Dharmender better known as Dharmender Bhaiya, is someone I have grown to admire by the day. His story is one that needs to be told as it epitomises the spirit of Project Why. Over the years I have realised that we share a common vision and dream for the children and ladies we reach out.
Dharmendra came to Project Why way back in 2004 as a humanities teacher for the secondary classes. He left a well paid job in a multinational to follow his calling. His stint as a teacher was short lived as I soon realised that he passionately wanted to change things and was willing to walk the road less travelled. We use to spend a lot of time sharing our thoughts and in him I found a soul mate.
He soon became involved in a wide range of activities: solving problems with the community, dealing with the many detractors we had and lending his hand with every crises of problems we faced. I could see that he was born to lead. I had to find a way and it would happen earlier than expected in the most unlikely yet amazing way.
Two ladies in distress landed our way. They were both abused and from dysfunctional homes and we had to find a way to care for them. This could only be done if we ‘created’ a residential facility and it was Dharmendra who took on the challenge. The rest is history. A place was found for them and this became the springing board for what is known as the Project Why women centre. It was Dhamendra’s idea to juxtapose a children centre to our residential outreach and to also begin a vocational centre to empower women from underprivileged homes. In the span of a year, he had the women centre up and running. It had been an uphill task with our two ladies being demanding and difficult. Dharmendra would not shun from driving in the middle of cold winter nights to go and solve fights and arguments. The residential programme came to a close once the ladies were healed and ready to move on and we felt that a residential outreach did not make financial sense unless we had a larger number of women something we did not want to do. In its place emerged the women centre, an outreach for 300 children and 120 women.
Dharmendra always has his heart open and he was the one to spot Meher when she was rummaging in a dustbin looking for food. He took on the challenge of giving her a better morrow and patiently accompanied her in her healing journey through several reconstructive surgeries. Meher never looked back. Today she is in boarding school, an impish creature you simply fall in love with.
Dharmendra runs the centre with a velvet gloved iron hand. His gentle demeanour can be extremely firm; He does not tolerate nonsense. His never say die attitude ensures that every problem that comes our way is dealt with in the best manner possible. He has earned the respect of the community he works with and ensured that they stand with us at all times. The women centre is one of the jewels of Project Why.
Dharmendra is also the one who found out the plight of the children of agricultural labour who live along the Yamuna river and conjured a way to start a centre for them. The Yamuna centre is definitely one of our most vibrant centres.
Dharmendra has always taken ownership of what he set up and is open to ideas and ready to implement them. He also comes up with his own ideas that often adds value to the work we are doing. I often find myself seeking his advise and am impressed by his innovative ideas. I have learnt a lot from him and am deeply grateful for this. It is a privilege and honour to have in my team.
He never ceases to amaze me and his latest feat was to get a community workshop organised by IGNOU (Open University) where people were told about the possibilities of learning from home at all ages. Actually this was a double whammy as it solved our problem of getting our Yamuna Centre class X kids to appear in their Board examinations. We were truly worried as these children did not attend school or have any civic papers. With one master stroke Dharmendra ensured that they would be admitted in an open program and able to sit for their exams.
It is a privilege and a blessing to have someone like Dharmendra in my team.
Have you also come across someone you have grown to admire?
Please consider collaborating with us! We welcome visitors, volunteers and anyone who can give us advice on how to improve our practices and processes. Check out our Facebook page for information on the events that are held at Project Why.
You can also support Project Why through a small donation.
When I look back at 2018, I am filled with a deep sense of gratitude. Strange as had anyone asked me during the year how things were going, gratitude was not the word that would have come to mind. You’re so bogged down by day-today chores, that you lose the ability to truly comprehend things in a larger perspective.
My life has two distinct parts: my work at Project Why and my home and family and for both, 2018 was a watershed year.
It was the year where I had to come to terms with accepting to give up the house I had built with my parents almost half a century ago. After their demise, it had become almost my only anchor. It was the house I came to as a dreamy teenager, the one I was married in, where I became a mother and even a grandmother. Over the years the house had aged and become a liability and it made sense to bring it down. 2018 was that year. It was heart wrenching and left me rudderless for a while till I found my moorings again and realised that memories are not cast in brick and stone but live safely in your heart.Today I feel deeply grateful for having understood this as it freed me of invisible chains I carried for far too long. I made peace with my past and was ready to move on.
On the work front, the year augured well as we were financially stable and engaged in a host of activities aimed at enhancing the quality of our work. But the sense of security was short-lived as somewhere in the middle of the year we were informed that one of our main funders would stop their commitment in March 2019. They looked after 50% of our needs.
It is only now that I realise how the universe was at work and how many people came into our lives creating a new network that would weave its magic and bring us out of the woods. We are nowhere near the end of the tunnel but I can see the light and for that I am again deeply grateful.
I realise how many miracles came my way in 2018 and feel immensely blessed.
There is one such miracle I would like to share with you.
2018 was the year that saw my darling Utpal come full circle.The little scalded child that I had brought home way back in 2005 and nursed back to health was now a confident and happy teenager, who was now back at Project Why as a volunteer teacher. Again I felt deeply grateful and realised that no matter what happened in life, it was always for the better.
So my word for 2019 is SURRENDER.
I have been blessed with so many miracles in my life that I feel that the Universe is always on my side and works in my favour. I simply need to surrender and watch more miracles unfold.
What is your word of the year? Why did you choose it?
Please consider collaborating with us! We welcome visitors, volunteers and anyone who can give us advice on how to improve our practices and processes. Check out our Facebook page for information on the events that are held at Project Why.
You can also support Project Why through a small donation.
I am almost 2000 posts old!
I’ve been blogging for more than a decade and yes I like to know how many people drop by and read what I write. I know many of you read my blogs but only some take the time to comment.
