Hungry for Education #GivingTuesday#India

Hungry for Education #GivingTuesday#India

(Posting a series of success stories  from the compilation The Project Why Stories 2000-2016)

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Priya is a 5-year-old girl who lives on the Yamuna Floodplain. Her parents, like the majority of those living on the plain, have no skills other than farming. Priya lives with her parents, two brothers and two sisters. Nobody in the family has received any education, as the expectation is that they will join the family farming business. As soon as they are of age, they will learn to harvest vegetables, which their parents will sell in town. The closest school is over 3km away over a dangerous road, and these children do not feature on the government radar, so would be unable to join.

Priya loves to explore the local area and now knows the Yamuna well. When she discovered our centre, which at that time served only secondary students, she began to come every day and watch the children from a distance. The children of the Yamuna, unlike those of the other centres, are served a full lunch that is generously donated by one of Project WHY’s sponsors. This allows us to provide the children with proper nutrition, and also frees their parents to spend the day on the farm. Priya would watch the secondary students get served every day with wide and envious eyes. Rajesh, a teacher at the centre, one day decided to bring her into the centre and offer her a meal, which she was delighted to accept.

Rajesh started talking to Priya and asked her if she would like to study. She explained that she knows only farming techniques, but she doesn’t enjoy such work and would like to be able to read and write. It was this conversation that inspired us to create the Yamuna primary programme, through which we now teach eighty-four students. Without birth certificates, these students rely on Project WHY for all of their education. We therefore run the centre as a full-time school, following closely the Government syllabus and giving the children the basic skills of literacy that they deserve. As for Priya, she now dreams of being a teacher, and in fact loves her studies so much that she tried to come to school on a Sunday!

Your child will follow your example, not your advice. #GivingTuesday

Your child will follow your example, not your advice. #GivingTuesday

mapa

Live so that when your child thinks of fairness, caring, integrity she thinks of you. These words sum Ram and Kamala’s life. Today a more than a quater of a century after I lost them, and in the seventh decade of my life, I know I could not have been who I am if not for them.

They would have celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary today. I know they are popping the champagne bottle in heaven and I raise my glass to their happiness.

You may wonder why a blog about anniversaries and personal memories on what should be a post on Project Why. The answer is simple. Project Why is the logical outcome of an only child eagerly following her parents’ example day after day and not their advice. Advice is tinted by social mores, and politically correct guidance, example is from the heart. Advise would have been a lucrative career, a heavy bank balance, luxury holidays and three starred dinners. They gave me all that while I was still a child. I had my fill and sought more, but did not know what ‘more’ was as that never came as ‘advise”!

That came after they left and I sat looking desperately for the legacy they had left behind. It was not in the boxes and trunks and memorabilia that was strewn around me. I was terribly lost. All I had to hold on to were my father’s last words: don’t lose faith in India! It was November 1992.

It would take six long years of loneliness and pain to finally discover what the legacy was. Six long years of remembering their lives, the bittersweet memories, the stories often unfinished and bereft of any moral precept. And slowly it all came to me, in no order at all but somehow fitting the puzzle that would become Project Why. From Kamala’s side it was education, women’s right, patriotism, gender equality, standing for what is right, self-respect, courage and unconditional love. From Ram’s it was humanity, compassion, tolerance, social equality, generosity, giving unabashedly, giving when you did not have and of course culture, savoir-faire, integrity, probity and simple living.

It was left to me to honour this legacy.

And to honour them I set up Project Why with the hope that all the lessons learnt at their knee would be reflected in what I have been striving to do for the past 18 years!

If not for you Kamala

If not for you Kamala

The Trust does not bear her name. Once again it was the flamboyant husband who won the match! But the real inspiration and the quiet and gentle motivating force as always in my life was Kamala Goburdhun née Sinha. Her lessons were not exuberant like those of her better half. They were subdued and tender, cameos of her life she she shared with her only child. In the week mother’s are celebrated the world, I would lie to share some of these stories as each is echoed in Project Why.

