Games adults play#GivingTuesday#India

Games adults play#GivingTuesday#India

We all remember the absolute joy and relief we feel at the end of an exam, mors so after the last paper. All the hard work is over and it is time to celebrate. March 28th 2018 was to be such a day for both Popples and I as the last dreaded maths paper was over. It was time to make fun plans. That was not to be. The celebration was rudely interrupted by the news that the maths paper had ‘leaked’ and that the students would have to sit for their maths exam again. Utpal was brave, as he always is. Maam’ji was devastated!

Not just devastated but outraged and sad at the same time.

Once again we adults had let our children down. I do not know whether it was pranksters or a well oiled nexus, but a bunch of adults felt the ‘need’ to play games, games that had the propensity of hurting millions of children by playing with their future.

The TV channels debated the issue furiously. Some felt that the perps were coaching centres and bureaucrat nexus, others thought it was some smart aleck nerds trying to show off. It does not matter. Whichever way, children have yo sit again for a dreaded exams, an exam that for some, like Popples, would have been the LAST MATHS EXAM.

What is sad is that papers are leaked with alacrity and impunity year after year.

A paper leaked a few hours before the exam would have benefitted a few; the rest of the kids wrote their paper with utmost honesty and integrity. Now because of some adults their holidays are spoilt, for some their professional entrance examination preparation is suddenly curtailed. Imagine the anxiety and fear of these innocent victims.

An irate parent asked the spokesperson of the ruling party if she could tell them about the punishment meted to past perpetrators. She had no answer. An angry school principal challenged the validity of a system where a child’s entire future was judged on a three hour paper. I second that. The debate went on and was to my mind a dialogue of the deaf. The spunky lady moderator hit the nail on the head when she reminded the politician that the class XII kids were first time voters in the elections to come.

The Government made the expected empty statements: the law will take its course; the culprits will be punished etc. But these are empty words as we know. And how do such actions make up to the children who are the innocent victims.

Can anyone answer?

 

I want to hold your hand #Giving Tuesday#India

I want to hold your hand #Giving Tuesday#India

How many times have you not reached out to your best friend and asked her to give you a hug? More so when you are feeling low. How many times have you not held the hand of your friend just to show your affection? I have and still do. It is said that hugs are good for you. Scientific studies have stated many benefits of hugs as they release oxytocin which is a feel good hormone. Hugs ‘help’ us feel supported; they lower blood pressure, ease stress and even lower your risk of infection! They are truly a powerful healing option and it is said that we need 8 hugs a day! Holding hands too has its share of benefits.It releases pain and stress, and provides a sense of security. Hugs and holding hands are good for you!

Not quite so in a school in Bengal where 10 young girls were branded ‘lesbians’ because of hugging and hand holding. The poor souls were even made to write that they were lesbians.

“If two persons hold hands, or put an arm on each other shoulders, that does not mean they are lesbians” said angry parents. What utter nonsense was this. To add insult to injury, the headmistress said in her defence: “Today we called the guardians to apprise them of the issue. Our aim was to discuss the matter with them so that we can bring these girls on the right course through efforts both at home and in school,”

And the Minister of Education promptly added that lesbianism was against the ‘ethos’ of the state.

If headmistresses and ministers have such narrow ideas, God help our children!

All you need is love #Giving Tuesday#India

All you need is love #Giving Tuesday#India

All you need is love sang the Beatles!I second that. After a long period of personal blues and professional worries I decided to go and visit all my Boarding school kids last Sunday. Armed with a cake (Meher’s birthday had gone without celebration; a pot of biryani and bottles of junk drinks, I set out to meet my special brood. I was meant to meet the Principal but she got unexpected guests and I found myself with my merry band to celebrate Mehar’s birthday.

We landed in the tiny canteen and sat on the few rickety chairs with the cake on a rickety stool. Kiran took charge and set out to cut the cake. There were no candles to blow but we made up with loud singing. The tiny paper plates used for chocolate cake were used again for the biryani! Who cared. Nothing ever tasted better. It was such joy to be with these kids.