The days there are comments are truly special as I somehow feel I have connected with someone and added one more soul to my journey, one more voice to the cause I espouse. It also gives me the chance to say thank you.
It would be lovely to know where you are from, how you made it to my blog, anything to get to know you better.
You cannot imagine what a heartwarming feeling it is to read that someone has enjoyed your story and even been inspired by it.
Recently I had blogged about Sanjay who went from street to ramp, the gypsy lad who became an international model, and having so many bloggers respond and comment was a very special feeling that I cannot describe in words. I am sharing some of the comments here:
I too like commenting on your blogs. It is my way of saying hello, well met and I look forward to the ‘like’ as it means we have connected.
So today I ask you to leave a comment on this blog. It will bring a huge smile on my face. I promise to leave no blog I read without a comment.
Don’t leave without at least saying hello.
Do you believe in miracles? Do you think each life has a purpose? Have you met anyone who changed your life? Please share your experiences.
Please consider collaborating with us! We welcome visitors, volunteers and anyone who can give us advice on how to improve our practices and processes. Check out our Facebook page for information on the events that are held at Project Why.
You can also support Project Why through a small donation.
For the past 8 years, come January and my thoughts turn to Manu who left us all lost and bewildered on a cold morning in January 2011. On that day I must admit, I was close to giving up, as Manu, I had come to realise, was the one who had given me the strength to pick myself up when I lay broken and bereaved and given meaning to my life once again.
Who was Manu you may wonder?
To the uninitiated a mentally and physically challenged bedraggled, half-clad beggar, the kind you pass by without a second glance. So your next question would undoubtedly be what does such a being and a middle-aged apparently well-to-do lady have in common? Nothing and everything. I could either write volumes to explain our relationship or simply use one word: love. Manu simply redefined the world love and gave it a whole new meaning.
I came to know that he had lived on this street un-cared-for and unloved and it felt like he had circled the same path over the years to ensure that the day I walked it, he would be there. When we met, we both knew we had come home. There was no looking back.
It was for Manu that Project WHY was set up in the quaint street where he had been born and where he ‘lived’. To care for him, I had to find a way of being accepted by the very people who had riled and abused him, and Project Why was the answer.
For a decade our lives were entwined. Manu trusted me implicitly and knew I would be by his side till the end. But he gave me more than I ever could give him. He gave me a reason to live and showed me that no life is useless, however wretched it may seem. Was he not the best example! Had there been no Manu, there might have been no Project Why. Today, thanks to him, thousands of children are seeing their lives change for the better.
The other lesson Manu taught me was to never say die, no matter how hopeless things may seem.
And today when one of our main donors ends their commitment in a few months, and I face the prospect of seeing two of my biggest centres, Okhla and Khader shut down, it is Manu’s gentle smile that comes to my mind. I somehow know that the clouds will lift and the sun shine again.
He was a gentle soul with a quirky sense of humour. We shared many precious moments, dancing and laughing and many meals too! Spending time with him was a blessing, an intense feeling that all was well and one was safe.
I do not know what saints look like; I think Manu was one, a true child of God.
And Project WHY has to continue to honour is memory.
Manu remains safe in my heart.
You can also support Project Why through a small donation.
New Year is the time when you reminisce about the year gone by and make plans for the one to come. Normally that is what I do but this year I would like to share the story of four lovely souls who have been part of the Project Why journey for many years, each with a heart wrenching story, each having beaten many odds to complete the virtuous circle.
Utpal, Babli, Meher and Manisha, four of our boarding school kids are spending their winter break volunteering at the Project Why Madanpur Khadar Centre bringing their own special touch to the children studying there. Utpal taught them dance and was actively involved in the preparation of the Xmas party where his pupils performed and where he also was an ace MC. He is now teaching the children drawing and craft, two skills he has mastered well.
Babli is teaching class VI children and is an incredible teacher as she is patient, gentle but firm. Meher and Manisha lend their hands where needed and help the kids practice English. The four are extremely committed volunteers who beat the biting cold and never miss a day!
Watching them gives me immense joy and pride and fills me with gratitude.
They have come a long way, these four little souls and are miracles crafted by Project Why.
Utpal’s entered our world after sustaining severe third degree burns having accidentally fallen into a boiling pan and became an intrinsic part of Project Why. He is now in class XI and a lovely lad who has taught me the meaning of unconditional love.
Babli came to us many years ago in need of an urgent open heart surgery. Thanks to a kind donor, the surgery was performed and she got a new lease of life, but we soon discovered that her education was in peril. We stepped in and Babli is now in boarding school in class XI ready to take her place in the sun.
Meher suffered terrible burns when she was just a baby. Thanks to Nina, a wonderful volunteer and to Chess Without Borders we were able to craft a future for her and get her the much-needed reconstructive surgery and admission in a boarding school. She is an impish, delightful girl who can walk into any heart.
Manisha is a quiet child, or so you may think at first sight. She comes from an extremely poor family, her mother being a rag picker as her father is often unemployed. A kind donor wanted to sponsor the education of a girl child and Manisha was the chosen one. Manisha took to school like a fish to water and has never looked back.
When these four little bruised souls landed at Project Why we saw the huge dreams they carried in their heart and the trust they had in their eyes, we knew we held their dreams in custody. We began our journey to fulfil them and though the path was difficult and the road less travelled, we feel we have come a long way and know that these stars will shine one day. For the moment they are busy helping others fulfill their dreams.
On this New Year Day we renew our commitment to these children and to all the children of Project Why and assure them that we will leave no stone unturned to see their dreams come true.
We need to come full circle.
Happy New Year!
Do you believe in miracles? Do you think that dreams can come true? Please share your experiences with us.
You can also support Project Why through a small donation.
