Dont’ worry, be happy, sang Bobby Mc Ferrin way back in 1988. The lyrics of this song came back to me as I stumbled upon an article about Delhi schools introducing ‘ Happiness classes’. Wow what a wonderful idea particularly in a system where schools are associated with tedious classes and rote learning and every one is obsessed by marks. So happiness classes are a welcome breath of fresh air.
Now instead of jumping straight into learning subjects children will meditate, hear stories, learn to be mindful and engage in fun activities for one whole period in the morning. This will help the kids reclaim their right to be children, ignite their creativity and make them better human beings. This is truly a leap in the right direction.
When Project Why opened its doors almost two decades ago, its main aim was to create a ‘happy’ place for children from deprived homes, a place where they could reclaim their right to be children and learn in a fun filled environment. True that the reality of the day made studies the main focus, but Project Why never forgot that studies alone do not suffice and always strived to give its children space to bloom and thrive. Creative activities, story telling, outings, and the morning positivity prayer where children sit quietly to experience mindfulness have always been part of our curriculum. This is essential to seed the right values and teach children gratitude and respect. So knowing that we were on the right path all along is a huge boost to our morale and we can all continue singing: Dont worry, be happy!
Do you think ‘happiness classes’ are a step in the right direction? Do you think that children have a right to play and have fun while studying?
Come November and the pollution levels in Delhi run amok.This happens year after year, and year after year knee jerk measures are taken to be forgotten when pollution levels drop. Crisis management is what we thrive on. Long term measures are not the preferred route.
November brings its heady toxic mix of stubble burning and festive crackers laced with unfavourable weather conditions and thus aggravates the situation forcing upon us the short term measures we have now become used to. Construction has been stopped for 10 days, stone crushing and other polluting activities have been halted. Crackers sale is prohibited till Diwali day and then too burning of crackers have been limited my the Supreme Court for two hours on the festival night.
The air quality is extremely hazardous and Delhi feels like a gas chamber. Political blame game is at its peak as citizens are coping in the best way the can. The privileged simply chose to leave the city for healthier spaces in or even outside India, those who cannot leave sit in their homes with state-of-the-art air purifiers and travel in air conditioned vehicles. But there is a vast majority who have no option but to carry on their activities as it is a matter of survival. They do not have the luxury of taking off or sitting in a air purified home. They just have to breathe and exhale whatever quality the air is hazardous or unhealthy.
And for many all the measures taken to better air quality translates into loss of work and livelihood. With construction work at a halt, thousands of daily wage labourers have no source of income and will have to dig in their meagre resources to survive till the ban is lifted. My heart goes out to them. Theirs will be a dark Diwali.
The question that begs to be asked is why do we have to face this situation year aft year and what can be done. We seem to believe that it is for the government to weave a magic wand and clear the air. None of us is willing to assume responsibility and see what each one of us can do. Climate change will affect us all. The day will dawn when there will be no place to run and when all the money in the world will not be able to buy us a whiff of fresh air.
Charity begins at home it is said. It is also said one must lead by example. So let us do some soul searching and see whether we are playing our part. How many of us have given up using plastic bags? How many of us segregate our garbage? How many of us carpool? How many of us use public transport? How many of us save water? Not many. We all behave like ostriches, wishing that things will improve on their own. But that is not the way things happen.
Why do we need the highest court in the land to tell us not to burn crackers? Can each one of us not take this wise decision ourselves? The same goes for plastic and water and all other environment related issues. We need to be proactive and take matters in our hand. We need to raise awareness and teach our children to be environment conscious. That is what we strive to do at Project Why each and every day.
As always it was a joy to visit our incredible eight at the Boarding school last week! How time has flown and how they have grown. Our boarding school programme has been our greatest challenge and our greatest achievement. Most of these children would probably never have finished school as the odds they faced in their lives would have seemed unsurmountable. Two third degree burn survivors, one open heart surgery survivor and others from dysfunctional and marginal homes.
The genesis of this programme needs to be revisited. Our boarding school programme would have probably been restricted to one or two kids at most, had a potential donor not landed into our lives and wanted to sponsor the education of 5 children in a boarding school. We were thrilled at the thought and children from extremely deprived homes were selected. To ensure that they would not be ‘lost’ in their new school, we ran a one year residential programme for them, our own kind of prep school! But things do not quite work out the way one hopes and one fine morning the ‘sponsor’ backed leaving us bewildered, saddened and at a loss. There was no way we could ‘send’ the children back to their old lives and yet on the other hand, the challenge of finding resources to ensure they complete their education was daunting. We did the only honourable thing: took the challenge head on!
