It has been a long time since I have taken you on a tour of project why. Somehow the picture of little Komal peeking through the balcony inspired me to do just that. True that from the pwhy building balcony you simply see another building but that is when you look with your eyes. Try to look with you heart and suddenly everything changes.
So let us talk a stroll through pwhy. It is 8.45 am. The office is abuzz with activity as most of the teachers have come to sign in after their early morning spoken English class taken by Jillian our long term volunteer. Instructions are given and everyone sets out to their respective class. By 9 am the office is empty. A walk down the stairs and we reach our creche. The toddlers are still coming in and little shoes are aligned in a straight row. Some kids are already settled. It is toy time and every is busy with hos or her toy of the day. We tiptoe out and walk own another flight of stairs and are greeted with a loud Good morning ma’am. It is the special class and morning exercise time. Whether you walk or not, hear or not, comprehend or not does not matter, morning gym is for everyone and everyone loves it. The music is blaring and everyone is happy.
A walk across the street and a climb up two flight of stairs and we reach our erstwhile foster care. The foster care kids are now in boarding school but their special roomies still lie there. Manu, Champa and Anjali still live there but while they are in class the space gets used for other activities. We walk through the second creche and the prep class. Every one is busy settling down. We leave them to their taks and peep into the junior secondary class. A score or so of boys are busy revising for their exam.
A short drive takes us to Govindpuri Nehru camp. We alight from the three wheeler an walk through a maze of lanes and reach the tiny jhuggi. A class is going on in earnest. We continue our journey and reach Okhla. About 100 children are busy studying. Two volunteers are also taking an English class. The teachers share their concern about a wall that has cracked after a truck banged into it. The matter is serious and we will need to find funds to redo the wall. A quick drop at Sanjay Colony and we are back to Giri Nagar where it all began almost a decade ago. Today the little street is host to our senior secondary and our computer centre as well as our library which also doubles up as a primary class. Everyone is busy and we quietly walk away.
A drive takes us to the women centre. We are surprised to see how choker block it is. Over 50 women are busys with their sewing and beauty class. A few children are left in the creche waiting for their parents and over 150 kids are packed on the terrace all lost in their work. It is impressive, 150 kids almost pin drop silence. You only hear the teachers!
Yes the walk has been virtual but it reflects the reality and fills me with a sense of pride and deep gratitude.
There is a new class at project why and like everything else it happened quite by chance. The special educator who comes thrice a week to work with our children came to me last week and asked me whether project why could provide some space for a bunch of deaf and dumb students who needed after school support to keep up with their studies. As you may have guessed we said yes immediately. That is the way we are. The logistics would be worked out and all would fall in place.
The reason for which I agreed to the request is that I more than anyone else believe in inclusive education and I more than anyone else know how things are on the ground in the government schools these kids go to. The extra support can and will make all the difference.
So a a few adjustments were made and space crated for these students who now come thrice a week to catch up with their school studies and what is wonderful is that little Bittoo, our hearing impaired child joins the class.
It is a wonderful silent class and I invite you to peep in:
He leaned against his cart forlorn and dejected. No one seemed to want to drink his water today. He was a wizened old man who could barely stand, let alone push his cart. He had been coming to this very spot, year after year, actually at each DurgaPujo. He always placed his cart in front of the biggest PujaPandal, next to the temple and every year he made quick business. Something had changed. This year he was alone. The usual food carts were absent and with no one eating food, no one needed to quench their thirst.
He was not aware of the new court ruling that now banned selling cooked food on the streets. He was illiterate and no one in his home spoke to him, let alone share with him the on goings of life. He felt like a burden and looked forward to leaving his son’s home early and spent the whole day out, even if he had sold all the water he had in his cart. He kept a rupee or two for himself and dutifully handed the balance to his daughter in law. At least that way there was no recriminations. But today, when everyone would be expecting a killing, he would return empty handed. he did not even want to think about what would happen.
The old man is part of what is known as the informal economy, the hawkers and street vendors; people who come to the city looking for jobs and then not finding any create their own. It is estimated that there are over 4 lakhs such vendors in Delhi. They make barely enough to live and have to pay huge bribes to be allowed to function. According to an NGO they pay over 600 crores annually! This was one of the reasons for the new law but what it amounts to is punishing the victim and not the perpetrator.