For the past week Project Why has been in Xmas mode. At Project Why we celebrate all festivals with fervour and joy and it is heartwarming to see how children get involved. Xmas caps have been made and donned for the camera! Every centre is busy making decorations for the tree that will grace every class. There is a festive mood all around.
The Yamuna centre children were busy making a snowman. These are kids who have never seen snow or even celebrated Xmas before Project Why began its classes, but their fervour is palpable as they too set about decorating their classroom and preparing for Xmas day!
The special kids are old hands now as they have been celebrating Xmas for almost two decades. Each year they set about making new decorations for their tree and class and it is a joy to see them at work.They have wowed us many times with their creativity!
Xmas has been celebrated every year, as is every other festival, as festivals are about joy, laughter, fun and bonding. That is the common denominator. It does not matter what faith you belong to, festivals are inclusive and the best way to break barriers. This is what we strive to teach the Project Why children.
For the past three months, Project Why has been touched by the magic of two young souls: Luisa and Fabian.
Luisa was barely sixteen when she first visited Project Why with her mother. She was touched by what she saw and told us that she would come and volunteer after she finished school. I must admit that at that moment I thought she would forget her promise but true to her words Luisa made her plans and even convinced her best friend Fabian to come with her.
Luisa and Fabian took to the project immediately and carved their niche. Should you walk in to our Govidpuri Centre in the morning you are likely to be greeted by a upbeat German nursery rhyme interspersed with loud clapping, stomping of feet and giggles. Luisa and Fabian spend their mornings with the creche children bringing their special kind of magic to the class.
That is not all. Luisa is an ace photographer and Fabian an accomplished videographer, so the rest of they time is spent helping us document the Project. You can see them at the different locations, camera in tow and even a drone that fascinates all the children and even staff.
Fabian has worked hours into the evenings in order to edit the videos captured during the daylight hours. Due to his efforts along with Luisa, Project Why has managed to raise funds. Impressed by their documentation, donors have gone on to support parts of the Project.
The two never stop smiling and you cannot but be infected by their joie de vivre. They are always ready to help in anyway and never complain about anything. At an age where most young people prefer spending time with friends partying, these two are busy making new friends in a new land. Language is no barrier when you see with your heart.
Over nearly two decades, we have had many volunteers come to Project Why from all over the world—some as young as 14 and some over 70! Each one has left their mark and holds a special place in our hearts. They have brought their world to our children and allowed them to ‘travel’ in a very unique manner. We are grateful to each and everyone of them.
I am still amazed and touched by these young people who give up their summer vacation or time they could have spend doing anything they wanted, to come to a place like Project Why and give their time and love to children they’ve never met before. They make us believe that there are still many good people in the world and restore our faith in humanity.
We will miss Luisa and Fabian. We hope they come back soon. Till then, Auf Wiedersehen, liebe Luisa und Fabian!
Have you met youth like Fabian and Luisa? What do you think of the volunteering model at Project Why, where members of the underprivileged community are supported by people from distant countries?
You can also support Project Why through a small donation.
Pushpa is an incredible woman of substance and yet nothing about this diminutive, ever-smiling woman reveals her indomitable strength. She too is one of the many masters that Project Why brought into my life. She has taught me patience, determination, resilience and serenity.
Pushpa came to Project Why a decade and a half ago looking for an opening as a teacher. I warmed up to her immediately and offered her a job. She belongs to the very community she serves. Sometime later, Sophiya, another teacher, told us about the plight of children in Okhla, the area where she lived, and how they were targets of multiple predators looking for easy prey. There was no school in the area and no organisation that could care for them. I knew what had to be done but did not know how. Pushpa was quick to offer to assist Sophiya find a way to start a centre to help these children. I had no idea what it would entail. The area in question was an industrial one, with factories and small slum clusters tucked in between.
The two ladies began classes in Sophiya’s house in the morning and set out to seek greener pastures in the afternoon. A few weeks later they both came to me and said they had found a ‘place’ and wanted me to go with them ‘see’ it. After a bumpy drive we reached what could be at best described as a garbage dump and I was a tad crestfallen as I could not see how it could be transformed into anything close to a children’s centre, but Pushpa in her soft voice told me that it was possible and that all it needed was a little ‘sprucing’ up! What I did not know at that moment was that the two ladies had already spoken to the local police and local politicians and obtained permission to ‘use’ the space. I was clean-bowled by their spirit of enterprise and nodded my agreement. Trucks of garbage were removed, truckloads of earth brought in, and lo and behold a few bamboo sticks and some bright blue plastic sheets was all that was needed to begin our work.
What ensued was a battle of wits between the local baddies and my two strong ladies. Every weekend the fragile structure was brought down and ever Monday the two ladies would erect it again till the day when the breaking stopped. They had won the war!
Today the Okhla centre is a beautiful space with incredible energies. It reaches out to over 350 children and employs 12 staff from within community. It has primary and secondary classes and a computer centre too! runs like a clockwork orange under the firm but gentle hand of Pushpa. No one can imagine the trials and tribulations she went through from cleaning ‘poop and puke’ to standing up to the local goons. She has never lost her smile even when faced with the biggest adversity.
Pushpa is an example to all of us. She is respected by the staff, the children and the community. She runs her centre with determination and pride and epitomises what Project Why stands for, in all the ways that count.
Pushpa has truly given wings to my dreams.
Have you met a teacher like Pushpa? Been taught by a teacher like her? What do you think of the teaching model at Project Why, where members of the underprivileged community are empowered and supported so they can teach and empower the community in turn?
To support the work of dedicated teachers like Pushpa, please consider collaborating with us! We welcome visitors, volunteers and anyone who can give us advice on how to improve our practices and processes. Check out our Facebook page for information on the events that are held at Project Why.