The children kept their side of the deal and have done us proud. We kept ours finding new sponsors, some who were kind enough to make a long time commitment, and others who would help us with one year commitments. Today five of the children are fully sponsored, and three still need kind souls to see them through.
Kiran will pass out in 2019, Utpal and Babli in 2020 and all of them will have graduated by 2023. We still have a log way to go.
But it has been worth every minute. The pride and joy of seeing them grow and become confident young teenagers cannot be described in words. You need to meet them so see how incredible they are!
One of the challenges we face at Project Why is to provide quality and meaningful education. In the present educational scenario in India where only marks count, this challenge becomes even more daunting as though it is important to try and ensure that our children get ‘good’ marks in order to get admission in an affordable college, it is also imperative to prepare them for the rapidly changing work scenario. According to a report by the World Economic Forum 65 percent of the jobs elementary school students will be doing in the future do not even exist yet!
The question that comes to mind is: what then are the skills required for the future and how can they be taught to the children now.
Education specialist Tony Wagner has identified 7 such skills and they are a far cry from what is being taught specially in India.
The first skill is: critical thinking and problem solving. We need to teach children how to ask questions. This is what will bring innovation as only by being critical of what is, can we be able to bring about change. Now in a scenario where rote learning is essential, this is indeed a huge challenge.
Next is the ability to collaborate across networks and lead by influence. With the growth of remote and non-permanent workers leading will not be the commanding from the top, but the ability to lead by influence or example. Indeed a big challenge again
Now comes the ability to adapt and continually re-learn. Again a far cry from what education teaches today.
Next come initiative and entrepreneurship and of course the ability to communicate orally and in writing followed by assessing and analysing information a daunting task indeed.
And last but not the least is curiosity and imagination, rekindling the child like awe that is lost far too early, more so in India when the 3 Rs begin at the tender age of 4!
Most of these skills are contradictory to what is taught in schools today and yet if we want our children to succeed in the future it is essential to inculcate them slowly but surely.
At Project Why, we are taking baby steps in this direction by giving our children time to be innovative, to think out of the box, to develop their imagination and creativity and to better their communication skills. We hope that our efforts will go a long way in shaping their tomorrows.
She was born a few weeks before Project Why saw the light of day and has been our ray of sunshine all the way along. Kiran is undoubtedly an intrinsic part of Project Why. She turned 18 yesterday. What a journey it has been.
I remember carrying her in my arms as I set upon crafting my dream. Somehow, in early days she was always by my side, joined a year later by Utpal who would become her lifelong friend.
Today she is in class XII, a lovely young woman at the threshold of fulfilling her destiny.
Looking at her takes me down memory lane as her life mirrors Project Why’s journey. Like her we too find ourselves at the threshold of a new chapter as we take our first but determined steps towards sustainability.
We have come a long way since early times when we were both in our infancy and when everything seemed possible. Step by step and day by day we grew and gave wings to our dreams. We faltered at times but always picked ourselves up, dusted our bruised selves and carried on with grit and determination.
Today I look back and share some of the moments we lived to together. How can I forget the day I was introduced to the word jometry, the moniker used by many children in slums for the ubiquitous pencil box; or the day when we both fell upon mounds of thrown food after some religious feeding frenzy and the little wise 6 year old quipped: why don’t they give it to cows! How can I forget the anxious times when we were seeking admission and the nightmare we had to go through at the hands of wily predators looking for a quick buck. How can I forget the days this little girl spent ‘volunteering’ with her friends in the our special section or the cake we baked as part of her holiday homework as her home did not have an oven! Holiday homework was a hardship we shared year after year.
Kiran is without doubt our little ray of sunshine!
Happy birthday girl! May all your dreams come true.
For the past years, come October a group of class XI students from Gefion Gymnasium Copenhagen and their stellar teachers Mette and Ask visit Project Why and share some precious time with our children. This is part of their annual study tour to India. They come laden with gifts, smiles and a generous donation that is the fruit of their labour,
This year again they visited our Yamuna centre and gave wings to the dreams of their Indian friends. For a few hours blond heads mingled with dark ones and all barriers were broken. The world became one.
