Expanding young minds
Article from Sunday Times - 21 June 2009, by Shambhavi Anand
PUNE: Shrinking open spaces and the need to preserve recreation places for children in the city has resulted in the birth of the Balbhavan movement, thanks to the untiring efforts of its founder, Shobha Bhagwat.
Balbhavan is a recreational centre for children in Pune set up by Bhagwat, popularly known as Shobhatai. The aim is to provide children between the ages of 3 and 12 with joyous moments they don't find at school or home due to lack of space, among other reasons. "We have been quite successful in fulfilling our aim. More than 500 students come to our ground near Sarasbaug. And we now have almost 100 such centres across Pune," says Bhagwat.
The Garware Balbhavan was formally opened on September 1, 1985, although the process began in 1979. "It was the brainchild of P S Palande, former municipal commissioner, who wanted to make Pune a children-friendly city and communicated the idea to Abasaheb Garware, a city-based industrialist," says Bhagwat. Garware got interested in the idea and got land from the civic body to build the centre.
Recalling how she became associated with the Balbhavan, Bhagwat says, "I had written a book on parenting called Apli Mule' which Garware had read. When he started the Balbhavan, he got in touch with me and I was more than happy to take on the responsibility.
"We started with 1.5 acres of land given to us by the corporation. The infrastructure, which consists of a 4,000 sq ft hall, was built by the Garware Trust. Even today, it is run by the trust in collaboration with the corporation," she adds.
At Balbhavan, learning is imparted through recreational activities like camps, exhibitions, picnics, theatre and various competitions like dance and music. It also has eco-clubs and literary societies for the young minds. Nature walks and festivals make the children conscious of their surroundings and keep them anchored to their culture.
Balbhavan has 23 professionally trained childcare experts called tais (sisters) to look after the children who come to the centre after school. They plan activities ranging from exercises to story-telling. The network not only has spread across Pune and adjoining areas but has also made imprints outside the country. "We have organised virtual interaction programmes for our children with children in Japan and the USA. These programmes include story-writing and drawing," says Bhagwat.
The centre holds numerous contests, including Ganapati-making competitions and 'shekoti' (camp fire) during the winter, where children are encouraged to design programmes of their own. "One year, children took out a procession of ghosts at midnight during the camp fire. Starting from the development of the idea to the make-up, everything was done by them on their own," says Bhagwat with pride. The centre also holds annual meetings for parents in April to ensure all-round development of children and to educate young parents on parenting.
In the 23 years of its existence, it has not always been smooth-sailing. "There have been attempts to take the land away from us but we have resisted such attempts," says Bhagwat. "The parents extend strong support to us," she adds.
Alumni of the Balbhavan also feel a strong bond with the place, years after they have left it. Rasika Kale, a commercial artist and alumni says, "I have happy memories of the place. It has taught me how to live with people and build a huge network of friends in every field."