You can also support teachers like Pushpa through a small donation.
Last week we launched our very first online fundraiser, to give wings to Renu’s dreams and help her empower more women just as she empowered herself by joining the Project Why Sewing Circle over six years ago. Today Renu is keen on enhancing the resources of her sewing circle and asked for new specialised machines knowing that these would help her students get jobs in the garment industry. This fundraiser is just for that!
But that is not where the story ends as the fundraiser has engendered its own set of miracles and brought together many people from the world over who have teamed up to make it a success.
First and foremost I would like to thank Damyanti Biswas who came up with the idea of this fundraiser. Corinne Rodrigues and Shailaja Vishwanath gave her the support she needed for a blogathon, a concept I knew little about. Many bloggers have since written about Renu’s dreams in order to take Project Why to new heights: find their stories in the links on this post.
Kasturi Patra and Shalini Baisiwala found time from their busy schedule to come and see us at Project Why. Kalpanaa Misra visited us too and took some lovely pictures. Our deepest gratitude to them. And a special thank you to Kasturi Patra for having helped create the video for the fundraiser.
A big thank you to Fabian Baggeler for being our videographer and photographer and for working long hours to get things ready on time.
We would also like to express my gratitude to the Ketto team who were most helpful in sending the fundraiser online in record time! A special thank you to Akshay and Zaid from Ketto for making this fundraiser go on for GivingTuesday!
I am deeply grateful to the Project Why team under the able stewardship of Dharmendra Beniwal and Rani Bhardwaj for having motivated the team to take ownership of the fundraiser. It is their long term dreams that we hope to fulfill with help from each one of you.
A huge vote of thanks to all those who donated and shared and helped us reach 70% of our target in a short time. You all have already come together to raise 61,000 Rs out of a target of 77,000 Rs that would support Renu’s Project Why Sewing Circle. Please continue to support and share the fundraiser . No amount is too small, and every little bit would help make Renu’s dreams become a reality.
What do you think of women empowering each other to lead independent lives? Do you have a sewing circle in your community? Do you know of a sewing circle that works with underprivileged women? Would you like to volunteer at Project Why and teach the sewing circle a few useful skills?
If you’d like to receive posts from Project Why, please subscribe via email on the sidebar. To keep in touch with all the events big and small, like the Project WHY page on Facebook.
And if journeys like that of Renu interest you, please consider supporting the Project WHY Sewing Circle Fundraiser, where we’re trying to keep the dreams of a few brave women alive.
In New Delhi, like elsewhere in India. women are the target of domestic violence and abuse, and survival becomes the biggest challenge they face. Often, nonprofits like Project Why step in to try and empower them to take on the challenge head on by giving them the skills needed to become change makers within their household. This is what we strive to do at our Khader women’s centre. The Project WHY sewing circle is part of this effort.
The Project WHY Sewing Circle has changed the lives of scores of women, but none more so than for Renu Karotia, the sewing teacher.
Six years ago, Renu’s husband lost his job following a work accident. the family lost their home and incurred huge debts. Being unskilled, Renu had very few options. After she joined the Project Why sewing class, she soon started taking small sewing jobs at home. It was a struggle to put food on the table every day.
When Project Why lost its sewing teacher, we felt that Renu had the skills to take on the job. Though hesitant at first, she grew into the job and is now very proud of her students. She has enrolled her children in the centre. She is slowly paying back her debts and knows that she holds the key to her future.
The sewing circle of Khader began its activities over 10 years ago in Madanpur Khader, one of the many villages that dot New Delhi. Since then over 1000 women have been trained by Project Why as part of its women empowerment programme.
This programme was initiated with the belief that women were true agents of change and that giving them the means to earn a livelihood would go a long way in transforming the lives of their families. This held particularly true in an environment where men often drank and domestic violence was prevalent. At Project Why they not only learnt a skill but also to read and write, thus helping them to become small entrepreneurs!
The sewing circle of Khader has been a resounding success. Over 80% of the women have found some form of gainful activity be it within their homes or even outside.
Today we are looking at honing their skills further and for this we need the following:
Interlocking machine 4400/-
Pico machine 5600/-
Ironing board 2000/-
Cutting table 4000/-
6-month salary for Renu 60,000/-
Total amount needed: 77,000/-
This would enable them to find employment in the garment industry where such skills are needed.
Please help spread the word about a fundraiser for Renu’s sewing circle by joining this linky list:
Renu is a woman who braved tough circumstances to not just earn a living, but also empower others to do the same.
Support her journey through THIS FUNDRAISER.
If you’re donating from India, your donation is 50% tax deductible under section 80G, and the entire expense account would be put up on the Project Why website once the amount is raised.
Join the Project Why family by supporting Renu, so she can help other women like herself. No amount is too small, and every little bit would help make Renu’s dreams become a reality.
SHARE the Fundraiser after you’ve made a donation: each share leads to at least three donations!
You can donate in different currencies like USD and Pounds. Just change the currency at the top right of the screen.
Do you think a society is served best by educating and empowering its women? Would you support Renu as she works to empower other women in need?
At times it takes a borrowed pair of eyes to revive your ability to see with your heart. This is exactly what happened during the recent visit of Damyanti, a dear friend and staunch supporter. She enabled me to revisit Project Why with my heart wide open, something I had not done for a while as I was too busy with day-to-day vicissitudes. It is amazing how each time I take a step back and look at my prodigal child, I fall under the spell of its incredible magic. This time it was the realisation that Project Why had brought into my life many masters, each teaching me a new lesson of life.
One such master I realised was our incredible computer teacher Mithu!