The Boarding school programme is my pet programme even though it has brought me criticism of all sorts ranging from “How expensive!” to “why should slum kids go to upmarket boarding schools”, I have held my own and never regretted it. My formidable 8 are just like any other child born in India! I am so very proud of them.

All you need is love, the love these kids give you unabashedly and taught me the meaning of unconditional love.

God bless them!

(From left to right: Utpal, Kiran, Manisha, Meher, Maam’ji, Babli, Vicky, Yash and Aditya)

 

Thank You Mr. Minister #GivingTuesday#India

Thank You Mr. Minister #GivingTuesday#India

Last week, in the news bulletin, almost lost in between the reporting on the death of a star and mega bank scam was a news item that has the potential to change India! As I listened to the report my heart started thumping with joy. And if this one reform is undertaken, the face of our country will be transformed in a few years. So no more suspense: the change I am referring to is the reduction of the school syllabus by a whopping 50%!

It is heart warming to see a government looking at education from the point of view of the child!

So what does the Minister propose to change? Well first and foremost he wished to cut the NCERT syllabus by half and hence lighten the burden on the child’s shoulders, so that the child can get time for other activities and reach her full potential. Hurrah! Children need to be given full freedom for the development of their cognitive skills. More time for creative pursuits, for sports, for day dreaming, for playing for being a child.

There are other changes envisaged, but just this one change has the ability to transform the quality of our young. Today children have to learn a syllabus that in the words of the Minister, is that of a BA or B.Com. Much of what is learnt in school is forgotten right after the exam. With the kind of syllabus they have, there is no room for any other kind of learning but rote learning and the obsession with marks is such that children have to sacrifice their childhood to the alter of numbers. Even class I kids go for tuition in India. When does s/he play?

If a child is given the chance to grow to her full potential by learning all the life skills required to succeed, she will be a better person, worker, parent, citizen and so on and this can change the face of India.

The kind of learning that is imparted in schools does not allow a child to blossom. As often said, education as we know it now, was designed to make good subordinates not leaders. And to enable that, it was important to ensure the deadening of all independent thinking.

It is also good to hear that the Minister plans to implement this reform by 2019.

Now Mr Minister can you also change the examination system into one that does not require rote learning but celebrates critical thinking.

Thank You Mr. Minister

 

 

With a little help from my friends #GivingTuesday#India

With a little help from my friends #GivingTuesday#India

We all know the wonderful Lennon McCartney song With a Little Help from my Friends. It is a song I have hummed along for over half half a century to lift my blues and get by or simply to feel good. Today as Project Why takes its first steps in the world of corporates and CSR, I am filled with nostalgia for times gone by and with gratitude I cannot find words to express. Yet I will try my best.

Since its inception in 1998 the Trust I created to honour my father and all he taught me, Project Why has thrived simply ‘with a little help from my friends’ or should simply say ‘thanks to the help of my friends”. Though I know that it can only thrive further by expanding and reaching out beyond friends, I feel a tug at my heart and hence this post to revisit years gone by to express my immense gratitude to everyone who has been part of this journey.

It all began with dipping into my inheritance and almost depleting it. Project Why kept on growing organically one ‘why’ after the other, each needing to be addressed and when the pockets were empty and the ‘whys’ still there, it was time to step into the big world. For an only child with a nomadic childhood, the world was rather small and empty. And that is when friends began to appear. I was asked to join a social network RYZE and began making contacts. Then I would send individual emails till another kind soul who introduced me to blogging. It was a quantum leap. The almost 2000 blogs are a witness to that. My deep gratitude to these two saviours.

My French Connection came handy too as very soon a wonderful soul visited us, got touched by what we did and set up an organisation in France to raise funds for us. My deep gratitude to Enfances Indiennes. Another kind soul from Germany believed in us and set up Project Why Deutschland. The network of friends began to grow exponentially.

Our first volunteer would open the gate to a new mine of friends as over the years our hundreds of volunteers from the four corner of the planet would become staunch supporters and friends. Gratitude to each and every volunteer. The Project Why Family was growing by the second.