Kamala the child was determined to go to school and her doting father did not stop her from getting enrolled in the first school for girls that opened its doors in the sleepy town of Meerut where the family lived. The school was established in 1929. She was already 12 years old but that did not detract her. There was no looking back. For education she would break all the rules. And she had to formidable women in her corner: her paternal grandmother and her mother! The three would devise ways to win over the Gandhian father. Kamala went on several hunger strikes to be able to continue her studies beyond class VI, go to Banaras Hindu University for her BA, do her MA and LLB. Her final degree would be a PHD at Charles University Prague, after the loss of her first born. Kamala was your never give up woman.

But there is more in the life of this small town freedom fighter’s daughter who went on to become an Ambassador’s wife. When she reached the age when girls would be married, she made a pact with her father, a pact both would honour. She was adamant about not having a child in a land that was not free and hence would not marry before India’s becoming independent, and should she still be of age, would marry whoever her father chose.

But that was not all. Her concern for fellow women was so deep, that she agreed to work for the British in order to reach out to ward windows in the villages of Western UP to ensure that that their pension was not usurped by some male member of the family. She drove a truck to reach the far fledged villages. She lived alone in Mandi House Delhi and commuted every week to her home in Meerut in her little Baby Austin. In the villages she reached out to women in more ways than one. A real trouper!

India became Independent. Her father found a man, a man that would take her away on a real magical mystery tour. But the transition from freedom fighter’s daughter to diplomat’s wife was not easy. The first challenge came soon after marriage. A dinner at home where one of the invitees was the British Ambassador. Kamala was appalled at the thought of having to receive him in her home. How could she get past the memories of a little child applying balm to the lacerated backs of her father and his companions when they came back from yet another non-violent protest. This was her task as in those days there was purdah, and women did not mingle with men.

It took her husband oodles of patience and love to explain to her that India was free, and it was the Indian flag that flew on the house she lived in.  She was to the manor born and understood what was expected of her. Again she never looked back and was the perfect diplomat’s wife.

So when I look at Project Why, at the years gone by, at the work we have achieved, I realise that though the Trust bears my father’s name, it is her lessons that are imbued in every breath I take, in every step I walk. My unequivocal and obsessive love for India and my pain at seeing how things are going, my determination to educate as many as I can, my desire to make women stand on their own feet. Everything is what she taught me.

So today I understand that if not for you, Kamala, there would be no Project Why!

Finding a purpose #GivingTuesday#India

Finding a purpose #GivingTuesday#India

(Posting a series of success stories  from the compilation The Project Why Stories 2000-2016)

Project WHY’s journey starts with the story of Manu, a boy with special needs who the founder of Project WHY, Anouradha Bakshi, came across one fateful summer day in 2000. Manu was clad in rags, disheveled and filthy, limping and begging on the streets, crying out for help at being bullied and abused.

Manu wasn’t born a beggar. He came from a family that lived within its humble means – his siblings went to school, his father had a Government job and his mother loved him. An alcoholic father and his special needs were his only challenges. But after his mother’s death, and his sisters moving away after marriage, he was pushed to the streets, and often spent his days without anything to eat. His brother’s wife use to send him begging for a few coins. People fed him and treated him like a street animal, his father’s friends abused him, and kids pelted him with stones.

When Anouradha Bakshi answered his call for help that day in May 2000, in the streets of Giri Nagar, a journey began for both of them that would last ten years. The initial efforts were in finding an institution to take care of him, but with no success in that endeavor, a rented place in Manu’s locality was arranged – a larger plan slowly enfolded called Project WHY. Manu was the reason that really made Anouradha take the road less travelled.

Anouradha made herself a promise she would only reveal much later: Manu would have a home, a bed to sleep in, friends to share a meal with and even a TV.

