Do you remember Toy Story’s Buzz Lightyear and Sheriff Woody, and their constant endeavours to save the day?
Well, a school-going teenager from Kolkata is giving them stiff competition!
Aryamaan Lakhotia, a 17-year-old student at St James’ School, has collected and distributed thousands of toys to underprivileged children, through his organisation, the Toy Joy Foundation.
In doing so, he has managed to accomplish one of the most basic yet difficult tasks—to bring back innocent smiles on the faces of hundreds of children.
A solely student-led organisation, Toy Joy was established three years ago, after a trip to Jaipur made Aryamaan realise the importance of toys, and the difference they could make.
“I was in Jaipur for my cousin, Anoushka Sahoo’s 16th birthday. We were returning from the party in a car which was full of gifts when we halted near a traffic signal. It was then that a boy came and knocked on our window, and his eyes were fixated on the gifts. That look touched something in both of us, and we saw how such toys that don’t mean much to us anymore could truly make a difference to others. That incident made me look inwards, and I decided to start collecting my toys, and those belonging to my family members and friends, to give them to the kids who truly need and value them,” said Aryamaan, while speaking to The Better India.
Aryamaan started Toy Joy in May 2016, with the help of Anoushka and her friend Rashi Chaudhary, who were both in Class 11 at the time.
He is also helped by his sister Ananya, Class 11 student at La Martiniere for Girls school.
However, he credits his grandmother Asha Lakhotia, as the real backbone of the organisation. “Without grandma, I could never have started this or would have been able to expand it to almost seven cities now. It is all her encouragement and support,” he added.
The next step was to spread the word among family members, extended relatives and friends, and once that was done, the donations began to arrive. An entire room in his house is now dedicated to storing the collection.
“We have thousands of donated toys, of which many are old as well as new. But, we make sure that the kids don’t receive the ones that are dirty, tattered or broken. Those that can be cleaned, repaired and made like new are selected and taken to the NGOs, orphanages and evening schools, where they are distributed,” said Aryamaan.
What started as a concerted effort to change a social situation, has now spread across seven cities—Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Noida, Bengaluru, Jaipur, Nawa (Rajasthan)—where school students like Aryamaan are leading such collection and distribution programmes through the foundation.
“We are also planning to expand to Nagpur and Bhubhaneswar,” he added.
All these centres individually operate under the foundation, through personal contact and the Facebook page, which has more than 1000 followers.
Aryamaan recently received the Pradhan Mantri Rashtriya Bal Puraskar (formerly known as the National Bravery Awards) in the field of social service, from the President himself.
Still reeling in ecstatic disbelief, he said, “It is a great honour, and I can hardly believe it. But, honestly, over the years, it is these smiles of pure joy, that have filled our hearts. That’s our true reward, and I hope that more youngsters are inspired to take leadership and to do something for the society.”
Way to go, Aryaman!
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)