When someone suggested that I apply for funding to Asha for Education in the US, I sat in front of their long application form and realised that I ticked very few boxes. I filled the form with honesty and simply requested that someone come visit us before rejecting our application. Someone did come and the rest is history.

What touched me the most and is so humbling is that most of the help we have got has been from the heart. From a young girl who organised bake sales, to another who collected her pocket money, to yet another who gave up his birthday gifts, every penny that came to us was priceless and received with gratitude.

It would take a book to truly acknowledge each and every one who has helped Project Why exist and thrive, I felt it necessary today to remember them all and express my deepest and heartfelt gratitude.

I am simply busy being grateful!

 

 

We need to find that five year old again #GivingTuesday#India

We need to find that five year old again #GivingTuesday#India

According to a NASA study we are all born geniuses. What dumbs us down is our education. Astonishing is it not? The test devised for NASA engineers prompted the question: where does creativity come from? So it was decided to further the study and take them to school children. In phase 1 1600 children between 4 and 5 were tested and the results were dumbfounding. The test was meant to ‘test’ the ability to come up with new ideas and a whopping 98% fell in the genius category! But what happens as you grow up. So children were tested at age 10 and then 15 and the number of geniuses fell from to 30%  and then a mere 12%. And to prove the theory a group of adults were tested and the result was a mere 2%. Only 2% of adults have the ability to come up with innovative ideas. The test was repeated millions of times; the results remained the same. The take away was that education a.k.a the school system robbed us of our creativity in 10 years.

The reason I believe is that all  education systems have been designed to suit the ruler classes’ hod on the majority. And too many creative persons rock the boat. This is very real in India where a mere 33% is sufficient to pass a school leaving certificate and even a degree. We are all aware that the rebarbative skills that we ‘learn’ in school will be useless with the advent of AI and robotics. The needs of tomorrow are very different to what children are made to cram, and require the very creativity that has been so insidiously thwarted.

Here is an image of what children will need to succeed:

We need to become the five year old we once were. The question is how? The answer is surprising too: dream, day dream, use your imagination, challenge yourself by taking an innocuous object and finding numerous ways to better it using your five year old brain and you will surprise yourself.

One must remember is that is is the fear of being criticised or laughed, of being checked and chided that kills curiosity and imagination.

Watching our poor children and teenagers cram for the impeding exams makes me feel terribly sad as I know that their imagination has been slaughtered at the alter of education.

We need to challenge our belief systems but if we dare too, be ready for many raps on the knuckles!

 

The needs of tomorrow #GivingTuesday#India

The needs of tomorrow #GivingTuesday#India

The dreaded Boards and final exams are around the corner and everyone is busy studying. It is a race for marks, as marks is what can make you or break you. If you do not perform well on one particular day, your entire life can be changed. It is rather unfair to say the least.

How many of us remember much of what we were made to learn in school? From log tables to multiplication tables, how many hours did we not spend learning them by heart. Today if we need to calculate anything we open our smart phone and go to the required app and voilà you have the result.

In India the race for marks is worse than anywhere else in the world. A different a half a percentile decides whether you will become the doctor you dreamt to be as a little girl or not. Choices are not yours to make but are decided by the marks you get. The grading system is also skewed. To ‘pass’ an exam you need a paltry 33%, to accede to a good college you need 95+!

Kids from poorer homes run the race with many handicaps. Poorly run schools, illiterate parents, economic challenges that make after school tuition a a chimera and tiny overcrowded homes where it is quasi impossible to study. I am in awe of these kids who manage to pass with respectable scores!

The question that begs to be answered is how relevant is this style of education? To be considered a ‘good’ student, you need to spend hours mugging. The child who topped her class XII, and I use the word child for a reason, stated with great pride that she had learnt every page of every school book by heart. My heart went out to her as I asked myself when had she let go of her childhood; had she been out in the park, seen a movie, laughed with her friends. Probably not. Had she had time to ‘learn’ beyond her school books, to read, to meet people, to widen her horizons. Certainly not. She had been too busy mugging every line to get to the coveted position of being a topper.

