Dont’ worry, be happy, sang Bobby Mc Ferrin way back in 1988. The lyrics of this song came back to me as I stumbled upon an article about Delhi schools introducing ‘ Happiness classes’. Wow what a wonderful idea particularly in a system where schools are associated with tedious classes and rote learning and every one is obsessed by marks. So happiness classes are a welcome breath of fresh air.
Now instead of jumping straight into learning subjects children will meditate, hear stories, learn to be mindful and engage in fun activities for one whole period in the morning. This will help the kids reclaim their right to be children, ignite their creativity and make them better human beings. This is truly a leap in the right direction.
When Project Why opened its doors almost two decades ago, its main aim was to create a ‘happy’ place for children from deprived homes, a place where they could reclaim their right to be children and learn in a fun filled environment. True that the reality of the day made studies the main focus, but Project Why never forgot that studies alone do not suffice and always strived to give its children space to bloom and thrive. Creative activities, story telling, outings, and the morning positivity prayer where children sit quietly to experience mindfulness have always been part of our curriculum. This is essential to seed the right values and teach children gratitude and respect. So knowing that we were on the right path all along is a huge boost to our morale and we can all continue singing: Dont worry, be happy!
Do you think ‘happiness classes’ are a step in the right direction? Do you think that children have a right to play and have fun while studying?
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.
As always it was a joy to visit our incredible eight at the Boarding school last week! How time has flown and how they have grown. Our boarding school programme has been our greatest challenge and our greatest achievement. Most of these children would probably never have finished school as the odds they faced in their lives would have seemed unsurmountable. Two third degree burn survivors, one open heart surgery survivor and others from dysfunctional and marginal homes.
The genesis of this programme needs to be revisited. Our boarding school programme would have probably been restricted to one or two kids at most, had a potential donor not landed into our lives and wanted to sponsor the education of 5 children in a boarding school. We were thrilled at the thought and children from extremely deprived homes were selected. To ensure that they would not be ‘lost’ in their new school, we ran a one year residential programme for them, our own kind of prep school! But things do not quite work out the way one hopes and one fine morning the ‘sponsor’ backed leaving us bewildered, saddened and at a loss. There was no way we could ‘send’ the children back to their old lives and yet on the other hand, the challenge of finding resources to ensure they complete their education was daunting. We did the only honourable thing: took the challenge head on!
The children kept their side of the deal and have done us proud. We kept ours finding new sponsors, some who were kind enough to make a long time commitment, and others who would help us with one year commitments. Today five of the children are fully sponsored, and three still need kind souls to see them through.
Kiran will pass out in 2019, Utpal and Babli in 2020 and all of them will have graduated by 2023. We still have a log way to go.
But it has been worth every minute. The pride and joy of seeing them grow and become confident young teenagers cannot be described in words. You need to meet them so see how incredible they are!
One of the challenges we face at Project Why is to provide quality and meaningful education. In the present educational scenario in India where only marks count, this challenge becomes even more daunting as though it is important to try and ensure that our children get ‘good’ marks in order to get admission in an affordable college, it is also imperative to prepare them for the rapidly changing work scenario. According to a report by the World Economic Forum 65 percent of the jobs elementary school students will be doing in the future do not even exist yet!
The question that comes to mind is: what then are the skills required for the future and how can they be taught to the children now.
Education specialist Tony Wagner has identified 7 such skills and they are a far cry from what is being taught specially in India.
The first skill is: critical thinking and problem solving. We need to teach children how to ask questions. This is what will bring innovation as only by being critical of what is, can we be able to bring about change. Now in a scenario where rote learning is essential, this is indeed a huge challenge.
Next is the ability to collaborate across networks and lead by influence. With the growth of remote and non-permanent workers leading will not be the commanding from the top, but the ability to lead by influence or example. Indeed a big challenge again
Now comes the ability to adapt and continually re-learn. Again a far cry from what education teaches today.
Next come initiative and entrepreneurship and of course the ability to communicate orally and in writing followed by assessing and analysing information a daunting task indeed.
And last but not the least is curiosity and imagination, rekindling the child like awe that is lost far too early, more so in India when the 3 Rs begin at the tender age of 4!
Most of these skills are contradictory to what is taught in schools today and yet if we want our children to succeed in the future it is essential to inculcate them slowly but surely.
At Project Why, we are taking baby steps in this direction by giving our children time to be innovative, to think out of the box, to develop their imagination and creativity and to better their communication skills. We hope that our efforts will go a long way in shaping their tomorrows.
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.