They prepare for their journey all year along working in different places: from baby sitting to cleaning houses, from working in super markets to serving in cafes, from working in shops to running dance workshops, giving true meaning to values like compassion and giving. Their donation is undoubtedly priceless. We feel deeply grateful and humbled.
I have great admiration and respect for this school that has truly understood the meaning of education and imparts the right values to their children. They teach them to build bridges and not walls, something all education system should do.
On behalf of the Project Why children and team I would like to than Lasse, Estelle, Nicholas, Sophie, Olivia, Daniel, Esther, Naja, Siw, Helena, Line, Lija, Ida, Niklas, Laerke, Svend, Addie, Caroline, Tobias, Johannes, Elvis, Freja, Luna, Sarah and Karla for their generosity and love. May you always be successful and may your dreams come true.
The highest result of education is tolerance wrote Helen Keller. These words came to mind at a time when once again the future of Project Why is at stake. One of our main source of funding is coming to an end in March 2019 and should we not be in a position to find an alternative, we may have to think of curtailing many activities come March 2019. True we are busy looking for alternatives and also praying for miracles, but once again the Damocles sword hangs upon our head and we need to brace ourselves for whatever be the outcome.
I have been finding myself going down memory lane and wondering whether we have achieved what we set out to. Defining Project Why has always been a challenge as it does not fit in any box, so I simply asked myself what is the one thing that defines education to me and whether we have been able to impart it to all the children who have been part of our story. That is how Helen Keller’s words came to mind. Tolerance is undoubtedly the yardstick to measure any meaningful education, and if we have been able to impart that one value we can say that we have achieved our goal.
In today’s world tolerance is by far what we need to instil in every young mind. Tolerance is what builds bridges. Tolerance begets compassion. Tolerance teaches respect . In a land of so many divides, it is crucial that children be taught tolerance. I hope that Project Why children will always be tolerant and spread the message of tolerance where ever they go.
Last Saturday my heart missed a beat. A call informed me that our Yamuna centre was in danger of being closed as authorities were clearing the banks of the river and ominous looking bulldozers and tractors accompanied by large posses of policemen and officials had descended on the flood plain and were busy razing fields and structures.
Not knowing what would transpire, we decided to move the more expensive items that were in the centre. One by one all that had brought the outside world to these free spirited children was packed and taken away: the computers, the solar panels, the water filter, the music system… everything that the children had so loved for the past years. It was their hopes for a better tomorrow, their dreams for a brighter future, their aspirations and their right to be children. It was heart wrenching. We decided to leave the structure and basic learning aids in place. We were not ready to give up yet. We would play the waiting game.
On Sunday, Dharmendra our centre manager visited the centre and children and many parents came to him asking for the centre to remain opened. They being survivors felt that things would fall in place. I guess they had encountered many such occurrences in the past. For us it was a fist and I must admit scary!
Come Monday and over 60 kids turned bright and early with a smile on their face. You can see them in the picture above. I visited them and felt a pinch in my heart as they sat books opened studying attentively in spite of there not being any light or fan or their favourite computers and music system! The centre did look a little desolate but for the moment we had no option but to wait and see what happened before bringing everything back.
The Yamuna children are undoubtedly our most spirited and lovely ones. They are generous and large hearted, always smiling and willing to do anything you ask them. They are bright and have an unfathomable hunger to learn. Five of them have made up for lost years and are ready to sit for their class X exams this year. We have to stand by them in every way possible.
But Saturday’s incident had brought to light the fragility of this centre. True some people have papers but the Damocles sword hangs on their heads and should it fall then they have no option but pack up their belongings and move on. The question is where? Back to their villages or somewhere else in the city? No one knows.
We will continue our work as long as we can.
The Yamuna children are busy learning about ‘vegetables’! This is oxymoronic to say the least. These kids can teach us more than any book can. They know how to grow vegetables from seed to fruit. But here they are, book in hand, learning vegetable names conscientiously. I wish the class could have ben turned on its head, and the children would have been the one teaching us about vegetables, about how they are planted, when they are planted, how long do they take to grow, how often they need to be watered and so on. How much richer the class would have been.
This simple picture set me thinking about the value of the education we are imparting to our children. Call it serendipity, but the same morning I had a long conversation with one of Popples’ teachers about the importance of giving creative space to a child. She had complained about him spending time on making posters for competitions in lieu of completing his written work. I argued that the child would learn much more creating a poster than learning an answer by rote! I do not know whether I convinced her. I hope I did. Needless to say I did not chide the child.
