Signal School

At studio Alternatives, we have been involved in making container spaces since 2014. After a one time project to reuse an old shipping container, we took almost a year off to set up a space and a team for pursuing further work in this area. Our philosophy has always been to explore ‘Alternatives’ to everyday things, to make functional products and not just artwork, and we love to work in scrap. We strongly believe in the adhocism philosophy of ‘everything can become something else’ and work around ‘upcycling’ all kinds of discarded material. Our work is highly experimental, but we have developed an in-house team to work with all kinds of material to try out various designs and options as we grow.

Today I would like to share with you an interesting project we did in a discarded shipping container recently. Signal school is an innovative concept initiated by Samarth Bharat Vyaspith along with Thane Municipal Corporation, to provide education to underprivileged children living at signals in Thane, Maharashtra. Children of migrant families can be seen selling items like flowers, games, or sometimes just begging. SBV wants to address migrant dropout students, provide a safe environment, and give them a vision to look at their life and future. Along with academics, the school also aims for all round development of kids including their nutrition, health and hygiene, and grooming, and has a team of full time teachers to handle it along with the schooling. Samarth Bharat Vyaspith received a 40 feet long shipping container in donation. The container had to be converted into a classroom space. The container was kept under the flyover at ‘Teen Haat Naka’ and we had to get it to our workshop to work on it. Later we also had to install it back on location. 2 Classrooms had to be made with a flexible partition to create a bigger space when needed.

A very simple design with enough light and ventilation was decided. We had to work with a limited budget without compromising on the aesthetics of the space. The inside walls were coloured in shades of blue while the outside colour was chosen to be green. We also worked on an interactive design on the container wall, a game of ‘snakes and ladders’ with magnetic counters and a dice to play on the vertical surface. The smaller walls were painted with blackboard paint for the kids to write over it directly.

We were invited for the inauguration of these classrooms and that day it was a different world entirely below the flyover! Along with our container, a science lab has taken shape with the help of their well-wishers. A volunteer group of college students collects ‘Raddi’ or scrap newspaper from household and donates the collection to this school. Another unique initiative is by TJSB, who have set up a mini bank for the kids who can open manage their money through their personal accounts for better control and safekeeping with the bank. We were given saplings by their team on the inauguration day and immediately I had a few children come up to me and say if they can have it because they want to take care of it and see it grow. How could I refuse such a simple, innocent request!

There under that flyover, amidst all sorts of pollution, is this fantastic project taking shape, and we wish that till the time the necessity of such schools are eliminated, it blooms with love, care and support from all of us.

Sonali Phadke