Project Why is the land of miracles. I have always believed that even in the face of adversity and have not been proven wrong. In the past twenty years miracles have come our way with almost obsessive regularity. They have come in the form of Angels of all sizes, who do not wear wings or have halos but have one thing in common: they see with their hearts. Over the years these miracles have renewed my faith in the one I call God of Lesser Beings to whom I pray every day and to whom I surrender. These miracles happen to remind you that there is good in the world, and that you should never give up.
Miracles happen every day. They are the hands that reach out to you when you feel lost and alone as I have been for the past few weeks wondering how I would keep Project Why safe. In times like these, all you need is that little miracle to just tell you that all will be alright. This time it came in the form of an email that simply said : My uncle wanted to know of any place that looks after women and their education. I gave him your contact details. The Angel this time was a wonderful soul who I have not yet met in person but who has reached out to me virtually in more ways than one. Her name Sunita Saldhana! Soon after we were contacted by a person who informed us that Mr Victor Lobo had donated one lac rupees to Project Why for women’s education. Mr Lobo is Sunita’s uncle.
In moments like these you remain speechless and simply look towards the heavens with immense gratitude. The clouds lift and you know you are safe. True you will have to work hard and face hurdles but the miracle sent your way is there to tell you: everything is going to be alright.
Thank you Sunita. Thank you Mr Lobo. Stay blessed.
Miracles are what happens when you get out of the way wrote Brad Szollose. Maybe the message this time is just that: get out of the way and let the Universe work for you.
Thank you Sunita. Thank you Mr Lobo for believing in us and trusting us. We hope to see you at Project Why.
If you want to help some very brave women and children make a life for themselves, you can donate here. Every little bit counts.
It is serendipity at work again as in the very week of Kamala my mother’s 102nd birthday I have been asked to speak on a panel on crimes against women and how to empower them. The event is part of the promotion of our dearest friend Damyanti Biswas‘s debut novel You Beneath Your Skin. I intend talking on how we at Project Why empower women though we are primarily engaged in education.
There are more girls than boys enrolled in Project Why and the majority of our teachers are women from the community, many of whom were either housewives or engaged in menial jobs, but in whom we saw the desire to step up and transform their lives. We simply had to reach out to them and lend them a hand.
Project Why is the field of operation of a trust that bears my father Ram’s name as he was the more flamboyant one, but the work we do is deeply seeped in the gentle lessons I learnt at my mother’s knee as she shared the story of her life with me. Kamala was one of a kind, a born feminist who believed in women’s rights and the need to empower them through education.
In the days when girls were married in their adolescence Kamala fought many battles to ensure she got an education and she won them hands down as she not only finished school but got her BA, MA, LLB. She would crown it all with a PHD acquired after she got married in Prague. That is how much she believed in education. Educating girls is definitely at the core of Project Why’s work. When I decided to start a Women’s Centre to provide vocational skills to women in order to make them financially independent, it was a foregone conclusion that it would bear her name.
For the past 12 years the Kamala Goburdhun Centre for Women has been imparting vocational skills to hundreds of women each year and most of them have put what they have learnt to use and thus become financially independent. The subjects taught are stitching, tailoring and beauty. Many women have begun working from within their homes as they come from very patriarchal families but some have stepped out to work in export houses and beauty parlours. The money they earn is used for the betterment of the lives of their children and homes. It is a win win situation.
On Saturday two women who have been empowered by Project Why and come back to teach others will accompany me to the event.
Renu , the stitching teacher was in financial distress when she first came to Project Why. To overcome her problems she decided to skill herself and joined our stitching class. When she graduated we were in need of a teacher as our previous staff had to leave and she joined us. There was no looking back.
Shanta our beauty skills teacher was also a student who later joined as a teacher. She lost her husband in tragic circumstances and is now a single mom bringing up her children. Both ladies will share their journey at the event.
Violence against women is prevalent in patriarchal India. It can take extreme forms, the worst being acid attacks or almost seemingly innocuous ones like not celebrating the birthday of the girl child whilst doing so for her brother, and everything in between. The hurt and the scars remain for a lifetime. It is only by empowering women, giving them financial independence, and above all a voice that we can counter this violence. It is a long haul but the first step needs to be taken.
It will be an honour to share the stage with Alok Dixit of Stop Acid Attacks who works tirelessly to help acid attack vsurvivors, and Shibani Chand Sethi, who has been a supporter in her role as mentor for NGOs. We are grateful to Damyanti Biswas for believing in our causes and so generously donating the author proceeds to Stop Acid Attacks and Project Why.
To support Project WHY directly through donations, CLICK HERE.
To support Damyanti’s book, and help Project WHY gain visibility and funds, CLICK HERE.
It has been just over a week since our dearest Damyanti’s debut crime novel You Beneath Your Skin was published. In this short time not only has it got rave reviews but the screen rights have also been picked up by a renowned Bollywood agent. Damyanti is now busy promoting her book across India with launches, signing sessions and even literary festivals while we watch her from the wings our hearts swelling with love and pride.
Way to go Dearest Damyanti!
