Project WHY began in 2000 with 40 children and a handful of volunteers teaching spoken English. As time went by, for every challenge was addressed by a new activity. The number of children increased, their demands multiplied, new teachers were discovered within tiny jhuggis and lanes, and ad-hoc classrooms found. Parks were cleaned, tents put up, unused pavements cleared, any place would do, but no child was ever sent away.
The children came from underprivileged homes and everyone was accepted even if it meant squeezing ourselves in small spaces. In 2000-2001, we found out that the quality of teaching in Government run schools was dismal. Government schools are being used beyond capacity, resulting in poor teaching and learning environment. This is further compounded by the fact that poor children often have illiterate parents who cannot provide any support in their studies. To contain drop-out rates, we began our first after school support programs at Giri Nagar.
Today we reach out to over 1000 children, 160 women and have created 50 job opportunities for people from the community, through our centres. Over the past 16 years, Project WHY has opened 6 after school support centres within the community. The aim of these centres has been to bridge the education gap for underprivileged children and improve their learning outcome. It is an after-school program that goes beyond academics to include life skills and all round development.
In 2000-2001, we found out that the quality of teaching in Government run schools was dismal. Government schools were being used beyond capacity, resulting in poor teaching and learning environments. This is further compounded by the fact that poor children often have illiterate parents who cannot provide any support in their studies. Project WHY aims at bridging the education gap for under- privileged children and improving their learning outcome. The after-school program goes beyond academic to include life skills and all round development. The program also conducts extra- curricular activities to raise awareness about environment and social responsibility, workshops on gender equality, music and photography, educational outing to historical monuments and others. Project WHY programs are geared towards continuous improvement of children outcomes through systematic assessments and support.
Right from its inception, Project WHY decided to draw all resources from within the community as we felt that education can only have a true meaning if it is independent of extraneous factor, hence it was decided to find teachers/ resource persons from within. Though the staff may not at first seem qualified in a conventional manner, it has found to be most appropriate for several reasons. First of all it is an extremely motivated group as it has been given the recognition it never had. Secondly belonging to the same social background it is able to understand the problems faced by the children and above all being totally different from the ‘image’ of the teacher the child has, it is able to garner the confidence of the child. Today, we are a team of 50 resource persons from the community and for 80% of them, Project WHY is the sole source of income in the family.
The true success of Project WHY lies in its ability to empower the community to take on their responsibilities and show them how to find solutions within the existing context. We realised very early that invisible barriers existed – be they caste or creed – and our first venture was to break those barriers and make make Project WHY a true reflection of an ideal India. It is for us a matter of pride to see that communities that barely interacted slowly learnt to discover each other and respect one another. Regular parent teacher meetings are also held enabling us to interact with the parents and make them aware of the importance of education particularly the education of girls. Our vocational training for women entails building basic reading and writing skills. We also strive to make our children better citizens and run a host of extra-curricular activities to raise awareness about environmental issues, social responsibility and behavioral changes.