Mithu was struck by polio at a young age and due to inadequate intervention lost the use of his legs. He came to us as a teenager prompted by one of our teachers who hoped that he would resume the studies he had abandoned somewhere along the way, but that was not to be. In spite of our best efforts he was not interested in sitting for his Xth Boards. His attention and heart had been hijacked by the computer that sat in the room. Mithu had found his calling. It would take us some time to understand it but once we did there was no looking back. Today Mithu is a stellar computer teacher at our Okhla Center.
Damyanti decided to document his story and as I watched it I felt the world turning on its head and found myself at the receiving end. For too long I had donned the mantle of Anou Ma’am and been the one everyone looked up to. But tables have turned and it was time to look at what I had received.
I realised how much Mithu had taught me, though till now I had not acknowledged it. Mithu is the epitome of ‘joie de vivre’ and lives life King Size. So what if he does not have legs he can use, he has never stopped short of experiencing things. In the video he even candidly and happily admits to playing ‘football‘!
That is when I realised what Mithu had taught me: the true art of living and never giving up. It had taken me more than a decade to understand this though in hindsight I realise that much of what my journey has been is thanks to the example set by this young man who once long ago said to me: let me stand on my two feet when I had offered him the use of a wheelchair.
And as I let my thoughts wander, I see that Mithu is not the only master Project Why has blown my way, there are many more whose stories remain to be told.
Do you also believe that anyone can be a teacher? Have you had an ‘unlikely’ master? Share you story here.
To support the work of dedicated teachers like Mithu, please consider collaborating with us! We welcome visitors, volunteers and anyone who can give us advice on how to improve our practices and processes.
You can also support teachers like Mithu through a small donation.
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!
“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.
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!
One of the greatest lessons I have learnt during the last two decades is that of survival with dignity and a smile. It has been not only a great eye opener but also taught me to review my own life in a whole new perspective. The art of survival with dignity lies in the ability to live in the now and feel abundant at all times. Over the years I have seen this many times in the generosity and kindness of those who have practically nothing but give with abandon and love. My respect for all hose I work with has grown in leaps and bounds.
The art of surviving with dignity and a smile rests in the ability to look for positives in the times of adversity. We were all privy to this last week when the Yamuna plains got flooded and all the people living on the banks of the river moved to higher grounds. This was the case with all the families of the children of our Yamuna centre. Though the water did not quite reach the centre, we closed it for a couple of days.
The floodplain was filled with water and all the vegetables growing on it were destroyed and hence the very livelihood of these families. But when you live hand to mouth, you cannot waste time on past ad future, you have to think in the now and so as soon as the water receded to waist height, children jumped in to catch fish! Some would be sold and the remaining would provide the next meal.
It is this spirit that I salute each and every time I encounter it, be it in the cup of tea and the flatbread shared offered by a gypsy family who does not know whether it will have a rood on its head the nest day orin the smile of the young boy looking to catch fish after the floods.
Three little girls aged 2, 4 and 8 died of hunger in India’s capital city! Their autopsies revealed that there was no trace of food in their bodies and that they had most probably not eaten anything for at least 8 days. The media is abuzz with the news. The political blame game is on. I wonder what will transpire. If one is to go by precedent then I guess nothing! Malnutrition deaths have been happening every day for years. The official figure is 5000. Yes you read right: 5000 children under the age of 5 die every day of malnutrition related diseases. 5000! That is 200 every hour; 3 every minute.
I have been writing about this terrifying statistic for years now, but somehow it has never seem to elicit the anger and outrage one would have expected. I presume it was because they were just remote numbers, far away from our reality. But Mansi, Shikha and Parul died in our very own city, a city where we throw food with impunity; a city where garbage cans are replete with perfectly edible fare; where food is thrown with alacrity at parties and religious festivals; a city where neighbours remain aloof; a city that seems to have lost its heart forever.
Will the deaths of these little girls go beyond the political slugfest and get us to open our eyes and maybe our hearts. There are some lone individuals and some organisations that feed the poor with love and compassion, but they are far and few.
No one should die of starvation in any self respecting society, let alone a child. Even one child is one too many!
Many countries run community soup kitchens. I guess we could do the same. It is not impossible. It just needs the will to do so. The local temple or community centre could provide the space and a handful of grocery from every home would be enough to get things on the road.
The little girls were migrants from Bengal whose father had to come to Delhi looking for work. There are many such families who come to the big city and live a hand to mouth existence. They earn daily wages, have no savings and no access to any social welfare programmes as they do not have the required papers. Losing a day’s wage can push them to the brink.
Delhi is ‘home’ to thousands of homeless people, many of them migrants. Many find work and manage to survive, some like the family of the little girls fall of the net.
It is time we a individuals, as citizens, as civil society became aware of this stark reality and opened our hearts and reached out with compassion and love.
Is this asking too much!
One of the inevitable consequence of moving forward, is that some have to step back. At Project Why the ‘axe’ fell first on yours truly. For the team to learn and gain not only the experience but also the confidence Anou Ma’am had to step back. So for the past two years or so, I have been cutting the umbilical cord gently but surely and boy it has worked: the project does not need my presence anymore, a far cry from the days where I sat doggedly from 8 to 4 to keep the show on the road. Now I visit the Project on a need basis: to welcome guests, hold a staff meeting and so on. So my contact is fractured, one centre at a time, often in the morning so I miss the girls.
We recently engaged two budding photographers, Taranbir Singh Sawhney and Devika Grover, to take pictures of all the centres and shifts of Project Why. Yesterday I was given a link allowing me to view the pictures and it was a real treat. The pictures are amazing and will soon appear on our site and social media for all to share.
I sat down to watch them in the evening not knowing what was in store. Through these 200 odd images, I could visit, albeit virtually, my entire Project! It was a heady mix of delight and nostalgia. The first common denominator of most of the pictures is SMILES! That warmed the cockles of my heart and filled me with pride as for Project Why was always to be a place where children could be happy and joyful. Mission accomplished. I give myself a tap of the back.
