you need to have that courage and take the plunge into the unknown. Don’t think too much, take the risk.
You will never regret why did you do it. But yes, if you don’t take the chance you will regret it for your entire life. So, do it. Another thing would be to keep going. Once you take that leap of faith and start your enterprise you have to have a very strong determination. Be resilient because there will be obstacles in your way, but you will learn to turn them into opportunities.”
She is definitely a star! In a country that produces almost 100 million tires a year, Pooja Rai is using them most colorfully. Local Samosa appreciates her for the work she is doing! Check her epic work here.