She was barely 5 when she first joined the special section. It must have been in 2004. She could barely walk or talk. She was like a tiny frightened bird that needed to be tamed. As days went by and we got to know her better the smiles came hesitant at first then bigger and bigger. And a few steps and some sounds. The ice was broken. It would not take long before Sapna was like a fist in water in the special section of Project Why. But all was not well for her mom whose story breaks your heart. Do read it. It is the story of too many women in India.
Sapna was happy at Project Why but came the day where the family moved and she left. There was no news. We hoped for the best and prayed for her well being.
A fews days back her father came to the Project. The news was terrible. Sapna’s mom had passed away in March. She had suffered enough. The father asked us if we would have her back and the answer was a loud YES!
So Sapna is back. She is 16 now and really small. But her smile is there larger than ever and she was so thrilled to see us all. She walks now and even speaks. It is a delight to have her back and her old pals Umesh and Anurag are thrilled.
For us it is bittersweet: a gentle reminder of the fragility of her existence. What if something happens to her father? What if he remarries? Endless questions with no answers. A visit to her home was heart wrenching. The family had very little. Her brother Monty has turned for the worse. He told us that he sold ‘slippers’ from midnight to dawn. He seems to have been targeted by predators.
For the time being Sapna is with us. We have convinced Monty to come to the centre in the morning and study some. Though he has paper saying that he has studied till class VII he can barely read or write.
How much will we be able to do for these two lost souls is anyone’s guess but we will give it our best shot. Sapna will be safe with us during the day. We fear for her when she is back home.
Once again the critical need for a residential option like Project Why comes to mind. It was for the Sapna’s of this world.
‘The time for action is now. It’s never too late to do something‘ wrote Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Wise words indeed. Words that remind us of forgotten intentions and unfulfilled dreams. This post was written after a visit to the Kalka Temple where getting to the deity means coming face to face with beggar children who’s number seems to grow in quantum leaps. Children begging is a shameful reality of urban India.
Every time one walks the perimeter of a temple or stops at a red light, little hands spring from nowhere and seek your attention. No matter how many years go by, the size of the hands never changes. Child begging is thriving. New children take the place of those now to big to tug at your heart.
One has heard of mafias controlling the panhandling business and ensuring a perfect demand and supply equation. This is unequivocal proof of this sad reality. But it does not end there. Actually parents too use their own children in this sordid business. An enquiry on whether it would be possible to teach this multitude of children was turned down as we were told that parents themselves would not allow this to happen as children were those who got brought in the maximum. Without the kids, the family would not earn a day’s wage. School and education are anathema
Even the laws are against us as in a recent amendment to the child labour laws, children under 14 were allowed to help in the family business. Hence the little beggar girl as king for her chocorate is legit.
The only way to solve the problem is to stop giving money and hence with no demand the supply would diminish. That is what Project Why attempted as its first programme: replace the coin by a biscuit. The idea was to have biscuits in nice boxed that could be ‘refilled’ at petrol pumps and hence everyone would be handing over biscuits and not coins. It did not work even though 50 biscuits were sold at one hundred rupees.
As long as we give, they will beg. As long as we give more to children, parents will not allow them to get educated and break the cycle of mendicity and thus will remain beggars producing more beggars to beg. An infernal spiral!
A child seeking alms is something that should disturb each and everyone and make them soul search for a solution.
The solution is simple: remove the demand, stop giving money, stop giving to children: the supply will vanish the moment the business is no more viable
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The new education policy is in the anvil. The recommendations
of the committee set up to look into the issue are ready. Two of the recommendations are close to our hearts. The first is to reinstate detention beyond class V and the other to set up a cadre akin to the administrative cadre for education.
The first recommendation comes as a sigh of relief. Ever since the no fail policy till class VII had been instituted quality of education particularly in state run schools had taken a free fall. Moreover in a country where corruption has permeated education, this policy could result in the aberration of class XII toppers unable to answer questions from subjects they had aced
. For one of them political science teaches cooking and the other did not know the link between water and H20! Looked like someone else sat in their place. Retest
was ordered for the toppers.