It was a pleasure browsing from picture to pictures and seeing the kids in a child friendly and safe environment. It was heart warming to see them enjoying what they were doing be it studying, playing, dancing and above all fooling around, something they often do not have the chance to do.
My heart filled with gratitude as I saw my stellar staff at work, braving the extreme heat, but not losing patience or smile. Once more I felt validated in my decision to take staff from the community. It was a challenge for both sides but I am glad to say, we met it head on and in perfection.
It was nice to see the ladies busy learning a skill that has the potential to transform their lives. Again a matter of pride.
Always a delight to see my very special ones. They never stop smiling and have the ability to lift your mood in a jiffy.
The babies always so endearing and it was truly special to see Rani’s son, tiny Astitva, as the youngest member of our early education programme. His mom’s story is also the story of Project Why.
I could go on and on about each picture as each has a story to tell. Maybe I will do so one day.
Revisiting Project Why was a huge treat. Thank you Taranbir and Devika for having captured its spirit.
We are back with a bang on social media. Find us on Twitter Facebook Instagram!
In the times of privatisation of education and mushrooming of uber fancy schools that look more like commercial houses; in the times of the existence of the Right to Education Act that makes Education a fundamental right for every Indian child allowing him access to free and equitable education, 2700 children in India’s capital city study in abysmal conditions.
Their school has only two dilapidated toilets, no windows. a playground filled with water and garbage. The school runs on Government funding but in spite of that the conditions are pathetic. No money to change bulbs, no drinking water. Of the 91 teachers sanctioned, 72 have not been appointed. A bare 20 odd teachers keep the show on the road. Hats off to them. When a bulb needs changing they dip into their meagre pockets and do the needful.
The Right to Education Act has failed these children and many more across the city.
Privatisation of education rung the death knell for many such children, but no one can usurp their thirst for knowledge. They still brave all odds and attend school. We should hang our heads in shame. My blood boils every time I come across a news item like this one.
Decision makers ‘opted’ for reservation in public schools for underprivileged children. That option failed as the seats were grabbed by well to do parents who had the wherewithal to fudge papers and get their wards admitted. No truly underprivileged child got access tho those seats.
None of the Project Why children benefitted from this ‘reservation’ as in most cases parents were not aware of the schemes, and even if they were, there was always a paper missing or a criteria not meant.
The Right to Education should have been a leveller and not yet another reservation option. That is in, my humble opinion, contrary to the spirit of any fundamental right. I always backed the approach of a common school system some educationists mooted. Sadly it had no takers. I still believe strongly that if all Government schools were run like Central schools, children form all walk of life would study side by side and learn from each other. For this mindsets have to change. Are we ready for that?
Underprivileged children have once again been let down. They are voiceless souls who need us to take up the cudgels on their behalf.
In the case of the school mentioned above, the case was taken up by activists and the High Court has asked for a report. But this is not the only school that function in such terrible conditions. There are far too many! Even one is an aberration.
Education alone can change lives and transform India.
I would like to end this post on a positive note by sharing the story of Sumitra Devi, a sweeper who spent her whole life sweeping streets we walk on. At her retirement party there were three special guests a District Collector, an engineer and a doctor. They were her sons!
I rest my case.
A recent article on the quality of persons correcting CBSE class XII papers sent my blood running cold. One must remember that marks are of the essence and that careers depend on the marks you get. A high score guarantees you a place in Delhi University a place affordable to project why parents but it is quasi impossible for our kids to get the coveted 95+%! Not being able to afford private universities they are relegated to evening colleges, correspondence courses and open universities.
One would have hoped that the marks given are honest and deserved but a sentence in the aforesaid article is enough to make one shudder: Examiners are picked by the CBSE, from schools, but many, especially those who teach in government schools, seem to be unequipped to grade. Some students don’t end up getting the marks they deserve, while the rote learners do well. This explains how a humanities student can get a perfect store in subjects like english or psychology. Just learn the book by heart and voilà you top the batch.
My hear goes out to the child who spends time understanding the subject and writing the answer in her own words. She does not stand a chance and yet she is the one who deserves a place in the hallowed portals of a good affordable university.
The article has other aberrations. It just makes me angry and sad at the same time.
Will things ever change?
Utpal is back in school red bag in tow! The saga of the red bag began in July 2006 when he first set off to boarding school. He was 4.
Today he is a strapping handsome 16 year old who still carries a red bag to school!
This is not the one he carried way back in 2006 when he first joined boarding school at the tender age of 4. Yet somehow the red bag remained a constant in his life as it conceals within its hidden pockets the making of his yet undisclosed destiny.
The little red bag is also the story of Project Why. Every child that enters the portals of our Project carries his own little red bag and it is left to us to fill it to the brim with everything she or he might need to fulfil her or his dreams. We strive as best we can to give every child the learning and values that will enable her or him to break the cycle of poverty in which they were born and reach for the stars.
It has been a exhilarating journey that has seen many ups and some downs too. Every moment has been blessed and rewarding to each one of us. Watching children grow and bloom is worth every setback that we may have encountered.
Today we again stand at crossroads as one of our main funders will stop funding us come April 2019. I must confess that I had my moment of doubts at whether I will be able to find the fire to once again set out and look for the support we desperately need. Needless to say my doubts were short lived. Just seeing the little red bag once again was enough to set me on my way.
We still have many little red bags to fill
So help me God!
Delhi is fighting a battle to save 16 000 trees from being felled to make a place for a housing cum shopping complex for bureaucrats.
Delhi is out on the streets to save these trees and has won round 1 as the High Court has put a stay on the felling for the moment.