In the last ten days or so we have seen furious activity along side the main road in Govindpuri. All street hawkers are targeted by the police. Some try to slink into the nearby alleys. Others have just closed shop. Wonder how many new families now go hungry at night. Street food has been an age told tradition in Delhi and the hygiene factor is not really one that I buy. A hot samosa may send my LDL cholesterol flying but has never given me a Delhi belly. The idea of a cold samosa makes me lose my appetite.
Many of the parents of our children run food stalls. That is how they have survived for years now and looked after their families. They feed the poor and the middle class with affordable and healthy food. Such people cannot afford the swanky fast food joints which seem to be getting a thumbs up all the way and which are proliferating by the minute. The new order will make the list of unemployed swell. And with no new jobs on the anvil where will these people go. Are we just going to watch the death of an age old tradition and say nothing?
Just like the old man, many across the city are slowly seeing the end of their journey So help them God!
My grandson will be with us in a few days. The excitement is palpable. Everyone seems tobe walking on air. The old house is being spruced up. The wood has been polished, the windows are squeaky clean and the ancient and worn out floor is almost gleaming. Everyone is busy and yet time hangs heavy, refusing to pass reminding me of Bergson’s theories. The same time will fly once the little fellow lands and then hang heavy again when he leaves. But the purpose of this post is not to write a treatise on time!
Little Agastya is just 8 months old. His whole life awaits him and as any dotty granny I wish it is filled with all that is good and beautiful. Do we not always wish that for our children! And yet what we forget is that we are responsible for what lies ahead. We adults hold the coloured crayons that will fill the blank canvass. The little child will become what he sees, hears, feels and experiences. It is for us to show them the very best.
In a recent TV debate on violence and aggressive behaviour, someone said that what we failed to teach the young of today were values such as compassion and empathy. In a world ruled by possession and control, principles like fellow feeling and tolerance seemed passé and outdated. Children grew up to believe that the measure of success is in the things you had to flaunt and vaunt. Hence you smothered your child with objects of all shades and hue, the bigger the better, the dearer the better!
A good heart is better than all the heads in the world wrote Edward Bulwer-Lytton. I wonder how one teaches a child to have a good heart in our day and age. How does one teach compassion? How does one teach concern, tolerance, humanity. By example of course but examples are few and moreover the child should never feel alienated. I remember a friend who had no TV when her child was growing up. One day the child came back from school upset and crying. The reason was simple: she could not be part of the break time chat that revolved around the latest episode of the latest TV serial aired. So how do you strike the right balance in your quest to teach values to children. The TV programme suggested that compassion be taught as a subject in school. My mind went back to days where we had moral classes in school. But those days are gone too.
My little grandson is still too tiny but as he grows I would like to make him discover the true meaning of things: make him feel the caress of the wind, listen to the humming of the birds and the rustle of leaves. I would like to read to him passages of the Little Prince and make him discover the secret of the fox. As he grows I would like to teach him to celebrate difference, make his own choices and walk the road less traveled.
A mail dropped by in my inbox. It was from an organisation that was launching a new funding campaign. My first reaction was to trash it immediately but something made me read on as the mail seemed to be personally addressed to me. I was curious to know what was wanted of me. The answer was in the last para: Your blog is extremely well written and read. A mention about Anand Charity, its mission, its current projects or the fundraiser would immensely benefit us. It would allow us to reach out to and touch more underprivileged people. We would be very indebted to you for your help.
How presumptuous! Did people not know that I ran project why and hence was also constantly looking for funds to survive. But again I did not trash the mail and decided to find out more about Anand Charity. I clicked on their website and as is always the case with me looked for the faces behind.
What I saw filled my heart with pride and joy. Seven smiling faces of young Indians, each from the best schools and universities, each with a message that went straight to my heart. They were, all just like me, paying back a debt they felt they owed. It had taken me half a life to get there. They had not wasted any time. They were true children of India and the very best. They had learned the fox’s secret in the Little Prince and knew how to see with their hearts.
Today their organisation is reaching out to help organisations like project why. They fund projects related to education, health and disaster management across India and they have launched a fundraiser urging people to part with just 5$. I wish them success andI hope they succeed. They have to so that they become role models for young Indians. And perhaps they can show me the right way!
It is only when more young Indians learn to see with their hearts that India will truly change. God bless them.