One can hardly imagine how things unfold, almost serendipitously! Since last year our boarding school kids have been spending their holidays at Project Why teaching the younger children and participating in all activities of the centre. It all began in April 2018 when Utpal and Babli started going to the Khader centre to ‘pass’ time as they had just finished their Boards and had a lot of time on their hands while waiting for the results. They both taught junior classes and Utpal also taught he children dance. They enjoyed the experience and were all set to return during the winter holidays.
During the winter holidays as the children were preparing for their New Year Party and Republic Day celebrations, Utpal, the born entertainer, took on the role of master of ceremonies and choreographer. Needless to say the shows were perfect.
Volunteering became a part of these kids life. Every holiday they would return to Khader soon joined by Manisha, Meher and Vicky.
They did it with love and dedication, as if they knew in their hearts that this was the right thing to do. They were paying back!
This summer they would go one step ahead.
One fine morning Utpal told me that his Ma’am Madhumita was going to visit the Khader centre. I was pleasantly surprised but did not give it much thought at that time. Madhumati Ma’am came and taught at both our Khader and Yamuna centres. I put up a post on facebook thanking her for her visit and it is only when I saw her answer that I realised how Utpal had organised this visit. He had taken ownership of the Project. I share her post here: But I am really grateful to my dearest Utpal who had called me up one fine afternoon , when I was in Kolkata, requesting me to take class it was as though he had heard my hearts wish. I had been always wanting to pay a visit but due to my ill health , I was unable to do so but Utpal’s call came to me as a blessing from heaven, and Utpal was that messenger of God. Madhumita Nag Pathak Teacher CSKM
My heart filled with gratitude and joy. Looked like we had done our job well and instilled the right values in these children even though they were away from us in boarding school. Utpal had felt the desire to have his beloved teacher come and share her knowledge with the Project Why children. It was his initiative. He had taken ownership of the Project.
Utpal even invited the manager and of his school canteen to discuss funding options as he knew we were short of funds. Mr Sharma spent time talking to Dharmendra and sharing his ideas. It was a fruitful interaction that opened other ways of thinking and new possibilities.
At a time when we are all worried about the future of Project Why, these small initiatives are like a breath of fresh air. They are also proof of the fact that the next generation is ready to take the lead of Project Why 2.0. It was simply a matter of time.
It is also time for the likes of me to realise that our ways may not be the right ones anymore and that one has to accept change and go with it. It is time to pass the baton. We have done our bit and done it well. Now our role is to help the new generation take ownership.
It is customary for the special needs class to celebrate the end of their summer camp with a memorable outing. Normally they go to a park or to their favourite place the Lodhi gardens. But this time would be different. They would visit a mall. A first for most of them. Everyone was very excited as they set out bright and early. The idea was to walk though the mall and have lunch at the food court.
Our special meeds children are to the major born as no one would have guessed that they had never set a foot in a mall. They walked through the mall looking at everything around them with interest, stopping at some shops longer than the other, fascinated by the sight they saw but extremely well behaved. They posed for photographs when asked. They enjoyed their walk through the mall working an appetite for the treat to come.
It was soon lunch time and everyone headed for the food court. They waited patiently as the teachers purchased the coupons. Every one was given a choice and the children zeroed in on scrumptious dosas and chola bhatura. Everyone enjoyed the meal!
It was soon time to head back to school. But not before enjoying an ice cream!
Outings are very special for these souls who rarely go out of their homes. At project Why we try and take them out as often as we can but not as much as we would like to for want of funds. Taking them out and seeing them enjoy themselves is a real treat for all of us as you witness pure unadulterated pleasure.
Bhutan has just made teachers and medical staff the highest paid civil servants in the country. Let us not forget that Bhutan is the country where Gross National Happiness is more important than the GDP! Education and health are now the highest priorities in the tiny country. This means that Bhutan puts its children and people first.
On the other side of the planet a young Prime Minister has also turned things on their head. Jacinda Ardern presented a budget “where spending is dictated by what best encourages the “well-being” of citizens, rather than focussing on traditional bottom-line measures like productivity and economic growth.” The young New Zealand Prime Minister also puts people first!