Do higher marks make you more intelligent? I do not think so. I always go back to Delors’s Four Pillars of Education: Learning to learn, to be, to do and to live with others. In idea we stop at the first one: learning to learn. A child needs to have an all round education and unfortunately in India we have missed the boat completely.

Will any one ever look at education in the light of the needs of tomorrow?

Not for a long time.

 

I hold every person a traitor #GivingTuesday#India

I hold every person a traitor #GivingTuesday#India

“While millions suffer from hunger and ignorance, I hold every person a traitor who, having been educated at their expense, pays not the slightest attention to them” Swami Vivekananda.

This quote was part of a play that Utpal’s school put up for the Republic Day Celebrations. It reiterated what I have alway held: that each one of us are responsible for the poverty and misery around us.

The same evening I was heading to an eatery when the car stopped at a red light. It was one of the coldest days of the season. A little child in a tattered shirt and shorts, barefoot was weaving in between the cars in the hope that someone would roll down his window and drop a coin in the proffered palm. When the light turned green the child would go and sit on the divider and wait for the light to turn red again

Traitor was the word that came to mind. The traitor of the quote I had heard in the morning. Each one of us that ‘did not pay the slightest attention’ to the child was indeed a traitor.

And the same goes for the collective silence that occurs each time we of someone dying of hunger, a child being raped and so on. We have become inured. Nothing moves us. At best we raise our brows in horror for the time it takes the read the news item. An 8 month baby was raped; will it outrage us as it should

Some of us do react and feel the collective shame. Some of us move out of our comfort zones to do something, brushing aside the many ‘how can you change anything and make a difference!’ I heard that too almost two decades ago when I decided to do something as the plight of the child that knocked at the window of my car actually managed to knock at my heart. Many of you may not know that the first programme of Project Why was to urge people to distribute biscuits and not money each time a child knocked at their car window. Sadly the programme did not take off. I had then believed naively that time was not right and things would change but twenty years down the line the number of children begging seems to have increased.

My promise to myself to one day do something for beggar children could only be redeemed last year when we opened our Kalka Mandir programme. The children in this picture are all ‘beggars’ or children of beggars. They come and study with the same eagerness as our other children and I hope that some of them will continue and maybe break away from the horror of begging. Makes me feel a little less of a ‘traitor’!

 

 

 

 

Complex problem solving #GivingTuesday#India

Complex problem solving #GivingTuesday#India

I have been screaming hoarse for the past 18 years that education needs to be reinvented in India if we aspire to become a leading nation in the future and if we want our youth to find employment. Sadly no political dispensation has made education reforms a part of their manifestos and so our children continue to follow a system where only marks are important and rote learning is the best tool to attain high grades.

Recently I have had many complaints about Utpal from his school. They mainly center upon his lack of seriousness in his studies. At the same time his teachers do not doubt his intelligence and even laud his problem solving and creative abilities. The child is just not interested in rote learning. He would rather be given a challenge to overcome.

This year ACER chose to survey secondary students in rural areas. The results are depressing to say the least. The article makes interesting reading. 50% of students interviewed could not solve a simple math problem. As for their general knowledge let me share the quote of one of the surveyors: “We were shocked when we spoke to some of the children. Asked to name the capital of India, one of them said Pakistan while another mentioned China. These were Class 12 students who could not even mark their states on a map of India,”

So what is this education we are doling out to children year after year and what is it meant to achieve. It is a relic of the education the British had conceived and aimed at making ‘babus’ or low rank officials that would obey and never ask any question. 70 years down the line this does not work!

I stumbled upon an article from the world economic forum entitled What are the 21st-century skills every student needs? Sixteen skills have been identifies.

 

 

 

I do not think any of these are desired let alone taught in our system. In 2020 the three most important skills are : complex problem solving, critical thinking and creativity.

Our education system does not impart any of these. Children are busy learning by rote to regurgitate at the exam to get high marks and then forget. I cannot forget a young girl who has topped her class XII some years back saying proudly on national TV that she has mugged up every book by heart.

Kids like Utpal who love problem solving and are creative will not get high percentiles and yet they are best suited to the new demands of the employment market of tomorrow.