This is no laughing matter as toppers are the ones who get seats in prestigious and affordable state run colleges, something you can miss by a fraction of a mark!
Creating an education cadre is also of paramount importance as often teaching and more so school teaching is not socially acceptable and a last resort when all else has failed. The need to attract the best could be a game changer.
Project Why as been advocating such changes and welcomes them.
At Project Why we believe that primary education should be given its right place in the education journey as this is where foundations are laid. This is also when the mind is receptive to suggestions and thus a sound policy can make all he difference. Content should impart the right social message: tolerance, gender equality, compassion etc. Extra curricular activities need to find adequate space as they are essential to growth.
The two-shift system followed in the majority of state run schools in Delhi should end. All children, be it boys or girls, should attend school in the morning and the afternoon should be for creative and sports activities.
Quality is of the essence but should be imparted in school. The need for ‘shadow education’ or ‘extra tuition’ should end.
Neighbourhood state run quality schools that see a social mix of children is in our opinion the way to meet the constitutional right to education for all children in India.
We hope such issues will be addressed.
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Child abuse casts a shadow the length of a lifetime. Scars heal but the pain never goes away. And yet child abuse is on the rise. Recent studies show that there has been a 50% rise in the crime against children rate. Increased urbanisation seems to be a contributing factor. We are talking of children akin to those who come to Project Why everyday. Rape of children have become ‘epidemic’ in India’s capital city. Recently a mentally challenged 13 year old was brutally raped and left to die. She battles for her life.
A 8 year old was raped, she escaped death by pretending to be dead. She had seen this happen in a TV serial! One never thought one would give a thumbs up to serial viewing by kids!
Another report states that over 300 000 children across India are drugged, beaten and forced to beg.
The list is endless, each child being one too many, each one making one’s blood go cold.
At Project Why we are aware of this reality.
The first programme Project Why launched was aimed at children begging. The idea was if people gave biscuits instead of coins, the supply-demand equation could be turned on its head. Sadly it did not meet with success. However the plight of beggar children is still one of the most disturbing ones, a deafening Why that remains unanswered.
The case of the mentally challenged child who was abused once again brings to mind Planet Why. The first and most important reason for its existence was to provide safe haven to souls just like this little one. That too remained unachieved.
Project Why has always been, remains and always will be child centric. We are aware that these children are always at risk as they live in harsh conditions. Okhla is a drug haven and children are preferred targets. Teachers keep an extra eye on each child for tell tale signs, ready to intervene when needed.
Child abuse is most often perpetrated within the four walls of home, and thus a well-hidden secret tinged in guilt. Project Why staff is conscious of this and keeps a quiet watch, looking for imperceptible evidence.
Moreover, regular workshops are held for staff and children and ‘good touch’ ‘bad touch’ is an intrinsic part of our curriculum.
We have sadly had some cases. They are far and few between but in the case of a child, one is too many!
A child rights activist rightly said that “Stringent punishment provisions are not just enough. The changing social fabric needs to be studied to take appropriate measures to make systemic changes.” This is long haul. Till then we need to keep our children safe.
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Our dearest friend Kabir of Azure Hospitality conjured another miracle. This time an invitation to a ‘posh’ lunch at the new Mamagoto in Connaught Place. For many of us lunch at a restaurant is a mundane affair. This is another story.
Most of the invitees had never been to a restaurant of this kind. Most of them probably never tasted high quality asian cuisine- a far cry from the chow mien or momos now available at every street corner. Many of them had never entered a restaurant of this class.
But the Project Why team team is to the manor born and no one would have guessed that this was a first!
The invitation was for 20 guests so students and teachers from each centre were selected. Every one was beautifully turned out and tasted new foods with enthusiasm. It was a merry party that lunched a the new Mamagoto on that sizzling day.
But all good things come to an end and so did that lunch.
To say that this is a memory that they will carry on their hearts forever is an understatement.
Two of the guests voiced their feelings.
One said this was probably the first and last enjoyable moment of his life.
The other simply said that this lunch was the happiest moment of her existence.
It is touching and humbling to see how an occurrence we take for granted gives such joy to those who rarely experience it.
Thank you Kabir and the Mamagoto team
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