It was the decade of the 1970s. The electronic revolution had taken place and a plethora of entertainment had reached each and every household through the medium of television. Although this brought a whole new variety of programmes in the drawing room, making entertainment easy, it also led to young children spending a major portion of their free time sitting in front of the 'idiot box'. The founders of Arbutus, Dr Meera and Arwind Bondre, then barely thirty, perceived this as a dangerous trend. They felt that the formative years of children, when they should nurture their talents, pursue their hobbies, read books, play in the open ground, be always active; were being wasted in seeking passive entertainment.
Moreover, the couple's son was to enter kindergarten around the same time. It was then that they realised that the existing education system, with its thrust on examinations and marks, its own pressures, would not be sufficient in bringing about overall personality development of children. They felt the need to conduct such activities, which would supplement the education system. They felt, that along with their own son, other children could also benefit from it. They took the initiative of starting such an institution, which would work for the complete personality development of school children. And thus, Arbutus was born.
The idea was evolving; but the beginning was modest. In 1976, Dr Meera Bondre started out by conducting simple and interesting games for her son and some of his friends, on a nearby playground. By the time the first month ended, the number of children went up to 24! The fee per participant was Re 1, out of which, 50 Paise used to go to the society, which owned the ground. The remaining money was used to buy material for conducting the games.
After a few years, Dr Meera and Arwind started showing the participants Indian and international films, specially made for children. This activity was carried out once a month in the ILS Law College Auditorium in Pune. The National Film Archives of India being just across the street helped in sourcing the films. These films included children's films, classics like Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, as well as scientific films like 'Ben and Me', based on the discovery of electricity by Benjamin Franklin. The rationale behind this activity was that although television entertainment was not specially designed for children, films were an effective medium for infotainment. Arwind took special effort to select films right for the young minds, and which could facilitate fruitful discussions after the screening. The fee was Rs 10 per participant per year!
As the film show was carried out generally on the first Saturday of each month, the third Saturday was used to conduct other activities for increasing the realm of knowledge and experience of the children. These included lectures, discussions, workshops, visits to various organisations, exhibitions, competitions, painting, elocution, music, dance and drama sessions, and cultural programmes. As Dr Meera specialises in the area of Environment and Biology, she designed special games to explain difficult scientific concepts.
Environment education, being an all-embracive subject and an inseparable part of any individual's day to day life, it is the key to all-round personality development. Hence, it has always been an integral part of all programmes of Arbutus Children's Cultural Centre. As such, Arbutus, which is registered under the Bombay Public Charitable Trusts Act, finds mention in the Directory of NGOs in Environment, published by the Department of Environment, Government of India, in 1984.
The word Arbutus has a scientific meaning: it refers to an evergreen tree or a shrub of a genus that includes the strawberry tree. The reason for selecting this name was its association with something lasting, perennial; evergreen. It is our endeavour to help individuals, the society, and the environment achieve long-lasting, sustainable growth and well-being.
Arbutus Children's Cultural Centre still carries out most of the programmes that it started with in 1976. However, as the scope of the activities went on increasing, and along with school children, Arbutus started working with different stakeholders in the society, like the youth, parents, teachers, teacher trainers, business managers and professionals. Hence, Arbutus started the Centre for Sustainable Development in the late 1980s. Similarly, it started the Centre for Performing Arts in the early 1990s.
In keeping with its goal of supplementing and complementing routine formal education, Arbutus has now started its Centre for Vocational Training and Liberal Education. The Centre offers various short-term modular certificate courses in to impart practical knowledge and value-adding skills to increase employment and entrepreneurship potential of the participants.
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