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‘Meri Mez, Meri Saathi’, a thoughtful initiative towards a big problem

Meri Mez Meri Saathi’

While kids are mostly working on their laptops in this online world, others have taken notice of their peers who do not even have the basic infrastructure to study. More than two years ago, during his visit to a nearby slum for a community service project, a Delhi school student, Aaryansh Bhartiya noticed how young kids hunch-backed on the floor without the provision of a desk in their informal school classes in a makeshift shed. He remembered how kids at his school would complain about the uncomfortable wooden chairs and desks in their classrooms and here he was looking at these children writing without a desk at all. They were so eager to learn but keeping their copies on the floor while bending down to write was evidently uncomfortable for them. In fact, after a while, they lost concentration and started to get fidgety. He knew that moment, something had to be done!

The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) shows that the number of students attending schools in India is rising but sadly there has been very little infrastructure improvement. In most rural schools, students sit on a thin carpet, or on the dusty floor itself with their backs bent over their books. In the absence of a proper writing desk, they need to hunch over further to write. This scene is not uncommon even in urban schools and it is shocking that even in a city like Delhi, more than 38,000 students in north civic body schools do not have desks to work on. Apart from this, when kids study at home they need a proper desk to sit and study on. In most underprivileged homes this need is left unattended because even meeting the basic needs of food, shelter is sometimes not possible. Because of lack of funds and other practical problems, some schools struggle to provide desks to their children which unintentionally causes harm to a child’s posture. It might be a deterrent to their focus and retention.

When these kids get their eyes as close to the books in absence of a desk, they unknowingly damage both their eyes and their tender backs. Bad posture for prolonged hours can cause Kyphosis amongst other medically proven diseases. This condition affects the back making it look rounded and hunched over and has repercussions for life.

Eye Way, an organization that does extensive research on visual impairment, guidelines, and problems in India notes that our bodies follow our eyes. Poor visual target position forces our spine to compensate by bending. Ideal reading angles are at about 60°. Ideal writing surface angles are somewhere between 10° and 20° and ideal focus distances for reading and writing average between 15 to 25 inches from the eyes, adds the report.

Aaryansh started to work on this issue and noticed that although there were options available where bags were being designed to replace desks, the cost of the product was still very high. This cost to be borne without sponsorship, was difficult to be borne, especially by rural children who could barely manage to have two square meals a day. He thought that something had to be worked out at a lower cost which did not need sponsorship and could be afforded even by the student himself. And so, his initiative, ‘Meri Mez, meri saathi’ was born.

He worked on many options but either the cost or durability of the product did not work out. Finally, he zeroed down on a lap table made of environmentally friendly Eva foam instead of going in for a full desk (the cost of which was proving to be a deterrent for cash crunched departments and schools).

About the foam material

  • It is a soft, yet durable polymer of ethylene and vinyl acetate commonly used in flooring, but also sports equipment and craft. It is easy to work with and comes in a variety of thicknesses and can be cleaned without difficulty.
  • The material is sponge-like and comfortable, providing just the right amount of cushioning for comfortable study. The material’s softness means it lessens the load when placed on the lap.
  • It is highly weathered resilient and has no water absorption, so it can withstand rain if needed to be carried to and fro from home to school and vice versa.
  • This foam is free of chlorides, heavy metals, phenols, latex, and all toxics as well as safe for the environment. This foam has the advantage of being 100 % recyclable of all production waste which means that no waste is achieved producing from the material. This helps to exploit the resources using EVA in all productions. 
  • Not only is the foam lap table easy to be transported, but it is easy to store as it can be stacked one on top of the other in school, while not in use.
  • The material can withhold heavy use and rough conditions for years, choosing this foam lap table a good investment in place of desks. It doesn’t easily rip or show wear, so it will look new and fresh for a long time to come.  
  • Because the material is so easy to work with, it can be produced in many fun colors, textures, and thicknesses. This material is the perfect choice for a bright, colorful study environment. 

THE SOLUTION:  मेरी मेज मेरी  साथी, The transportable table weighing only 200 Gm.

A lap table made of EVA foam is environmentally friendly, affordable, durable, and transportable.  

  • The final product that he made at home using a simple paper cutting tool is a lap table of a comfortable dimension of 18 inches by 14 inches. Its thickness is about 1.25-1.5 inches which makes it sturdy enough to take the weight of a child’s hands and notebook.
  • This lap table can be used at a comfortable height while placing it on their lap and working on it while sitting down on the floor. This innovation solves two crucial problems. One, that it helps improve posture and prevent eyesight damage, and secondly, the cost of doing this need not necessarily be borne by the schools facing fund-crunches.
  • Young kids can now study without straining their backs too much and that has reduced the stress of school hours unimaginably. This small innovation addresses the bad effect of bending amongst children
  • When provided with a handle, they can be easily hung on the shoulder and carried to and fro between home and school and can be used at both places to study.
  • It can conveniently be used in unruly terrain, tribal pockets where transportation of desks is difficult since it only weighs 200 gm.
  • Finally, and most importantly, it can be made at a very low cost of Rs 70 when made in quantity.
  • Thus, it is an attractive and affordable alternative to study desks. Until desks are sanctioned, it would not be a financial burden in low-budget schools or on the student himself.

   It is commendable that government schemes like RTE are being implemented in schools and parameters that are causing discomfort in terms of their learning environment, availability of infrastructure, and access to proper facilities are also being given priority. But with each sanction going through the hierarchy table, things take time to be sanctioned. Until then with this lap table, we can achieve positive results. This will ensure that the health of the students in rural as well as urban India does not suffer, and they get basic studying facilities. They can conveniently write with the correct posture and distance between the book/copy and the eye using this small but affordable breakthrough.

Through a span of more than two years, which started before the pandemic, Aaryansh has himself made and distributed more than 1400 of these transportable tables in rural teaching spaces where desks have not been provided, informal teaching spaces like under flyovers, over bridge crossings where permanent locating desks is not possible and slums. He has also explored options of getting these across to tribal areas, and hilly terrains where placing tables might be logistically next to impossible. Truly concerned about how good educational infrastructure can raise the living standards of the economy, he is seeking help from NGO’s, Corporates and government agencies towards financial aid and logistics to help them get this simple aid to ease their educational journey and fulfill our journey towards an ‘Aatm nirbhar Bharat’.                                 

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By TIS Staffer
the authorBy TIS Staffer

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