But that is in no way the worst to come.
In two years from now Delhi may run out of ground water and face a day zero crisis.A Indian government think tank has warned that New Delhi is set to run out of groundwater within two years as climate change and dramatic population growth hit supplies quotes the Telegraph in a recent article entitled: New Delhi to run out of groundwater in two years as India faces ‘day zero’ crises . 600 million will be impacted by the worst water shortage ever. This is nothing short of frightening.
We have been experiencing water shortage in many of the centres we work in. In some slums the water tanker comes on alternate days and people fight to get a measly bucket of water that has to last them till the next tanker. Every home has a vast array of utensils to keep water for different chores. This has become a way of life. Fights do erupt at water points but they too have become part of the art of survival in India’s capital city.
At Project Why we have run several water saving campaigns and sensitise our children to the importance of saving water. From closing dripping taps to reusing grey water. children are taught to save water in anyway possible.
Clean water is a fundamental right, and yet million do not have access to it. The startling and terrifying poof is that 5000 children under the age of 5 die every day of water born diseases.
On the other side of spectrum, the privileged are using water as if it was a perennial commodity. Cars are being washed with water hoses, gardens watered with sprinklers and even swimming pools being made in new constructions. Rain Water harvesting is still in its infancy and the amount of rain water wasted is criminal.
It is time each one of us began saving water in any which was possible. It is also time for citizens to raise their voices and make people aware of what looms large: NO WATER!
We at Project Why will continue our efforts to raise awareness about the value of water.
We have recently been informed that one of our major funders will be stopping their funding next year. They had committed to help us for 3 years to allow us to work towards sustainability. Three years ago we were confident that it would be sufficient time to get on our feet but today we realise that though we are well on our way, we are still nowhere near the figure we need to reach. The news shattered many, but unlike earlier times, I remained calm and collected. The past years have been proof that ‘miracles’ happen at Project Why with alacrity and I could still hope for one, but somehow this is not the way ahead this time.
Once again, borrowing Jim Morrison’s words, I decided to Petition the Lord with Prayer. But this time the Prayer was not for a one time miracle, but one to show me the way to stand on our feet.
The question as to why should the Lord or the Universe listen to me and my first answer would be because of all the smiles in Project Why’s custody. These smiles are precious as they mean so many different things: hope, dreams, trust… each needing to be not just saved but respected and honoured.
Every child who enters the portals of Project Why comes there in the hope of changing her life. We give her the space to dare to dream and then a trust bond is created. The proof that this works is in the innumerable success stories we have experienced. Actually they are nothing short of miracles.
The young ‘teacher’ in the picture is our very own Utpal who is now in class XI. He decided to teach English to the Project Why children during his summer break. Without Project Why Utpal may not have survived his burns and would have never gone to a boarding school or for that matter to any school at all. By deciding to share what he has learnt with his less privileged friends, he has shown gratitude and compassion, two values that sadly many have forgotten, but that we at Project Why are determined to respect and teach.
Project Why is replete with such stories, the most stunning one being that of a gypsy lad born on a roadside who went on to walk the ramp in Paris via Project Why.
Project Why is where dreams come true. It is where smiles are kept safe, where the impossible becomes possible. Project Why is where miracles happen every day. My Petition to the Lord is to show me the way to continue fulfilling dreams and I know my Prayer will not go unheard.
On a more serious note we are in the process of finding new avenues of funding and have been moderately successful. It is a huge learning experience and we are slowly learning that raising funds to run the Project is not easy. It is easier garner funds to ‘buy’ things or ‘repair’ centres, than to raise one salary even if it is modest and goes to a person from an underprivileged home.
Many have suggested that we begin ‘making’ things and set up a social enterprise. That was what we had considered many years ago with Planet Why our Guest House with a difference.
It is time to revive Planet Why in another avatar and get the ball rolling.
That is my prayer for Project Why
For quite some time now, since Project Why’s revamping began, I have not had the occasion of telling the Project Why story to any audience. Now it is all slick presentations, smart looking documents, strategy plans, projections and plans. This is all needed to make Project Why live beyond me. I have tiptoed out of the way and taken a back seat. But last week we had some guests and potential funders and this time it was left to me to ‘market’ Project Why!
I did it the only way I know: from the heart, living each and every moment again with goosebumps at times and moist eyes along the way, with passion and unlimited love and immense pride. From the humble beginnings, to how each centre came to be, from the trials and tribulations to the successes and setbacks, it all came back. I do not know whether the potential funders were touched, but to me it was much needed catharsis. In all the recent upheavals, I had lost touch with the wonderful achievement that Project Why is.
It may not tick all the boxes, not follow all the rules, it may not look pretty to some, but Project Why is definitely a story to be told. To me is is a tale of miracles big and small. The fact that we not only survived, but thrived for 18 years is the biggest miracle of all. And that too with no strategic plan, no smart presentations! We just did it one day at a time, knowing that someone somewhere was taking care of us.
The little lad in the picture who was given up for dead, is a smart endearing 16 year old who is spending his summer break ‘teaching’ Project Why children. Does it tell the whole story! Changing one life at a time.
Over the years we have changed many. I have lost count.
It is a simple story of the heart, of unwavering faith and unconditional love. I just pray this spirit never get lost over time.
The Boards results are out and all Project Why children have cleared them. Congratulations are in order! I am extremely proud of them. These children live in extremely difficult conditions and learn in spite of everything conspiring against them. No place to study as they mostly live in one room tenements with extended families. No support from the family. Quite the contrary often parents discourage and disparage them. Inebriated fathers turn on TV sets at full volume and the risk of losing notes to the whims of a younger sibling is real. No costly tuitions. No access to the Internet. Some even have to work while studying to help the household run. And yet they beat all odds and pass their examinations with to my mind more than respectable marks: one of our students got 81% and many had marks in the seventies.
