Anous’s blog Let us celebrate

Anous’s blog
Let us celebrate

The class X and XII results are out and it is time to celebrate. Over 40 Project Why kids have cleared their boards and I am proud of each and every one of them. I am proud of the ones that got the sought 90% but also of those who just passed! It is true that marks make a difference in the present education scenario and that if you are not in the top percentile you may not get access to higher education in the college of your choice but have you ever thought of how unfair the grading system is to the child! Only those who have the ability and capability  to learn by heart can accede to those high marks. But does that mean that those who can’t are less capable?  And more so the child is judged on her or his performance on the five days of the examination! Do you call this fair? I don’t.

I recently came across a post on social media, that said the following:

Congratulations , for getting that 90% and more marks….

Congratulations for getting 60 % and more…..

Congratulations for getting 33% percent and more….

Congratulations for getting less than 33 %….

It’s an exam of education not LIFE…..

Please celebrate whatever results your kid has got. 

These words were a real eye opener as one does not realise how hurt a child can be if he is constantly reminded of his poor performance and also as the author says that this is just an exam of education not of life!

Another social media post is a letter written by a mother to her son who had secured 60%! A lesson in parenting indeed. She wrote: Super proud of my boy who scored a 60% in Class 10 board exams. Yes it is not a 90, but that doesn’t change how I feel. Simply because I have seen him struggle with certain subjects almost to the point of giving up, and then deciding to give his all in the last month-and-a-half to finally make it through! Here’s to you, Aamer. And others like you – fishes asked to climb trees. Chart your own course in the big, wide ocean, my love. And keep your innate goodness, curiosity and wisdom alive. And of course, your wicked sense of humour.” Every word rings so true. No education system should rob a child of his innate values.

Do we realise what we ask children to give up just to reach those hallowed marks! I think this is something we should mull on. We ask them to give up all that is fun in life, all that makes them children, all that makes them creative, curious and unique. It is a lot to ask.

I have my battles with my darling Utpal who tells me stubbornly that he does not like to learn what he does not understand, that we wants to skate and paint and read books and dance and volunteer at Project Why. He never got high marks in his class X but on the other hand developed so many skills and talents in the last two years and above all learnt compassion. I know he will do his best in class XII and that is all I should ask of him as I celebrate every step of his journey.

It makes one wonder about what one truly needs to teach a child in order to make him or her a good human being. We need to teach compassion and tolerance above all and that is not found in school books. We need to teach leadership and the ability to work and live with others; we need to teach problem solving and thinking out of the box. This is what is needed to succeed in life.

Today I celebrate every Project Why student who has passed her or his Boards  as I know that each one did its best. Every child is unique and that is what we need to celebrate.

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Anou’s blog Music to my ears

Anou’s blog
Music to my ears

The class XII results are out and once again I am flummoxed at the results. 499/500 in humanities! 99.9% in subjects like English, history, psychology etc. I fail to understand how one achieves that except if the paper was entirely a multiple choice one and that is no the case. A couple of years ago a topper had admitted that she has learnt all the books by heart. My heart went out to the poor child and to all those who like her mug up the text book word for word. But that seems to be the way to go, or so it seems. I feel sorry for the children who have been usurped of their right to play, have fun, be creative, think out of the box, develop extra curricular skills and so on. To ‘succeed’ you have to excel in rote learning. Any child who cannot do that cannot get admission in the prized colleges and universities. Sadly the 99 percentile is something Project Why children cannot achieve as they run the race with many handicaps and try as we do, we cannot give them all that their peers from better homes have.

Quite frankly in my opinion a 99% obtained by rote learning does not define an intelligent child and does not open doors to carriers in today’s world.  What is needed in the Information Age are skills like creativity and imagination, critical thinking, problem solving, initiative etc. A far cru from rote learning. This is the antithesis of the education system our children follow and which is rooted in the colonial past where what was required were pen pushers willing to obey orders. Education as we know it needs to be turned on its head.

Imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon an article about a proposed change of pattern in grading class X and XII examinations. The article was music to my years as it talked about a possible revamp of the examination pattern with a view to discourage students from rote learning! The new pattern would test students on their analytical skills and reasoning abilities instead of blind copy pasting of textbook text. The plan has been submitted for approval and it is hoped that the changes would be effective in 2020. This is a huge step in the right direction and I do hope it will lead to more changes in the education system itself. Way to go!