It is time to thrash the education system which is a legacy of colonial times and replace it by a new education policy in line with the future.

Is anyone listening?

Let the twain meet #GivingTuesday#India

Let the twain meet #GivingTuesday#India

I challenge anyone to tell me who in this picture was to the manor born and who was not. It is quasi impossible. And yet some in the pictures come from one side of the social fence and the some from the other. Let me elucidate: this is a picture of teachers from CSKM and Project WHY, taken on the CSKM basket ball court after a spirited and engaging workshop.

The workshop was meant to bring new and innovative teaching methods to our team!

They were many similarities between the two groups: both were teaching school children the same curriculum and many had done so for more than a decade. The CSKM teachers shared their experience and knowledge. There were many new ideas that I am sure our teachers liked and will include in their work. A little prompting did initiate a Q&A session that was most interesting. And by the end and much to my delight, Project WHY teachers were sharing their experience and the methods they used.

I sat and watched the proceedings with a little apprehension at the beginning. It was short lived. It did not take long for me to realise that the idea was a winner both ways. As stories were shared, I realised that the CSKM teachers has no idea of the constraints and limitations our teachers had to face. They were a world apart from the facilities the CSKM staff enjoyed. If one had spacious classrooms with big blackboards, well endowed labs and access to virtual classes, our teachers had to ‘teach’ on cold floors, in a cramped space they shared with other classes. Whereas the CSKM teacher had hour long periods per subject. mine had 90 minutes to teach ALL subjects. I found my heart swelling with pride at the yeoman task my incredible staff had performed for the past 16 years with passion and commitment and not a single complaint. And year after year every single Project WHY child had passed her/his exams and the dreaded boards. Wow! Chapeau Bas to them. I felt compelled to share this and I did. The learning had to be mutual and the next step was to invite te CSKM teachers to visit our centres!

I have always held that India will truly change when all invisible barriers are shattered, as they were in this workshop. What will transpire is mutual respect and bonding.

I hope this is the first step to just that.

 

 

Above all else, we taught them to fear failure #GivingTuesday#India

Above all else, we taught them to fear failure #GivingTuesday#India

I recently stumbled upon an interesting article entitled: When success leads to failure! It was an eye opener in more ways than one. Th article is about a parent and a teacher discussing  a well performing child. The words that caught my eyes were: Above all else, we taught her to fear failure. That fear is what has destroyed her love of learning. In fearing failure and thus pushing herself harder  the child had to sacrifice natural curiosity and love of learning.

Do read the article. It fits like a glove to what education has become in India: a made race for marks where children aspire to a perfect 10 no matter what the cost. The very valid point the article makes is how this fear of failure takes away from the child any desire to learn new things as it may lead to failure. No one gives marks for trying, diligence, perseverance and the learning to get from ‘failing’ and trying again. Better to stick to the minimum and the charted course. Forget uncharted ones.

I was aghast when I heard a child say on TV that she had learnt by heart every single text book and was wondering why she fell short of the perfect 10. You guessed right: she was the year’s topper in high school. My heart went out to this child who had spent a year with her nose in her book. When was he time for playing, laughing, walking in the rain, feeling the warmth of the winter sun, hearing the morning bird sing: simply being a child.

Is this what we want for our kids. To make them well performing robots and killing their creativity and uniqueness.

Sadly that is what all of us are doing to our beautiful and unique children.

 

An apologia for state run schools #GivingTuesday#India

An apologia for state run schools #GivingTuesday#India

I have always held that to bring about meaningful change, it is imperative to make state run schools centres of excellence. Only then will every child have the opportunity to change her morrows. Sadly we seem to have taken the other route: privatisation of education.

In a recent article entitled Rethink Education, Uday Balakrishnan writes: The shift to private education is not good. Government schools ought to be the drivers of change. I cannot but agree.

70 years after independence our track record in education is abysmal. To quote a few figures: only half of all students who enter primary school make it to the upper primary level and less than half that — around 25 million — get into the 9-12 class cycle. We have around a million primary schools and only half that number at the upper primary level. The number of secondary schools is less than 150,000 for a country of 1.3 billion, and even this comes down to just 100,000 at the higher secondary level. While there are around five million primary school teachers, at the secondary level the number is just 1.5 million.