I wish we did the same in India!
In the last week over 170 young children have died of encephalitis in Muzaffarpur Bihar due to poor medical facilities and most of all due to malnutrition and poor care. According to data this was mostly due to the indifference of the state government towards nutrition and healthcare in spite of many schemes in place. Let us not forget that 5000 children under five still die of malnutrition in India EVERY DAY. A statistic I have often quoted as it makes my blood run cold. And in Muzzffarnagar every second child under the age of 5 in stunted. Had a simple programme like ICDS launched in 1975 worked then no one under age of 44 should have been malnourished in India. Where are our priorities!
The same is the case with education. In spite of a Constitutional Right to Education the education system across the land leaves a lot to be desired. Again it is not a priority. There are schools with no teachers or with one teacher! There are schools without desks or books. There are schools were more than 100 kids are cramped in a single classroom. There are over 15 million of children out of school. There are over 33 million children engaged in child labour. There are children begging at every red light. Something is not right. We as a nation have lost the ability to see with our hearts.
It is time we prioritised education and health care. For those who cannot afford a private hospital, the only option are the state run facilities. If these do not work then a large chunk of the population is again left out and forced to go to quacks or even faith healers. The other option is a private hospital but that entails high debts.
Making teachers and health staff the highest paid civil servant would ensure that the best opt for such jobs and hence the quality of education and public health would improve in quantum leaps. Government spending as Jacinda Ardern says should be on ensuring the well being of every citizen particularly the poorest or most marginalised. This is the way governments should go as this is what would bring the much needed change we all aspire for.
Children are the most precious asset of any country and we must ensure that each and every one of them get the best.
The last few weeks haven’t been easy. I have spent many a sleepless nights trying to figure out how we will meet the crisis we face. We have lost one of our big funders and come 2020 we will be in a fix if I am not able to conjure a miracle and come up with the missing numbers. All our efforts till now have been futile and I can only hope that things will work out for us. I am really not in a happy place.
Last week the special section had its summer camp and after a long time I found myself climbing the three flights of stairs that take you to that class. As soon as I entered the class I was greeted by a loud ‘good morning ma’am’ and a big hug from Shalini. Within moments all the students came around me with huge smiles and I felt my spirits lift up instantly.
I had forgotten how this class and these incredible gentle and caring souls have always had the ability to make me smile and lift any blues I may have sunk in. A visit to their class is my instant feel good shot. Their smiles are irresistible and their candid and honest love for life is infectious. You just have to forget your worries as you enter their world.
But that is not all. Seeing them was also realising that I had to do whatever it took to ensure that Project Why carry on beyond 2020 and beyond me! All these children come from difficult backgrounds and homes where they are often not accepted by all. It is in this space that we provided them that they are treated with dignity and love and given hope. It is a fun filled space where difference is celebrated and bonds created. There was no way I could deprive them of their centre.
I came back filled with determination and motivated to soldier on and craft the miracles I needed and I realised that whenever I felt I was slipping all I had to do was climb those flight of stairs to my go to place.
Thank you darling souls for being there for me.
If you are in Delhi or plan to visit, I strongly urge you to find a moment and visit my incredible children!
Last week was world environment week and in site of the scorching heat, children of all centres of Project Why celebrated environment in their own special way. Drawing competitions were held in all centres and children shared their vision on how to save the environment.
Workshops on the Dead River Project were held at our Khader and Yamuna centres to talk about the road ahead for India in terms of sustainability and conservation of water and create awareness about the condition of river bodies and what we can do to save them. The children were very attentive and committed to do their bit to save water.
On June 8th and workshop on pollution and a small plantation drive was held at our Govindpuri Centre by the PwC Foundation. The PwC team talked to the children about all forms of pollution: air, water, noise, land etc. Children shared their views and ways to combat the pollution menace. It was a fun filled session with a lot of interactive activities. Children sang and danced and shared their dreams for the future. Some children wanted to join the army or the police; others wanted to be doctors and teachers and yet other dreamt of being cricketers! When quizzed about cricked they were spot on!