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Anou’s blogThere is always room for hope #GivingTuesday

Anou’s blog
There is always room for hope #GivingTuesday

There is always Room for Hope is the title of the book I wrote when battling my partner’s cancer. Writing helped me cope with the elephant in the room and hope was what I held on to with both hands and my heart. And somehow we managed to survive and ultimately win the battle against all odds. This was six years ago. With life resuming its normal course I had forgotten about those terrible days.

It is only this morning when I sat on my balcony after yet another sleepless night wondering where we would be next month, next year, next…., that the title of my book suddenly appeared in my mind and I once again understood that in the darkest hour, hope was the only lifeline you could cling to. And hence, today, when all seems dark in the horizon I need to hang on to hope like never before.

Project Why’s life is a stake as in spite of all our efforts and prayers, the miracle we sought is nowhere in sight. We are again on life support and need to find a long term solution to continue our work or else look for the honourable way out, if way out there is. My blood runs cold at the very thought as every part of Project Why is like a child to me and I do not want to be face with Sophie’s choice. Yesterday we received a rejection from a funding institution; many of our appeals have gone unheard and unanswered; the situation is grim to say the least.

And yet amidst all this, hope remains alive.

When I look back at the last two decades I recall the umpteen times when we have been at the edge of despair and yet never gave up hope. And each and every time a miracle, for want of a better word, occurred making me believe that there was someone, the God of Lesser beings, who intervened and ensured we remain on track. I must confess that there were times when we were almost hubristic in our approach, making promises and commitments that defied all reason. But somehow we knew in our hearts that we would be able to stand by them: we never gave up hope.

Today I have over a thousand children with dreams in their eyes who believe that we can fulfil them. I have a team of almost 50 souls who depend on us to feed their loves ones. So how can I give up hope?

I did not give it up when a scalded baby landed in my arms and today he is a lovely teenager who walks in your heart or when a little girl was found rummaging the garbage dump for foods, her body burnt her fingers fused and today she is an impish young girl who you cannot help but fall for.

I did not give it up when broken hearts came to us for repair; I did not give it up when bulldozers raised my happy place to the ground, I did not give it up when a bunch of boys were riled by their principal who branded them as gutter snipes, I did not give it up each time a mother came with a prayer that needed to be answered. I never gave up because I knew that no matter how dark the night, there was hope at the end of it when the sun would rise again.

So today again I need to hold on to hope as tight as I can, and believe in my heart that the sun will rise again tomorrow. I just need the strength to go through the night.

Some of the inmates of our heartFixHotel

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 Anou’s blog A little ray of sunshine #GivingTuesday

Anou’s blog
A little ray of sunshine #GivingTuesday

Seeing this picture today warmed the cockles of my heart, brought a huge smile on my face and sent me down memory lane. The girl in the striped Tshirt is none other than our darling Kiran! She has just finished writing her class XII examinations and while waiting for the results is ‘volunteering’ at our Yamuna centre where she teaches English to children of all classes. She is a diligent and committed teacher, what else would she be? Kiran has always been a serious child, way beyond her age and my companion in arms in the early project why years. She was born the year we began Project Why. I actually held her in my arms when she was just a few days old. A year or so later she would be joined by Utpal and the three of us would be inseparable. The fact that she was born on my mother’s birthday gave her the right to call me Anou!

Kiran was always a serious and quiet child, who would surprise you by her mature almost adult ways. As a child her preferred drink was a ginger ale! She was to the manor born and a pleasure to be with. In those days I would tuck Kiran on one hip and Uptal on the other and set off on many expeditions. They both joined the same play school and it was my duty to fetch them at noon. Then the three of us would swing by the momo shop (momos were rare in those days) and gorge ourselves before heading back. Once when we were walking to Project Why we passed by mounds of food thrown on the ground after a wedding party. Kiran looked upset and looked up at me and said: they could have fed it to the cows! When it was time to admit her to school, we all lived the ‘admission nightmare’ together and I could understand first hand what millions of parents went through each year!

Kiran’s favourite class at Project Why was always the special needs section. From a very young age she warmed up to these very special kids who became her friends and each summer she would spend her holidays ‘volunteering’ in that class. And each summer holiday homework was a bane we had to live with together.

When Utpal went to boarding school at the age of 4, she was heart broken. She made it a point to come to every PTM as she missed her little soul mate. She was over the moon when we decided to send her to the same boarding school as her pal after she completed her class X. They spent two great years together.

Next month she will get her results and decide what she wants to opt for as a career. I know that she will shine in whatever she chooses to do as she is an extremely bright child who can withstand all challenges and find her place in the sun.

She is our little ray of sunshine.

