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Glass Half Full | Jane Rothschild, The Anganwadi Project

The Anganwadi Project (TAP) is a non-profit Association based in Sydney Australia. Founded in 2007, TAP has designed and built anganwadis (pre-schools) in urban Ahmedabad, Gujarat and in rural Andhra Pradesh. TAP has worked closely with local communities throughout the design process and collaborates with local NGOs (Manav Sadhna in Ahmedabad and the Rural Development Trust in Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh). TAP believes strongly in the power of good design, the human rights of children, and the fundamental importance of their early educational experience to their well-being, growth and development to adulthood.

We interviewed Jane Rothschild, co-founder of TAP to know the inside story of her journey with TAP and to understand how the organisation strives to make the glass half full.

How was ‘The Anganwadi Project’ conceived?

It happened completely by chance. I was a director at ‘Architects Without Frontiers’ (AWF) in Australia. Here, during a talk series, I met a young woman who was an Australian designer working with Manav Sadhna in Ahmedabad. She had worked with them during the earthquake and she had developed a company where she made homeware products based on the children’s drawings in the anganwadis. Since I was working with AWF, we had access to architects and she had seen the poor conditions in which these kids used to study. We started talking and decided to visit India together. It became a project with AWF and we did the second anganwadi together. And then through AWF we built a third, fourth and fifth anganwadis, for which we received a grant from the City of Melbourne. With that grant we were able to get our first volunteers, a team of two people who were sent to India, where they did renovations of anganwadis that were being held in people’s houses. Then in 2011, TAP became an independent association separate from AWF and TAP gradually started growing.

'Bholu-17' anganwadi at Sabarmati, Ahmedabad © TAP

Because so much of time and love is put in building these schools, Manav Sadhna decided that rather than having a rental agreement with the owner, it worked better to actually make a new building. That way the building could work like a community centre after hours for education of teenage girls, providing health education and sex education, or as a feeding centre for pregnant mothers. They negotiated a long term lease or they obtained the site through donations. So TAP started very small 13 years ago with little renovations in Gujarat, but now we are doing much bigger projects in Andhra Pradesh.

What was the big idea behind ‘The Anganwadi Project’?

For us, it was more about the small idea behind it. I remember reading an article published in an architecture magazine in Australia and it said ‘from little things, big things grow’. I think that is very much our philosophy. We started really small and each year we just put one foot in front of the other, learnt from our mistakes and kept on going. We have had 40 volunteers now since 2013, from Australia and New Zealand. We have also had 4-5 volunteers in India, most of them were students or alumni from CEPT University. So a fantastic thing that has happened over time is the connection with CEPT University that has made local architects involved as well.

'Bholu-14' anganwadi at Sabarmati, Ahmedabad © TAP

We really believe that small-scale interventions make it possible to have very lasting and positive effects.

Architects always want to do the big architecture move, but it is the opposite of what we believe. We believe that good design is about good ventilation, good light, good orientation, having an outlook to a tree. And then the joy that is put in by the community and the volunteers. These small things make the big impact.

How do you implement your design vision on-ground?

It is a process we have refined over time. We met our first volunteer over a phone call and recruited her. Now we spend quite a lot of time in interviewing and selecting volunteers, looking for different qualities, not only that they are good architects but also that they are resilient, flexible and have a passion for this kind of work.

By having a very close relationship with our Indian volunteers we get an understanding of the community and Indian construction techniques. So once volunteers are selected they arrive in Sydney and have an all day orientation and training session, where they meet with previous TAP volunteers and learn about our process.

The volunteers spend a lot of time in the existing anganwadis, with the teachers and the kids, observing the rhythm of the day, gaining the trust of teachers.

Volunteer interactions with the community at various anganwadis © TAP

We also have a very close relationship with our partner non-profit, Manav Sadhna (MS) in Ahmedabad and Rural Development Trust (RDT) in Andhra Pradesh. Since they have a strong connection with the community and knowledge about their needs, they pick the site based on which community needs an anganwadi. We do further site assessment in terms of soil condition, flooding etc. Then the volunteers visit the new site and document a typical architectural site analysis, understanding climate, noise sources, locations for capturing a good outlook for a tree. With these two things, brief from the teacher and site analysis, they come together and start the design process. They usually develop a couple of options and then talk to us.

From Australia, we review drawings, organise skype meetings with the volunteers. We work in a very close relationship to make projects happen on ground. Once we get a couple of options that could work, the volunteers build models. It is a very important part of the process, as a lot of our clients can’t read architecture drawings. This is then presented to the community with MS and RDT. Once the final design is selected, they go into documentation. Then the builder is selected by MS/RDT and a contract is signed. The volunteers are on the site every day, implementing the designs. Sometimes the builders are sceptical of the design ideas, but in the end they are always very proud of the finished product.

Once the shell is complete then the community gets really involved.

'Bholu-11'' anganwadi at Ramapir No Tekro, Ahmedabad ©TAP

We use a lot of recycled materials, donated tiles, old metal gate frames that get welded together, bottle tops that are converted into doors or bottles filled with soil to make retaining walls. Sometimes we use khatlo weaving as ceilings to prevent heat. So we are trying to use the skills of the people around. Often the teachers are on site painting till late at night because they feel incredible pride in the design of the anganwadi and have been so involved in the entire process. TAP is quite different from other Australian organisations as our volunteers work in the community every day for six months.

We have been working with the same community in Ahmedabad, Tekro for 13-14 years. It is because we aim small but we are very embedded in the community. That makes TAP successful.

'Harivillu-1'' anganwadi at Bondalawada, Andhra Pradesh © Roberto Rodriguez

What message would you like to share for our readers?

Don’t be afraid to start small, be dedicated, persistent and passionate. I think for Architects, it is very important to not come in with a solution but to come in ready to listen. Not every building has to be a work of art. It is more important to engage the community and take them along with you in the process.

Harshil Parekh, our volunteer based in Ahmedabad, once told us that he heard some of the mothers talk to their young children, “Look at these women working in 45 degree heat, lifting things, working on site. Look at you lazy boys, look what a girl can do.” It was inspiring for the teenage girls as they really like to work with our volunteers. They are really capable and there are a lot of things that they can do that they may have not expected. Just be open to any possibility.

'Bholu-16' anganwadi at Sabarmati Gandhi Vas II, Ahmedabad © Leanne Cosio, TAP

It is not a top down approach, rather it is a bottom up approach. This is what makes us successful.

For us, what makes it successful is that we have such a strong three-way partnership. One is the good relationships with our local organisations, without them we couldn’t have done this. Second is the volunteers, both Indian and Australian, who are people on the ground working for six months, doing all the hard work. The third is the communities. Every volunteer is very close to the community they worked with, they remain in touch with the teachers even when they are back in Australia via WhatsApp. It’s a long term commitment that the volunteers make. So these three elements, the local NGOs, the volunteers and the communities, together make it all work.

'Harivillu-2'' anganwadi at Ammavaripeta, Andhra Pradesh © Rama Mohan

Quotes by TAP Volunteers © TAP


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