The author’s proceeds will go to Stop Acid Attacks and Project Why‘s women empowerment programmes. Thanks to this we will be able to continue giving wings to the dreams of underprivileged women by helping them become financially secure and also support some of the most incredible and hard working women I have ever met: Project Why’s teachers. This will enable the later to continue working with underprivileged girls enabling them to complete their education and also giving them a voice! Maybe we will be able to open Project Why’s tailoring unit which would be our first step to sustainability. We need to dream big.
Over the years we have seen many women become independent by setting tailoring units within their homes and opening their own beauty parlours. Some have got jobs in export houses and beauty parlours. Hundreds of Project Why students have completed their education. Some have gone on to higher studies. Many have got good jobs and some have come back to teach at Project Why completing the virtuous circle.
You Beneath Your Skin talks about crimes against women, a subject close to my heart. Over the years we have been witness to the many surreptitious ways crime against women happen. We often hear only about the violent and extreme ones, but every day women in India are subjected to violence, sometimes in very subtle and seemingly innocuous ways. The only way to counter that is by empowering women to become independent and by giving them a voice. This is what we endeavour to do at Project Why.
With Damyanti’s support we will be able to continue our journey unhindered.
Thank you Damyanti!
Last Thursday was a very special day. It was the launch of our very dear friend Damyanti’s first crime novel You Beneath Your Skin at the prestigious India International Centre. The author’s proceeds will come to Stop Acid Attacks and Project Why. So the guest list included over 20 Project Why teachers! The excitement was palpable and the buzz in Project Why the days preceding the launch was all about what to wear. As Damyanti had asked some of the staff to speak on camera about their relationship with her as a Project Why volunteer, many were seen rehearsing their speeches. On the launch day everyone looked their best. They reached on time and were all set to play their part perfectly.
Before the launch those who were to speak on camera did so without a glitch, like true professionals. They all enjoyed the high tea that was laid out and then it was time for the show to begin. A large part of the audience was the Project Why team. I was so proud of them.
The evening was a great success. Damyanti had very kindly asked me to say a few words. She also got some Project Why staff to come on stage to reveal the book. We were overwhelmed. As the evening ended, everyone went to congratulate Damyanti and get books signed. We were also introduced to the Stop Acid Attack team who very graciously invited us to visit their office. A bond was made and we know we will work together to fulfil our dreams.
It was a very special evening for the Project Why team and one they will remember for a long time. For me it was a moment of immense pride to see that they were to the manor born.
Project Why UK is now a registered charity entered onto the Register of Charities with the Registered Charity Number 1184910. This is all thanks to the unstinted efforts of wonderful souls who have worked hard to make this happen. Thank you Jennie, Harriet, Jon, Cat, Viren, Catherine and Mahua. They all came to Project Why and carried it back in their hearts.
Jennie came way back in 2008 with Colin her husband and Harriet their lovely daughter. She wrote these lovely words soon after her return: I really wanted to let you know that Project Why is still very much in our thoughts. Now that a few weeks have passed since our return from India I can honestly say that what had the biggest impact on us was our time at the Project. Yes, the Taj Mahal was stunning and spotting a tiger was exciting but these memories quickly become more what I would call ‘photograph memories’. Our time at the Project on the other hand seems to move more to the forefront of our memories and it is certainly what we talk about to our friends. Since then she has helped us in many ways running the informal Project Why UK account and being a huge support
Her lovely and amazing daughter Harriet was in her early teens then but became one of our staunchest supporters. She organised bake sales in her school and wrote an article in her local magazine entitled A Ray of Hope in the New Delhi slums. I have watched her grow and blossom in to a lovely young woman who is a soon to be lawyer. So proud of you Harriet!
What does one say about Cat! I have lost counts of the number of times she has come to India and Project Why bringing her very own brand of love. Cat simply walks into your heart. She volunteers in the special section and his every one’s favourite Cat Didi. Today Cat is a mum and we hope she and Zephyr will come back to Project Why some day bringing their special brand of magic.
Catherine came to India in the summer of 2009 and spent two months volunteering wit us. I still remember the fruit salad she made with another volunteer making the experience a memorable lesson for the children. She would come back again a few years later and it was always special to see her.
Jon West came to us in 2011 and though he had a difficult time initially he soon took to Project Why like fish to water. He had intended to stay for a month but stayed on for six! Since he too has been a big support and always been there in times of need.
Viren came to us in 2016 and again walked into our hearts. A serious and incredibly kind soul, Viren introduced me to the 7 vegetable pizza! But on a more serious note he was a huge help in putting together the first version of our success stories and in helping us raise funds. He even participated in a cycle rally to help raise funds for Project Why,
I only met Mahua last month but was introduced to her by our friend Damyanti way before that. She came to know about Project Why through Damyanti and met with Jennie and agreed to become a trustee of Project Why UK. This was most humbling. She visited us last month and it felt as if we had known each other forever!
They are all trustees of Project Why UK. My deep gratitude to them for believing in us and trusting us. I can assure them that we will be worthy of their trust.