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 Anou’s blog The courage to continue #GivingTuesday#India

Anou’s blog
The courage to continue #GivingTuesday#India

My friend and supporter Damyanti Biswas has asked to be a guest on her blog every second Friday of the month. The first post was up last week and was entitled When at the Edge of a Precipice, What Gives You the Courage to Go on?

It talks about Project Why and how over the years we have been faced with obstacles and challenges and come out of it each time simply because we never gave up. It makes me ask myself whether courage was something I always had in me, or whether, as much else in my life, it was something Project Why gifted me. The answer is undoubtedly the later.

True I had in my life before Project Why shown the ability to overcome fears, but the courage I refer to today is the one that makes you stand for your beliefs without wavering, in the face of all adversity, and know you have to go on no matter what. You can call it crossroads, or standing at the edge of a precipice and knowing you have to jump even if you do not have a parachute. You just have to create your own.

In the twenty years of running Project Why I have found myself in this position many times and each and every time found the courage to carry on. I have lost count of the number of instances when the reasonable option was to stop and even walk away. For me that was never an alternative. And that is how we grew from a small family of two scores to one off over thousand members; that is how scores of broken hearts were repaired and moribund children given the hope of life; that is how every challenge was met and solutions found.

Today I ask myself where did I draw the strength and find that ‘courage’ in spite of so many setbacks. Or let me take it a step further: was it really courage or as someone said the fear of falling! I do not know. Maybe it was/is the fear of facing myself on judgement day if such a day exists. There was no alternative.

And the ‘courage’ – let us call it that – came and comes from all the souls who have entrusted me with their dreams. Every child that enters the portal of Project Why does so with the hope of changing its life. It is a pact we make and each has to stand by it. And to do that means not to give up.

Today I am again at the edge of a precipice. Project Why is on life support with some centres only funded for a few months. We now need to look for people willing to support our work long time. It is daunting indeed but we have the courage to continue!


A birthday to remember #GivingTuesday#India

A birthday to remember #GivingTuesday#India

Last week I celebrated my 67th! I had made no special plans barring a small celebration at home with the family and two friends. A day before I was asked if I would visit the Project the next day and I said I would try to. The request to visit came from all centres and everyone was so insistent that I had no option but to say yes.

I woke up early as I normally do and was pleasantly surprised to see birthday messages both on my phone and on Facebook! The first one I saw was from Utpal, sent at the dot of midnight from my home as he had taken leave from school to be with me on this day. I was touched by the number of people who had sent loving messages from across the world. Before Project Why I barely got a few calls as the recluse I had become after the demise of my parents had but a handful of people to remember my birthday. But here I was today, flooded with messages from New Zealand to the west coast in the US via every country I could think of. I was overwhelmed. The only child today had a family as large as the planet!

After having answered some messages I set out to visit Project Why as promised. First stop was Govindpuri. I had barely entered when I was greeted by a loud Happy Birthday from our one and only Seema. I walked up the stairs and entered the creche where the children were ready to sing for me. I felt choked with emotion and sat down to catch my breath. It was then time to move up to the office where I was greeted by balloons and a loud happy birthday from all the teachers of the centre. There was a cake, and presents, and flowers everything that makes a birthday special. We chatted for a while and then it was time to move to the next destination: Khader.

Here again I was greeted by loud wishes. The boys were waiting upstairs and wished me by singing the ubiquitous birthday song. I was again moved to tears as I realised what a big and loving family I had. It was cake time again and the teachers had even made a piñata filled with confetti. Utpal and Babli were there too, Utpal the perfect master of ceremonies. Time to move on to Okhla.

I was still in the scooter when I got a call from Utpal telling me he was going Live on Facebook as the boys had prepared a play for me and were disappointed that I had left so thanks to technology and our whiz kid I saw the play on the way to Okhla. At Okhla there were children waiting to wish me, a birthday card and a gift made i house and lots of love and laughter. I was over the moon. It had been such an unexpected and joyful celebration, one that I would remember in times to come.

In the afternoon I was made to tune in to another Live on Facebook and watch the show the Khader girls had organised. I must admit it was a very gratifying experience. The day ended with a small party at home with scrumptious food provide by my dear friend Kabir and more song and merriment. More messages had come by then and I ended the day by replying to all of them. I went to sleep my heart filled with the love I had received throughout the day.

I realised how much Project Why had given me over the years: a wonderful team that was more than family, a wonderful network of friends some I had never met but who showered me with so much trust and love, and more than a thousand children who had chosen me to secure their dreams.  I felt elated and humbled at the same time and could not help from asking myself what had I done to deserve so much.