But the most touching dreams were those of some of our special children. Geetu who has recently been appointed as a teacher’s aide wants to become a ‘Ma’am’ like all her teachers, Shalini who is also a teacher’s aide is happy continuing what she is doing now and Ritu wants to be Bharatnatyam teacher like her mother.
All the children then participated in the plantation drive filling pots with earth and carefully placing the plants and then watering them. They all promised to look after the plants and invited the guests to come and visit again. The celebration ended with a distribution of cool lassi and bananas and of course chocolates. In spite of the terrible heat everyone had a great time.
We are grateful to Sourabh Sengupta from the Dead River Project and to Jaivir Singh and the PwC Foundation for having chosen Project Why to come and celebrate Environment Week.
“I fell in love with Project Why and India and I want to help as much as I can even from 7000 km away. Project Why is like a family for me and I want to share how wonderful Project Why is with people here in Europe” Claire De Felice Volunteer from Luxembourg.
For We are the World Blogfest I want to share a simple love story. The story of a young woman of substance who came to Project Why and fell in love with India and Project Why, as we fell in love with her.
The genesis of this unique love story goes back half a century to a friendship cemented in college, a friendship that withstood the test of time! Prajna my old friend wrote to me last year about the daughter of dear friends of hers, Claire, wanting to come to India and spend some time in an NGO. Prajna suggested Project Why.
Claire wrote to me saying she was interested in women’s empowerment, and wanted to visit Project Why. I must admit I was a little worried as our primary work is with children but told her she was welcome as we did have a women’s empowerment programme.
I first met Claire a few days after her arrival and was immediately taken in by her quiet yet incredibly warm persona. We talked for a long time and as I shared the Project Why journey with her I realised that we had done quite a lot for women be it the women who we had employed and skilled to take on many roles, or the girls that were getting an education thanks to our work. Project Why was undoubtedly a very women-oriented organisation. We decided that this could be the direction of her work with us: document the role of the women of project Why! At that moment none of us knew what was awaiting us.
It was the time we had launched an online fundraiser that needed a lot of social media support and we at project why were quite social media challenged. Our mentor was Damyanti who guided us over numerous phone calls and Whatsapp messages and we did our best. Claire gently suggested that she could help us as she was not only a mean lenswoman but also quite savvy on social media. I connected her to Damyanti and both of them took over. The rest is history as the fundraiser was a great success.
What endeared Claire to me as I slowly got to know her was her willingness to help wherever she was needed and her ability to get along with each and every one, be it a student or a teacher. She was all heart and could establish a link with anyone in a jiffy. Everyone just loved her. And being all heart she instinctively knew that we needed help and decided that she would do all she could to help us.
Many of her friends generously donated to our fundraiser and knowing our difficulties with social media she decided to take over our Instagram and still does it today from 7000 km away. Upon her return, Claire wrote an article on how Project Why empowers women.
A few weeks ago she told me she was planning a fundraiser and on May 21st organised one in Brussels where she invited some eminent personalities from the European Parliament!
Claire’s relationship with Project Why did not end with the seven weeks she spent with us. It has gone beyond as the bonds established transcend space and time. She has left an indelible mark in our hearts and we think of her as family! We now look forward to her coming back.
People like Claire restore faith in humanity as they exemplify all that is good. For me personally, they give me the strength to carry on, particularly in times when things look bleak and even scary.
Today we stand on very fragile ground. We need to find long-term support to be able to carry on our work of twenty years. The fear of not being able to keeps me awake at night but then just remembering the smile and quiet confidence of a young woman like Claire gives me hope and the courage to soldier on.
Thank you Claire for being who you are.
This post was the 24th installment of the monthly We Are the World Blogfest: I’d like to invite you to join, if you haven’t as yet, to post the last Friday of each month a snippet of positive news that shows our essential, beautiful humanity.
The co-hosts for this month are: Shilpa Garg, Simon Falk, Mary Giese, Dan Antion and Damyanti Biswas.
Here’s a sampler of this blogfest. Click here to know more. Sign up here and add your bit of cheer to the world on the next installment of June 28, 2019!
You can find Project WHY on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Please help us change the future, one life at a time.