A Reason To Smile

For the 300,000 residents of Juhapura in Ahmedabad, “Muskaan” is the remarkable adventure park created from recycled waste. It is a 2,500 sq m dream come true for the children, women and elderly of the primarily Muslim community. Chitra Padmanabhan reports in The Hindu of this amazing experiment in transforming ‘waste’:

Thrust out against the skyline in yellow, red, blue and orange (colour coding for age groups), the park is like a brave new city, with state of the art imagination: old telephone poles humming with new life as the mainstay of swings; sewage pipes reborn as play tunnels; used tyres as cushions on bamboo see saws.

A rock climbing wall and a hanging ‘commando’ bridge with a used cricket net wrapped around invite the adventurous to scrabble up. Here a higgledy-piggledy tyre tower tests the climber’s balance; there a weights and pulleys structure demands brain power.

Elsewhere, used pipes recast as a jal tarang invite you to co-relate varying sound pitches to the differing lengths of pipes being struck. It’s an infectious mix of playfulness, sportsmanship and everyday science.

Initiated by an NGO called Society for Promoting Rationality (SPRAT), the park aims to rebuild a community devastated and displaced in the aftermath of the Gujarat riots in 2002. Juhapura was largely formed due to the congregation of these Muslims, looking for safety in numbers. A width of road divides them from a Hindu-dominated community Vejalpur, and it is at this ‘border’ that Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority was persuaded to donate land for this project, so that the wall of prejudice dividing these two communities can be pulled down.

Help was difficult to come by at first, but with continued efforts, it started pouring in. With unique and non-monetary needs like waste materials and expertise, Muskaan soon started getting a spew of ‘donations’:

Encouragingly, Prof. Sudarshan Khanna, renowned authority on indigenous toys from the National Institute of Design and dedicated architects like Rizwan Quadri, and faculty from the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology provided guidance on structural matters, to the slew of play models inspired by Jowher’s long-standing passion. Big guns like ONGC and BSNL as well as local companies contributed materials. Mrinalini Sarabhai’s Prakriti contributed to the greening effort. Convinced that the park is not a land grab hoax, members of both communities have joined its managing council. Local school heads and professionals help in overseeing functions.

SPRAT has also been the initiator of many other rehabilitation efforts for the disadvantaged and terror-stricken communities:

The organisation that initiated the “smile” is Ahmedabad-based NGO, Society for Promoting Rationality (SPRAT), which started community empowerment centres called “Caravan” in five cities in the aftermath of 2002.

An ongoing campaign “Mahaaz” (meaning ‘front’) seeks to create a front against all forms of terrorism – by documenting the needs of victims of violence, as for instance in the recent serial blasts in the city, and by recognising extraordinary deeds of bravery by ‘ordinary’ people in trying times with ‘Salaam’ awards, among others.

Its basic literacy programmes, Taleem, have concentrated on providing educational support services and vocational skills to the displaced and disadvantaged, focusing on Muslims and Dalits.

This one-of-its-kind park is a laudable effort to unite communities, bring about greater camaraderie and remove prejudices. The fact that it has been created using ‘waste’ products makes it even more endearing to the people it serves, and encourages greater public involvement – besides teaching a lesson or two in recycling and the creative utilization of available resources.

Read the complete article here.
Image Courtesy: The Hindu

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