The reason why I entitled this blog ‘bittersweet’ is that the reality is in our face. These children have to compete with children who have 99% +! So what happens to them. Private commercial institutions are out of their financial reach. The seats in state run universities are few and the competition fierce. The cut off marks always range in the nineties. So those portals are shut to them. What is left are: evening colleges, correspondance degrees, open universities, should they want to pursue formal education, or some low grade commercial institutes that would give them a slighter better job opportunity than just a school leaving certificate.
When you look at the kids in the picture, you cannot guess that some of them are Project Why children and others from an upmarket school. They are just buddies enjoying some quality time together. And yet the road map for both is poles apart. Where one in spite of her best efforts will be constrained to opt for distance learning the other will join a private university should she fail to meet the (ill)famed cut off marks.
Yet all these children are citizens of India, protected by the same Constitution and under the same Right to (quality) Education Act. But that is where it ends. Their destinies are charted by the amount of money their families earn.
The first flaw in my opinion is the skewed marking system followed by the authorities where 33% is sufficient to pass but a student can get 100%. The pass percentage has to be increased to 50% and papers set in such a manner that even the brightest student cannot aspire to more than 80% in some subjects. I still cannot understand how you can score 100% in Humanities. Questions need to test the ability of a child to comprehend, analyse and defend an opinion. Here it simply tests your ability to learn by rote.
Education is not a preferred programme of any Government as children are not vote banks. There are many programmes in place but their execution is poor. Schools run by one teacher are a stark reality of our land. In a country where unemployment is rampant, teachers post lying vacant is anathema.
Commercialising education was the death knell for quality education for the poorest. The state run schools are shunned by the very middle class who studied in them earlier. Over the past decade or so I have myself seen that even in slums, parents who studied in state run schools run from pillar to post and tighten their belts till it hurts to send their kids to a ‘public’ school, the moniker for private schools in India.
Shadow education, the more respectable name for private tuition, is a reality in most developing countries. Many children from less privileged homes cannot afford these classes. It has been our experience of a decade and a half, that teaching in school is ‘geared’ to private tuition, and any child, even the brightest cannot perform well if her learning is limited to classroom study. Project Why children are able to perform well because of the support we give them. We must not forget that in most cases the children get no or little help from home as parents are often illiterate and busy surviving.
The answer to most of these issues would be a common neighbourhood school but that was not the option retained while framing the Right to Education Act. What was proposed was reserving 25% of seats in every school for children from poor economic backgrounds. This was hijacked by the middle class who get their children admitted in this category by procuring forged documents by any means. Till date NO Project Why kid has been able to avail of this reservation!
So when I see my kids performing well by my standard, I feel sad as I know that the roads that should be theirs will never be and the challenge is to help them perform as well as their peers from the other side of the fence
The class XII results are out and the topper secured a whopping 499/500 in Humanities! That is close to 100%. My congratulations to the young lady and to all those who passed their examinations, even those who did with a low percentile because I know that every child puts her best foot forward and gives it her 100%.
Every child who has passed should be celebrated but that is not how it goes in India.
A very incisive and pertinent article by Avijit Pathak entitled A sick society that manufactures failures, gives a very real and almost uncomfortable image of the state of education in India. He writes: Young minds in India are being destroyed by a faulty pattern of education, parental ambitions, the aggression of hyper-competitiveness and a flawed idea of ‘success’. In such a system that brings about the death of creativity, there is no real winner.
The article is a must read. He talks about our children who are growing up with the euphoria of success and the stigma of failures. That is what it is all about. To reach the dreaded class XII Board exams the child is deprived of breathing space between school, tuitions, coaching centres and anxious parents. Nothing else. No poetry, no music, no creative activities, no games, no fresh air, all these being considered a waste of time. All creativity is sacrificed at the alter of success.
You can never be a winner as there is always someone who has done better, and even if you miss the coveted space by1% you are branded a failure. Things have to change but who will bell the cat.
First and foremost being the product of a school system where individual thinking was lauded I am aghast at a system where you can score 100% in subjects like History, English or for that matter any of the social sciences. The testing method is totally flawed as it cannot assess whether the child has understood what she has written and would be able to debate and defend an opinion and its opposite. This is a game we loved to play when we were young and it really was an excellent proof of whether you had understood what you had studied. Questions in our exams were so framed. I still remember the history question I had to defend for my Baccalauréat where the curriculum was from WWI to present times (the 60s). The question was: Had the Allies lost the war, what in your opinion would have been the economic status of Germany. There was no right answer. You had to defend your point of view. So any system that does not allow grasping and comprehending the system and does not leave room for improvement is skewed and gives a false sense of success to the child.
The next point is that our present system aims at creating clones and leaves no room for individuality. It gives you one objective only. This too is wrong. Every child cannot be a doctor or engineer. Every child is not happy being a doctor or an engineer. Our system removes joy form learning. A child may want to be a musician or a farmer and find joy in doing so. Let her. Don’t stand in the way. The world needs all kinds of souls, doctors as well as comedians, artists, writers, entrepreneurs. Find what your child wants to do and encourage her or him fully. Let her shine and not fail.
When I told my darling Popples that he did not have to fulfil my dreams but his own, an artist was born. The world is now opened to him and not strangled by my aspirations for him. And for those of you who may still doubt, this is one of his paintings done in water colours barely a month after he began to paint.
This painting has already earned him kudos and admiration, something his studies did not. The smile on his face says it all.
In today’s world children have to be able to think out of the box if they want to succeed. With fewer ‘jobs’ on offer, they need to create theirs themselves and love what they do. We need to bring up children who are compassionate and grateful and happy in their skin. Society will thank us one day.