Creativity is sadly absent from today’s curricula. Children have back breaking time tables and are meant to learn many things that they will never use in their lives. Everything you once had to learn is available at the swipe of a screen. So why do we still need to clutter minds.
My heart goes out to our children who live in a land where you are assessed on marks obtained for mugging school books by heart. This can only be done by hijacking and usurping all your rights as a child: the right to play, daydream, run in the park, play with your friends, read a book other than your school, book, question and argue! What are we doing to our children.
A recent study revealed that boredom makes you creative. How many parents allow their children to be bored to just daydream! When I look at the time table of a child today, I shudder: school, tuition, homework, music class and so on. Where is their time to be bored and hence be creative and have a chance to stand out in the crowd!
Through the month of August 2018, all our Centre’s children keenly monitored the floods and rescue operations in the state of Kerala. The Centre Managers explained the causes of flooding and encouraged our children to come up with ways to help the flood victims. A collection of funds ensued at all our Centre’s. Our Yamuna Centre that had its own experience of living with floods (as the children’s homes are close to the banks of Yamuna river) were the first to raise INR 2500. All contributions will be donated to the relief operations headed by Goonj.
On The Road Again 2k18, a group of French Youth in India for a month, came and visited our Project WHY Centres on September 8, 2018. They interacted with our children and resource persons to understand the vision and reach of our program. We would like to thank them for supporting us via Enfances Indiennes.
“Live for cause which is bigger than yourself! Be Astonished by your own existence.” Deepak Chopra. These words resonated deeply. For the past two decades I have strived to live a life larger than myself though I still have a long way to go to truly astonish myself.
The day I decided to step out of my comfort zone and start looking with my heart was a watershed moment and I have never looked back. I have been treated to the most amazing and astonishing experiences and have been taught innumerable lessons in compassion by the most unlikely teachers. The children of Project Why have been my masters in unconditional love and hence Project Why has become my true spiritual journey.
More than anything else, it has made me discover who I truly am and compelled me to take an inward journey and dig deep to spaces yet unknown. And at each step a miracle was conjured to make me want to take the next step.
Project Why has been a teacher taking me gently by the hand and proving me time and again that beauty and kindness exist in the most unlikely places; showing me that dreams come true if you truly believe in them.
The latest lesson came form a bunch of incredible kids who proved that giving is not, as many think, the prerogative of the privileged. When we decided to collect funds for the survivors of the Kerala flood, I would have never imagined that my Yamuna kids, the very ones who had lost everything in the recent Yamuna floods, whose fields lie barren and water logged, who survive by catching and selling fish, would be the ones to bring in the most money in the shortest time. My 80 Yamuna kids collected a whopping two thousand seven hundred rupees in three days. This was undoubtedly a huge lesson in compassion and big heartedness. It turned on its head all our misconceived beliefs and was a most humbling experience. My gratitude to all these wonderful little souls, who never stop smiling, for once again being my masters!
God bless you all.
The past few days have not been the best. A series of irritants on the personal level resulted in the mood declining and the blues setting in. Mercifully, though I do not go to the Project Why as often as I did or would like to, I am treated every day to a host of pictures of activities at different centres courtesy a Whatsapp group!
One picture was enough to lift the mood instantly. It was taken on Raksha Bandhan day where sisters celebrate brothers with two of our oldest and dearest students of our very special section: Shalini and Anurag.
The special section has always had the ability to perk me up and give me my instant FeelGood shot and just seeing the picture of these two lovely souls was enough to set off all the happy hormones and to take me on a magic ride down memory lane.
Centre for Social Innovation-Ramanujan college and Sri Ram Goburdhun Charitable Trust – Project WHY signed MOU for promoting after-school education support to slum children, empowering women as well as for mutual exchange of information.
Project WHY centres – Delhi and Dehradun – celebrate the Indian festival of Janmashtami today. Children dress up and play act as lord Krishna.
“Part of being a person is about helping others” wrote Regis Murayi. We at Project Why believe in this maxim and try and teach compassion to our children at every step. Today, our children are busy garnering funds for the victims of the Kerala floods. For many, losing everything in a calamity is something they or their loved ones have experienced. Many of the families of our children came to Delhi after the devastating floods in Bihar some years back. And recently the families of our Yamuna children lost all their standing crops when the fields got flooded after torrential rains.
