For the past weeks now Delhi has been akin to a gas chamber. The levels of pollution have gone beyond imagination. The air is heavy with pollutants of all kinds. There is a terrible sense of deja vu as I read a post written exactly one year ago which still relevant today. It is as if time had stood still. I chose to share it with you again today:
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. Delhi 6 November 2018.
Nothing has changed. The words of a post written a year ago ring true. No lesson has been learnt. None of us realise the magnitude of the problem. Year after year come November we make the same noises, express our concern, our worry, make empty promises. That is all. Once the situation improves all is forgotten. How long will it take for us to realise that nothing will change unless we change!
I wonder if next November I will be again writing a blog with the same words.
A very irate daughter came to me one evening last week as she has just heard from her Personal Trainer who wanted her to do ‘functional training’, something she does not like, the next morning. This is normally scheduled for Thursdays and the ‘next’ day was Monday, the day after Diwali. The reason he gave was that is was Vishwakarma day, a day on which Hindus worship their tools and do not use them so the PT did not want to touch weights, bars etc. Sounds logical but wait there is a catch: the PT is a devout christian, the kind who fasts during Lent! Confused? Do not be, this is India where respect for all religions is ingrained in our DNA and festivals are celebrated by one and all with the same fervour.
On that day all the sewing machines of the Project were worshipped by people of diverse faith. The machines at the Khader Centre were all cleaned and laid out ready to be worshipped. That day they would not be used but staff and students turned up in their Sunday best to take part in the ceremony. As I happened to be in the centre I was asked to be part of the prayer too! At the vocational centre of our special needs section, Geetu and Shalini had organised their ceremony and everyone participated with joy and fervour.
Recently a donor from France visited a government school and was perplexed to see that the morning assembly began with a religious prayer. In France religion is kept to of schools and to him seeing this was confusing. We had to explain to him that in India religion was ingrained in every activity and prayers from different faiths were sung in school assemblies across the board. It is also the country where the auto rickshaw driver begins his day by praying to the image on his dashboard and the shopkeeper too begins his day with prayer. Our brand of secularism is one that embraces all faith and celebrates all religions.
I was taught this early in life as a child growing in different lands by parents who were deeply secular. So I found myself going to church in school, fasting with my Muslim friends or celebrating the Sabbath with my Jewish ones, all with the blessings of my parents.
At Project Why we strive to teach our children to respect all religions and celebrate all festivals. That is what India is all about. That is the India of my dreams.
Last week the special class of Project Why put up stalls in many places to sell their beautiful Diwali diyas (earthen lamps) and other Diwali ware. Of all the sales the most touching one was undoubtedly the one held at the CSKM school. Anita, Himani and Geetu were the ones who were to man the stall and everyone was most excited. Shamika accompanied them to get things going and I too tagged along as I love visiting this school as it is after my heart. By the time I reached everyone was busy opening boxes and setting up the tables with the help of Deepika the headmistress and some other staff members.
Once everything was set up it was time for the children to come and make their purchases. First ones to come where the middle school kids and within a jiffy the huge AV hall was buzzing with activity with children examining everything, asking the price then moving on to something else and coming back, calculating in their head what they would buy: diyas for the puja or a bracelet for mom, or both. After a while with some gentle and not so gentle prompting by their teachers sales were made and it was time for the next batch to come in. Things flew off the counter as class after class came and selected their ware.
The tiniest ones were adorable. They clutched their money in their hands and went around the tables looking at everything before deciding what they would buy. They knew their mind and got what they wanted. By lunch time they had sold a whopping 7000 Rs worth. The team was elated. But there was more to come. Angels were at work.
The Project Why team was graciously invited to share lunch with the children in the main dining hall and they all enjoyed the lovely dal, rice and vegetable curry. Then it was back to the exhibition hall. In the morning as there was a cross country zonal event many children had not been able to come for the sale so they turned up in hordes in the afternoon. The senior children helped our team with the sales and post lunch the coffers filled fast! At the end of the day they has sold for 15000 rupees, the biggest sale they ever made. Everyone was on cloud nine.
It was time to pack up and head back. Everyone was tired but it did not matter as the day had been magical with hordes of little Angels with big heart at work. At CSKM everyone sees with their hearts.
Thank you for a wonderful day!
Miracles are what happens when you get out of the way of yourself wrote Brad Szollose. Words of wisdom I need to heed as I am seriously in need of a miracle at Project Why. A grant we were confident would come our way slipped by and we also lost a substantial chunk of money from a regular donor by force majeure! This is a setback for us as we are still recovering from the loss of a large donor whose donation stops in March 2020 and we were hoping that said grant would make up for part of what we were losing. But that is not to be. We are not back to square one, but a few steps behind square one.
There are many adages the prepare you for such a moment promising windows will open even if doors shut, or that better things are around the corner or that there is always light at the end of a dark tunnel. And true we take comfort from these. What else can we do?
As I sit and write these words I cannot but think of the 1200 Project Why children, of the almost 50 souls on my team, of the hundreds of women whose dreams we help fulfil and wonder what would happen should no window open? My spiritual teacher says that the Universe always works in our favour and that we should release all our fears. That is what I intend to do. Release all my fears and let the Universe show me the way. Be in equanimity though some time it is not easy. But I need to keep calm and keep the faith alive in me and accept with grace whatever the future holds.
It does not mean that I stop doing anything. Far from that. It is all hands on deck. The only tiny and yet momentous difference is that this time I am at peace within me and ready to accept whatever comes.
So what is the road map? To push our new Adopt a Teacher programme and find people or groups of people to reach out and adopt one teacher. To reach out to institutions and organisations and companies with renewed effort. To seek the support of friends. To ask the Board members to help find new avenues. There is a gala dinner on the anvil for March 2020.
But that is not all. What is the most important is the innumerable souls around the world who are rooting for us. When I shared my dilemma on social media I was overwhelmed by the amount of people who reached out with their love and good wishes. That is when I understood that for miracles to happen one has to get out of the way and let the Universe take over and as Fannie Glad says: Not give up before the miracles happens.
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.