She took to supporting slum children education against all odds. The local politicians and government authorities tried to put up hurdles by urging the slum dwellers to boycott her and also deny her the space. She was evicted from pavements and banned from entering public parks. But she overcame the hurdles and reached out to over 40 children in the slums of Giri Nagar to curb illiteracy and give them dignity.
But this was just the beginning for Anouradha Bakshi, a diplomat’s daughter who felt that she had a debt to repay to society. Her dream came true in the year 2000 with the launch of ‘Project WHY’, a flagship program under the Sri Ram Goburdhun Charitable Trust, a non-profit organisation offering educational and life-reforming support to the slum children, their families and community.
“We don’t realise how much a dysfunctional mainstream school system contributes to social discord” says Anouradha. “The formal schools in fact end up convincing children that learning is beyond them. Added to that is the abuse, mockery and caning and you have the perfect recipe for future outlaws” She was puzzled in the early days, that students would ask her to *underline* passages in their text books. Then she realised that this was the standard teaching method in their schools: a teacher would underline and her students would memorise those lines. There was no other effort to “teach”. Even the pathetic pass mark of 33% was a difficult hurdle. Children discovered they had ‘failed’ as early as age-10 and accepted a life away from the mainstream.
After making a modest beginning with a handful of children, a few volunteers, and a nomadic existence in public parks, footpaths, and reclaimed garbage dumps, the Delhi-based organisation have come a long way. Today, it reaches out to over 1000 children and 160 women located across 5 modest centres in various clusters of South Delhi. It supports early to primary and secondary level education, computer training, specially-aided classes for mentally and physically challenged children, and vocational training for women.
For every ‘WHY’ directed at Anouradha, Project Why is the solution. So when a municipal school’s principal dismissed her efforts saying, “These children live in gutters! They can never pass,” Anouradha came up with a new education model that not only minimized school dropouts, but also helped them climb up the merit list.
Her inspiration to start Project WHY also sprung from her achievement in doing a seemingly impossible task. She managed to help a 30-year- old mentally-challenged man, Manu, living amongst maggots in a garbage dump, get a home. Manu was Project WHY’s first success story! Following this were several heart surgeries, rescue operations for young children facing physical abuse from alcoholic parents, and miracles like turning one-year- old Utpal, who suffered third degree burns, back to life!
The project undercuts the popular belief that slums are unproductive, and hence should continue to fray at the seams. With the mission fixed of creating spaces to dream, learning and transform lives, Anouradhra Bakshi organized fundraisers, blogs and keeps exploring ways to make her mission self-sustaining. “The journey is just beginning”, as She takes the new project in Kalka Mandir.
The only issue that remains unresolved is raising enough funds nationally. “But that does not falter me from moving ahead and creating more spaces for children to dream, learn and transform their lives,” she confesses, “as miracles do happen”.