It takes a calamity to bring out compassion and it is heartwarming to see that people across the country are reaching out to their brethren in Kerala. I only wish compassion transcended calamities.
In 2004, when southern states were hit by a devastating tsunami, the children of Project WHY raised money to buy one motorised fishing boat for a village in Tamil Nadu. The boat was aptly named Project Why and brought help and support to many families. This time too, we hope to raise funds to bring some succour to the flood victims.
Compassion and gratitude are values that should be taught in homes and schools. Sadly that is not the case. Moral Study was taken off the school curriculum. I wonder why. Moral science should be part of the curriculum. It will help the child become a better person. We forget most of what we are taught in schools, but moral science would remain with us for a lifetime.
Way back in the summer of 2000 when we were still wondering what direction Project Why would take, I use to spend long hours in the Giri Nagar slums interacting with children and their parents, and the one request I got from one and all was: teach us English! No wonder then that our first programme was spoken English classes for children and the ladies!
A command of English seems to make all the difference and open many doors. It is as if India is divided in two classes: those that can speak English and those that cannot. The number of English Medium schools that have mushroomed everywhere are ample proof of that.
We have been teaching English to our children from day one, and many of our alumni today speak good English. It has not been an easy task as finding good English teachers has been a challenge. But we soldier on.
I was surprised to stumble upon an article entitled Majority of India’s private English-medium school students can’t read English. A survey covering 20 000 children across many States showed disappointing results: The survey found that an alarming 10.9%, 12.8%, and 10% of students in grades four, five, and six, respectively, fell short of even the lowest level of reading skills, that merely involve retrieving explicitly stated information.
Reading ability is one of the major factor to success in higher studies and careers, and the results of this survey does not augur well for Indian students. Students who performed better were those who read at home for pleasure but this is a habit that is slowly disappearing. Reading for pleasure is a vanishing act.
Learning outcomes are not only determined by school but by a host of socio-economic factors like parents’ educational levels, household incomes etc., cultural contexts, and identities. This is a challenge in a country as diverse as India, a challenge that policy makers need address. Our education system is due for a total overhaul. Band aid and patch work solutions will not suffice.
Our education system is one where rote learning has taken precedence over all else. The class XII results of this year are ample proof of this sad reality. How else could a student obtain a perfect score in subjects like English, History, Sociology etc! Unless we remedy to this urgently it is good all rounder students who will start falling off the net as admission to good colleges is solely based on marks!
There is something terribly wrong in our eduction system. Is anyone listening.
The past week has been hectic in all centres of Project Why! Every one is busy preparing for Independence Day. Decorations are being made, tricolour balloons blown, patriotic songs rehearsed, speeches learnt by heart, dance steps practised. A sense of perceptible excitement and joy pervades every nook and corner of Project Why.
On Independence Day, flags will be hoisted in each centre and the national Anthem sung with fervour. Then the children will perform all that has ben carefully prepared in front of guests teachers and friends. In that moment every one will be a star! And the dreams every heart carries will for an instant be in the realm of the possible. Celebrations do weave their own magic.
I too will be a guest at one of the centres as alas I cannot be at all, and will applaud the loudest. They are my children, all 1100 of them and seeing them in their best attire putting their best foot forward is always a matter of pride and joy. I also know that I will be moved to tears as I know I hold the dreams of all these children in custody and feel the weight of the huge responsibility I carry. Will I be able to fulfil all the promises, the hopes that all those who enter the portals of Project Why carry in their hearts. Only time will tell. All I know is that we will leave no stone unturned in this mission we have undertaken.
Amidst the celebrations and the joyful mood, there is also immense sadness in the wake of the reality that surrounds us. In 72 years have we done all that we could have for the children of India is a question that begs to be asked and sadly the answer is a deafening NO!
Children still beg at red lights. We see them every day. They still work in tea stalls and sweat shops. Millions of children are out of school, and hundreds of thousands drop out. Our education system is flawed, access to higher education is denied to too many. True there are laws in place, but many are toothless; true the Right to Education is now a fundamental Right but is not given to all.
Children die of malnutrition every day. 5000 a day in a land that throws away food with alacrity and impunity. What hurts me most is that we seem not to care.
It takes so little so make a difference. We at Project Why strive to do make that little difference and will strive to do so in the future. Do join us.
Happy Independence Day!