You do not have to be a rocket scientist to see that the equations is skewed: 1 million primary schools and only 100 000 higher secondary schools!

Education is what can bring about the social transformation we seek. It is a vital investment that requires immediate intervention. Education today is moribund. It is a rote based mark oriented beast that smothers all creativity and self development. It needs a radical and immediate overhaul. There is no scope for band aid solutions or cosmetic tweaking. The obsession on marks is killing children’s creativity and uniqueness. Our kids deserve better!

I recently saw big hoardings stating that thousands of classrooms had been constructed in Delhi. This is laudable but without stellar teachers classrooms are of little use!There are over 15000 vacancies for teachers in State run schools in Delhi. Wonder why these are not filled.

We need to take education seriously. To view it as an investment in the country’s future. Teaching has to be given a respectable status and should be the first choice on the employment ladder and not the last.

State run schools have to be the best and become the first option for parents of all strata of society. Schools have to be a playing level field. Only then will things change.

Education is sine-qua-non to growth and development. We seem to have forgotten this.

Children are meant to laugh, not kill #GivingTuesday#India

Children are meant to laugh, not kill #GivingTuesday#India

Two horrific tragedies occurred last week in the capital city. In the first one a 5 year old sexually assaulted his 4 year old class mate in an upmarket school and in the other, 4 school students slit the throat of a young man over an altercation over a phone. The boys were aged from 13 to 16. The victim succumbed to the injury.

These two terrible tragedies left me stunned. The first question that came to mind was where did we as a society go wrong? Then a host of other questions, each begging for an answer.

What compelled the 5 year old to assault his classmate in such as a violent manner? Was he a victim of sexual abuse simply reenacting what he was made to suffer? Or was he mirroring something he had seen? In this case he too is as much a victim as the girl and needs counselling and a sensitive approach. Will he get it? I do not know. Are we not the society that ‘blames’ a child for being the ’cause’ of her rape?

And what makes 4 teenagers happily boarding a bus first ‘steal’ a phone from another co-traveller and when challenged whip out a knife and slit the throat of a fellow being? Why did the children carry a knife? Where did such violence come form?

And the biggest question that begs to be asked: How responsible are we as a society for such terrible acts?

What is this society we have created and nurtured? Is it not time to accept part of the responsibility.

What are we teaching our children? What role models do they have? The answer is there for all to see. Be it the news, the movies, the idiot box shows, all are replete with violence and more. There is violence in homes, violence in schools. Children are abused in homes where the code of silence reigns with impunity. Sexual education is off the curriculum because it goes against ‘tradition’. People are judged on what they possess. So steal if you cannot get it otherwise.

And if we do not pull the brakes and slam on them hard, more is on the way! We cannot sit with blinkers on. No one is safe. No one. It is time to redefine education, parenting. It is time to speak loud and clear against anything that one feels wrong.

Our children deserve better morrows. We have to give them back the childhood we hijacked.

Will we is the real question.

Bye Bye House #GivingTuesday#India

Bye Bye House #GivingTuesday#India

So the deed is done! After months of procrastination and doubts the old now crumbling house is ready for a makeover. So bags were packed, boxes filled with memories and moved to a new transit home waiting with bated breath for the day one would move back lock stock and barrel. A few tears were shed along the way I must admit but they too are tucked away on some remote cornet of the heart.

It is in this house that I finished my studies, got married, had my kids and brought my grandchild.

It is also in this house that Project Why was conceived from a mere thought to the vibrant entity it is today.

The picture above is that of what I fondly called: the project why cockpit as it is here that I steered its destiny for the past 18 years or so. It is also where I wrote the many of blogs that were the face of Project Why for all these years. This is te first blog I write from another place. Seema a little strange I must confess.

This move is probably my last rite of passage. It is when the old leaves space for the new. Be it home or Project Why!

