Getting into teaching children how to upcycle waste seemed too far fetched back when Subid Ahimsa was a student at IIT in 2003, where he was pursuing a post-graduation course in Industrial Design. Multiple job offers followed and till 2011, Subid worked in several firms before quitting engineering.
“Something was missing and was not right. Despite having the knowledge and skills, there was nothing concrete that I was contributing. I saw my friends struggling to keep up with the pace of life, jobs and responsibilities. I kept going back to my years at IIT where I worked on several meaningful projects,” Subid from Kerala tells The Better India.
In 2011, Subid started a movement called ‘Ahimsa Toys’ (Non-Violence toys) that aims to change the way students learn in school. The IITian conducts workshops on how to make toys from waste materials in government and private schools across India.
So far, Subid has conducted 600 sessions across the ccountry.
How the Workshop on Upcycling Waste Works
The workshops start with Subid showing the toys he had made with waste materials to attract the attention of the young learners.
He then asks the students to deposit all the waste items they have brought from home. He mixes them before throwing the box open for common use. Sharing is one of the crucial values that Subid tries to teach the young ones.
Once the students let their minds take the creative route, they make their own toys from waste items like ball pens, old CDs, plastic bottles, plastic straws, etc.
Subid allows them to explore and intervenes only when needed.
Instead of preaching the kids about why waste should be repurposed and recycled, Subid ensures children see waste through a different lens. He does this by showing the innovative toys he made from materials that are usually considered useless.
The workshop lasts for 3-4 hours and he prefers paying for his own travel and accommodation.
“Self-confidence, sharing, teamwork and realising that nothing is waste are some of the takeaways from the workshops,’ adds Subid.
How it all began
Even as a young boy, Subid Ahimsa did not agree with certain methods of teaching like following only textbooks. But he never dismissed or took his education for granted.
Like millions, he too strived hard and successfully got admitted to one of India’s premier institutes, the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi in 2003
His tryst with waste management had already began at home. Subid had always lived a very simple and sustainable lifestyle in Thrissur. Reusing things before discarding them was a norm while growing up. No wonder then that Subid’s first project in IIT was on the lowest rung of the society and how they handled waste in Delhi.
“I couldn’t ever throw away anything just like that. I always tried to utilise it in some form or another. During the project, I wondered, what if every person repurposed the waste. It would certainly be a huge favour on the waste pickers and environment. But the thought never translated into anything until 2011,” he says.
As for the education part, Subid realised the problem when he joined IIT.
He saw how the education environment there was very different. The teachers considered students as equals. They sat around a table without hierarchy and discussed life experiences. The professors would know every student’s pulse and would guide them accordingly.
“From mugging to only sticking to textbooks, school students in India are mostly deprived of critical thinking. Instead of questioning, they blindly accept what is taught to them. Our education system only encourages individual growth and competition. This is the exact cross-section of how our civil society works. We don’t give space for children to learn. We take away their self- confidence. My workshops are, in a way, a movement for justice, self-reliance and sustainable development. I called it “Toy-Swaraj” (Swaraj: self-rule). It gives a message that our world is built by ourselves,” Subid explains.
Subid’s turning point in life came in 2011, when he met Padma Shri Arvind Gupta, a toy inventor. He was invited to translate one of Gupta’s toy-making short films in Malayalam.
“His videos opened my eyes and guided me toward the aim of my life. He breathed new life into waste by developing exciting toys for children. Taking a leaf out of his life, I ventured into Ahimsa toys.”
For someone who went through an existential crisis, desperately finding the purpose of life, it is commendable to see how Subid is now changing the face of education, one workshop at a time.
“More than teaching, I focus on how students are learning,” shares Subid.
Check out some of the creative works of children during the workshops:
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)