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Unsung Heroes: Back from the US, Bengaluru-based doctor couple building playgrounds for govt schools, 16th July 2023

Founders of People4People, a trust set up in Bengaluru in 2004, the doctor couple have set up 566 playgrounds in government schools, primarily in Karnataka.

Toilets, benches, laboratories, libraries and smart classrooms are essential infrastructure for a government school. However, there are needs beyond the classrooms too. Meet Dr Arjun Kalyanpur and Dr Sunita Maheshwari on a mission to set up new playgrounds for government schools in Karnataka and other states of India.

Founders of People4People, a trust set up in Bengaluru in 2004, the doctor couple have set up 566 playgrounds in government schools, primarily in Karnataka. The idea arose in the early 2000s when Maheshwari and her husband moved to Bengaluru from the USA. Maheshwari recalls that, as a resident of a gated community in Whitefield, how she juxtaposed her child having a playground to play, but a government school across the road that had land but no amenities to play.

Later, Dr Maheshwari and the gated community residents hosted a carnival and raised Rs 15,000. Wondering what to do with the money, Maheshwari chanced upon the idea of building a playground for the government school.

“When we set up the first playground, we did not plan to expand this as an initiative. However, looking at the reaction of the government school kids who were overjoyed to get their own playground, we decided to set up a playground one at a time. Especially in schools with potential land areas for setting up a playground. We set up 10 playgrounds in a year, second year, we had a target of 20 and so on,” said Dr Maheshwari, a pediatric cardiologist.

The parameters laid down by the trust to set up the playground include the genuine need for play equipment in the school, the lack of internal resources to fulfil that need, and the commitment of the school to provide a fun-filled environment for the kids and maintain the equipment.

While Maheshwari looks after coordinating with the Bengaluru-based vendor for giving a work order to set up the playgrounds, Kalyanpur manages the finance. The playgrounds consist of slides, jungle climbers and other amenities.

“We observed that a playground is a universe that brings smiles to the children. It has drawn more kids to the school, resulting in a spike in enrollment numbers. Quite often, the privileged kids take the play area for granted,” said Maheshwari, who has set up playgrounds in government schools in districts like Bengaluru, Tumkur, Shimoga, Hoskote, Kodagu, Dakshina Kannada, Chitradurga and in other states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh etc.

The latest one in Karnataka was set up in the Government Higher Primary School, Yelahanka, Bengaluru, in June. As part of the project, the founders also have plans to introduce rainwater harvesting practices. This water could be reused for toilets, planting trees and other activities.

While the flagship project has been to build playgrounds, the doctor couple, under People4People, also supports a free clinic at RxDx Healthcare (a healthcare chain) and treats children with heart diseases.

In Bengaluru, there are nine physical clinics, while in the rural region, there are 30 ‘phygital’ nurse-assisted telemedicine clinics. The clinics focus predominantly on primary care and address issues like deworming, fever, heart diseases, poor weight gain, and malnutrition, among others, focusing on economically weaker sections and providing health services free of cost.

“When many hospitals these days focus on multi speciality, they often forget to address primary healthcare needs. Which is why we wanted to bridge this gap,” said Maheshwari. The couple also founded a health tech company called Teleradiology Solutions.

“Back in the US, we would have had a good life and been part of a well-oiled system. But moving back to India opened our eyes to the many needs we thought we could address. As a couple, we believed that we needed to be persistent in fulfilling the needs and continuing to find ways to help. What drives is gratitude, and we feel obligated to give back to society,” Maheshwari added.


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