 

As Delhi chokes #GivingTuesday#India

As Delhi chokes #GivingTuesday#India

Delhi is facing a critical health crisis. The pollution rate is alarming. It is believed to be off the charts. Some call the city a ‘gas chamber‘. Experts suggest evacuating the city. But is this a viable option for the millions who live here/

The causes are many from  burning  crop residue in neighbouring states to industrial emissions to cars and construction dust.

This happens every year and every year panic sets in and short term measures are taken. But then winds blow and take the dust away. The problem is forgotten till it hits again a year later. Memory is short.

We are in the midst of a crisis and witnessing the short term measures: schools are closed for three days, trucks have been stopped from plying and people have been told to stay indoors. Closing schools may be an option for children from better homes, they can sit in their room with air purifiers, but what about children from slums who live close to polluting factories and whose homes are dark and insalubrious and so small that you can barely stand. Such children have no option but play outside in the haze and dust. Where else can they go.

With schools closed, many of the younger children will miss their midday meal something they look forward to! But notwithstanding this, it is certain that slum children will breathe in more toxic air while schools are closed. But does any one care?

And come to think of it, do we really care about the environment or do we too only react in times of crises by blaming the government and demanding remedial measures.

The sad reality is that when there is no crises each one of us is a big polluter. How many of us will take public transport? Far from that, in rich Delhi people of a same family got to the same wedding in different cars! How many of us do not use plastic, segregate garbage, do not litter, save water and so on. Not any is any. So are we not all at least a little responsible for the mess we are in?

Is it not time that we take action and commit to play our part in saving the environment.

In the land of silence and raised eyebrows #GivingTuesday#India

In the land of silence and raised eyebrows #GivingTuesday#India

Came across an interesting article on the need of sex education in India. Sex education is a highly controversial topic as for some it is seen as offensive to Indian values, and concerns that it might lead to risky sexual behaviour and promiscuity. What its detractors do not understand is that it is quite the opposite. UNESCO defines sexuality education as one that  “provides opportunities to… build decision-making, communication and risk reduction skills about many aspects of sexuality…. encompasses the full range of information, skills and values to enable young people to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights and to make decisions about their health and sexuality”.

Wonder why those who oppose it do not see the situation on the ground with rape, teenage pregnancies and sexual abuse on the rise in a alarming manner.

Adolescents need to be taught age appropriate sexual behaviour or else they will be unable to reign in the raging hormones. If not in homes, then the only alternative is in schools. Some feel erroneously that if there is sexual education everyone will only talk of sex. But that is not true. Sexual education is about knowing your body and its changes, about understanding consent, about learning to interact with the opposite sex.

One cannot be prudish about this.

A very pertinent spoof was made on what would sex education look like in our patriarchal society.

It is so true. We are even afraid of mouthing words like sex!

At project why we have regular workshops on adolescent issues. We feel these are an intrinsic part of growing u in today’s world where teenagers and even tweens have access to unrestricted internet via the smart phone. Teaching age appropriate behaviour is an absolute must. Gender equality has to be taught albeit in our patriarchal society.

Sex education has several benefits:

1. It can help students understand that attraction to the opposite sex is a biological phenomenon.

2. It can do away with the taboo and stigma surrounding sex.

3. It can educate children on health issues related to sex and lower the rates of teenage pregnancy.

4. It can prevent gender and sex related injuries and violence.

5. It can enhance the psychological, sexual and reproductive health of students.

But the Government is even weary of using the word ‘sex’ in any programme on adolescent issues. Some feel it is against vedic values, and a top cop even said it would increase the number of rapes.

Sex education is taken seriously in many countries.

In Holland ‘Lentekriebels’, a government subsidised programme for children aged between four and twelve, is carried out every year. Under this programme, children are taught about relationships, sexuality, the act of cuddling, friendship and also about new born babies.

In Denmark children are made aware of what sex is in a very simple and clinical way. They even have picture books for little children to understand the process of having safe sex. The process is explained factually through cartoon-like graphics.

