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!