During the Covid pandemic, a group of teenagers in Pune were eager to do their bit for the medical frontline staff, inspired by their Rotarian parents. “When we were busy collecting and distributing masks, PPE kits and sanitisers to frontline and sanitation staff through my club, RC Poona Downtown, my daughter and her friends kept badgering us that they too wanted to pitch in and do something. That’s when we formulated the idea for a community- based Interact club,” says Aashima Agashe, youth director, RC Poona Downtown, RID 3131.
Soon children from across various schools came together and thus was born the Interact Club of Poona Downtown, “probably the first community-based Interact club of the district.” Presently it has 24 members, including two boys, from three schools — St Mary’s, Symbiosis and Gurukul. “We made it clear to them that the club has to stay and cannot be abandoned after the Covid pandemic,” says Aashima.
Project Green Period
The Interact club began its service journey with Project Green Period, the district’s signature project. The Interactors wanted to reach out to less privileged children of their age. They voted on various ideas and zeroed in on menstrual hygiene with an underlying focus on the environment. “We were excited with the idea as we have been studying in school about how synthetic sanitary napkins and diapers are non-biodegradable and harmful for the environment,” says Ananya Agashe, the Interact club president.
The young members made a one-minute video clip talking about this project and circulated it among friends and neighbours on the social media. By the end of the campaign, they had collected ₹1 lakh. “It was heartening to see these children constantly planning and following it up,” says Aashima.
The next phase was to source the napkins. When Aashima suggested distributing cloth pads to adolescent girls as was done by the district Rotarians, many concerns were voiced. “The Interactors asked me, ‘if you are suggesting cloth napkins, they must be washed clean. Then what happens to water conservation? We from well-to-do families can dry the napkins in some private place. But what about the girls living in slums? Where will they find a private place to dry them?’ So I had to come up with some other solutions.”
After detailed research she identified 5–6 manufacturers who make biodegradable cloth napkins, and the Interactors chose a manufacturer in Navi Mumbai who makes 100 per cent biodegradable pads. Within 100 days the process of degradation starts when it is put into a compost pit and the used napkin can even be mixed with wet garbage if it is wrapped in newspaper.
The Interactors, accompanied by Aashima and a couple of Rotarians, visited a municipal school and promoted these sanitary napkins to the girls, interacting with them on the problems they face during their menstrual cycle.
Compared to adults, with whom the girls are tongue-tied and shy on menstrual hygiene topics, it was fascinating to see a free discussion between the two groups without any inhibitions.
— Aashima Agashe, Youth Director, RC Poona Downtown, RID 3131
Aashima says that compared to adults, with whom “the girls are tongue-tied and shy on such topics, it was fascinating to see a free discussion between the two groups without any inhibitions. For us it was a huge eye-opener.”
The Interactors gave the schoolchildren pads to last for six months and left with a promise to return. They want to scale up the project to include more such schools, says Ananya.
Another project was providing toys, sports equipment and indoor games to a daycare centre that takes care of 50–60 children of migratory workers. Three huge cartons of clothes and sports goods were collected and given to the centre.
“Our next project will be for an old age home,” she says, adding that the members have paused all activities for the next two months as they are busy with their exams, but will resume soon, as they meet regularly online.
Interact club for special children
Interact Club of Sundarji’s Stars is another special club sponsored by RC Poona Downtown last December. All the members are either mentally-challenged or have some developmental disorder such as ADHD, but they are not physically-challenged. “You see these children excelling in one skill or another. But they are not as comfortable as ordinary children in interacting with people in society. Some of them just clam up when they are taken away from their comfort settings,” says Aashima. The staff accompany them on their outings for projects.
Along with her team of Rotarians, she guided the Interactors in a traffic awareness campaign. “The staff in-charge Vinamrata explained the project to the children in the way they can understand.” The children made placards with slogans on road safety and the Rotarians and Vinamrata accompanied them to a busy traffic junction. “At every red signal they would go to the centre of the road and hold up the placards. When they saw somebody with a helmet, mask or seatbelt on, they went up to them and gave a thumbs up, and a thumbs down for people who violated traffic rules. It was very endearing to watch them do that and it was a learning experience for the children too.”
The Interactors also carried out a cleaning activity in a municipal park. “We got them brooms, masks and large-sized garbage bags and they collected 7–8 bags of plastic waste.”
The Interactors planted saplings at the Anandavan Reserve Forest and visited Santulan Bhavan, a centre for children of migratory workers, to distribute clothes. With the help of their school’s physical trainer, they engaged the children in some fun fitness activity.