Comprehensive Sexuality Education  (CSE)is much more than sex education: It covers the physical, biological, psychological and social aspects of a person’s being and sexuality. It covers issues like bodily changes and differences, and relationships with other youngsters, teachers, and society at large, to discussing important social issues like bullying, abuse, infections, and breakups. And yes, it also provides information about sex along with the importance of consent and safety, all in age and stage appropriate terms.

Efforts are being made by the Government but civil society has to back it up.  2017, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare launched the Saathiya resource kit for young people. It is a progressive approach and covers six important adolexent issue: nutrition, sexual and reproductive health, non-communicable diseases, substance misuse, injuries and violence (including gender based violence) and mental health. However it relies on peer educators and an app and thus cannot reach every adolescent.

CSE is essential to help a child navigate through puberty to adulthood, more so in a country where questions are met with silence or raised eyebrows.

 

 

Startling and shocking numbers #GivingTuesday#India

Startling and shocking numbers #GivingTuesday#India

A recent report from theInternational Food Policy Research Institute states that “India is ranked 100th out of 119 countries”. The indicators used are : undernourishment, child mortality, child wasting and child stunting.

The statistics of 5000 children under 5, dying of malnutrition related issues remains unchanged. I have lost count of the number of times I have written about this. 5000 children a day, that is almost 4 children every minute. It is a statistic that should shock us but sadly it does not. We have become inured I guess, or is it that it is not our children who die @4/minute.

Last week a 11 year old died of hunger!  Some administrative glitch The blame game is on. Soon politicians will jump in the fray but the bottom line is that a child died because she had no food. Her family was stripped of their ration card and the little they were entitled to.

I once again revisit all that I have written about malnutrition. I cannot but recall the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to Swaraj for the hungry and spiritually starving millions?”. Does anyone remember them today?

The Bill introduced in Parliament few years ago with the mission to ensure no one goes hungry seems to have fizzled out. Schemes to help the poor are multiple and seem to add that feel good quotient but do nothing on the ground. The spectre of malnutrition looms large. And statistics remain the same: 43.5% of children are underweight; 50% of children’s death are attributed to malnutrition, 46 per cent of all children below the age of three are too small for their age, 47 per cent are underweight and at least 16 per cent are wasted; anaemia affects 74 per cent of children under the age of three, more than 90 per cent of adolescent girls and 50 per cent of women.

What do we do? Continue wasting food?

Peek into your garbage bin and ask yourself how many of the things you have thrown are still edible. Look a the your plate at the next party, wedding you go and see if it is empty before you put it down. Next time you are asked by your pandit to offer milk to the goods, ask yourself if that very God would not feel more propitiated if you offered it to a child?

Will we ever light a candle for these 5000 children we lose every day?

When will the horror of malnutrition move us out of our apathy.

Will we ever sing a requiem for these kids?

 

And the drop outs go on #GivingTuesday#India

And the drop outs go on #GivingTuesday#India


This graph appeared in a recent newspaper. It makes for interesting reading as to the situation of school drop outs in India. For us at Project Why, its is of prime importance as our primary mission has been to contain school drop outs something we have done quite successfully over the past decade and a half. The other facet of our work has been our relentless effort to mainstream as many children as possible. We must have pushed back hundreds of children to school.

Our work continues.

However seeing statistics like these makes us weary and a tad sad. What held true in 2000 still occurs 14 years later. Nothing seems to change for one end of the spectrum while on the other we witness proliferation of new swanky schools. The school business only thrives for some, the others remain in the dark.

Girls drop out for the same reasons year after year and we can almost say generation after generation: distance of school from home, marriage, engaged in domestic activities, financial constraints, lack of interest etc. Some of these reasons are akin to those we face as we often have to persuade families to allow their girls to study.

Boys too drop out for the same reasons as those mentioned: to help the family finances or simply by lack of interest. One needs to remember that children from poorer backgrounds rarely get marks allowing them to pursue higher studies in affordable institutions. Joining the work force is often their only option.

Containing school drop outs remains a challenge even after 17 years of our existence. At times it seems like a Sisyphean task! But as I always held when faced with the daunting task ahead, even one drop out contained  is worth every effort put in.