Project WHY grew as a space to support underprivileged school children. Every day, the organization gained trust and working became better every year, especially for Manu. He was bathed, fed and had his own bed in the verandah of what was then our Project WHY office. And in 2002 when we launched our class for special kids, he was Roll number 1!

Some would perhaps think that was game over…Manu was given a TV and a place to stay. But not for the vision Manu provided or set for Project WHY. The challenges that had been addressed gave Project WHY the audacity to start dreaming big, …very BIG!!! Dreams of a long-term, sustainable future for children like Manu – The dream of Planet WHY. The first plan in this was to give Manu and his friends a place in which they could grow old and die in dignity. The idea of a green building, with terracotta bricks and old style flooring and many widows to let light and breeze in. It would be Manu’s home and workplace as he would be able enough to learn gardening or a skill. Land was bought, architectural plans made and Project WHY started looking for funds.

On January 7, 2011, Manu tiptoed out of Project Why’s and Anouradha’s life after having had a cup of tea and his favorite biscuits. It is only after his death that the true meaning of Manu’s life emerged. As Anouradha puts it, the biggest lesson Manu taught the family of Project WHY is to “never judge a child by their appearances and also believe that each and every child is special”. No life, however miserable, wretched or seemingly hopeless, is meaningless. Every life has a purpose.

Manu’s legacy is huge. If not for him, there would not have been a Project WHY. If not for him, so many lives would never have been transformed, be it the now thousands of children who have had access to education, the scores of kids with repaired hearts, the many hopeless souls who now have dignified employment, the bunch of disabled kids who now spend their day happy and so on. Manu was born to conjure miracles.

In true homage to Manu, Project Why lives on.

 

 

 

 

A sticth in time #GivingTuesday#India

A sticth in time #GivingTuesday#India

(Posting a series of success stories  from the compilation The Project Why Stories 2000-2016)

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Born to a poor family in Bihar, Gyanti Devi never had the opportunity to learn as a child. Soon after her marriage, her husband, who is severely handicapped, required treatment. This meant moving her life and her two children to Delhi in 2006, where they lived on rent in the village of Madanpur Khader. The area houses mostly migrant families and has a high dropout rate from government schools as well as issues of safety and nutrition.

Gyanti Devi’s case was brought to our attention by a friend of the Project, Sunita, at the beginning of 2014. With her husband unable to work due to his handicaps, Gyanti Devi needed income for her family but, with no skill whatsoever, was unable to find a job.

At Project WHY, we felt that our sewing or beautician classes could give Gyanti Devi the opportunity to start a career. However, we soon realised that, being entirely illiterate, she would need more than just vocational skills. Dharmender, the manager of our Khader centre, proposed that she spend the mornings learning to stitch with the vocational group, but also attend literacy lessons with the children for 40 minutes in the afternoon. She agreed to this and became one of our most motivated and diligent students, slowly building up her literacy skills with the children whilst also finding solace in her knitting.

Now, Gyanti Devi is a proud graduate of the Project WHY system and able to read, write and sew with ease. She has started a small business within her village stitching other people’s clothes, with which she is able to provide income to her family. She is also able to read the local newspaper and understand what is going on in the world. She points to an increased sense of freedom and opportunity with the skills that she now has. Previously afraid to take the bus alone, she notes that “I can now make my house budget and also can read the bus signboard.”

Armed with a new sense of financial responsibility, Gyanti Devi has spent the last three years building a new house for the family. She would get up early in the morning and take the interstate bus from Delhi to Palwal (Haryana) by herself, returning late at night. There, she would bargain and purchase the construction materials required. She kept detailed records of all labour payments in a notebook and is proud of her achievements. “I have successfully built my home for my family. So, I can say today that what every man can do, I can also do”.

Project WHY believes that every person should be able to change his or her life, and it provided the support for Gyanti Devi to do this and achieve her dream. She has created a better future for her children and she hopes that the skills she has learnt will allow her family to prosper for generations.