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.
“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!