Once again it is the time of the year when I sit and look back at the months gone by and share with you plans for the future. Last year when I penned my dreams for 2020 nothing could have prepared me for what we would encounter. I thought the Project Why ship would cruise on as usual and that our main concern would once again be our search for sustainability. We had some plans in our head. Our Adopt a Teacher initiative had been well received and we were looking at fine tuning and strengthening it. We were also hoping to widen our donor base and looking for new ways to do so. Little did we know that a small invisible virus would turn the planet on its head. Come March and we were all taken hostage by Covid 19! As India went into complete lockdown, Project Why shut all its doors. An eerie silence took over our lives, and the end of the dark tunnel was nowhere in sight.
We watched silently things unfold. The plight of the migrant labour was terrifying as they lost their livelihood and homes and many began a long walk to their homes of origin. For those who stayed back, hunger loomed large. We could not remain mute. We had to do something.
The need of the hour was ‘food’! The district administration was urging people to join the effort of feeding those in need. We reached out to our donors and were overwhelmed by the positive response we got. The Savitri Foundation UK accepted to sponsor 1000 meals a day for almost two moths. The 7 trustees of Project Why UK took on the ‘I will walk 500 miles’ challenge and raised a substantial amount that helped distribute dry rations to families in need. Many individual donors reached out to support this effort.
From April 2020 to end May 2020 we were engaged in food distribution. I am deeply grateful and proud of the Project Why staff who did not think twice before accepting to lead this programme. PPE kits were provided to them, and they braved the scorching heat day after day to fulfil the mission we had set for ourselves. Kudos to all of them!
Nobody would have expected what would befall on us in June. A nagging back pain that refused to go away would lead to my being diagnosed with multiple myeloma. I must admit that upon receiving the news I was devastated. The excruciating pain and the stigma attached to multiple myeloma left me rudderless and at a complete loss. It would take weeks for me to fathom and accept what had happened. It was the overwhelming support from my family, from my project why family and from friends the world over that would enable me to regain control of my life.
The first thing that was on my mind was the future of Project Why. I convened a virtual meeting of the Board and was again deeply touched by how everyone extended their support and pledged to ensure the safety of Project Why. I stepped back from the chair, and Meenal Madhukar accepted to steer Project Why while I regained my health.
I began treatment. Chemotherapy and a host of alternative options saw me regain health and enter remission.Today I am pain free but still need to heal.
Project Why entered its Cover 19 avatar. We soon realised that schools would not reopen and that we needed to find new ways of reaching out to the children. The creche and special needs class were temporarily closed. The teachers began online classes for the older children with limited means. Many chidden did not have access to smart phones and net connections so the teachers prepared work sheets and created WhatsApp groups. They tailored classes to the needs of the students. Some teachers even took late evening classes as some children could only have access to phones after the parents came home from work. Once again the Project Why team proved its mettle and rose to the occasion. Our aim was to ensure that we reach every child possible. Teachers went to children’s home and took classes for them. Sadly some families left Delhi in the May exodus to never return. Older children were put to work by their parents. It was our endeavour to try and have them join classes again.
By the end of the year a steady pattern of online classes had emerged. We also decided to call the weaker children to the centre in small groups and take classes whilst respecting all Covid SOPs. It looks like this will be the model for the coming year too. Project Why has to reinvent itself. That is what awaits us for 2021!
We had to suspend all vocational and skilling activities. However the ladies of the vocational unit got busy making masks which were sold on the market. We even sent masks to France ad the UK.
Funding was erratic. Some of our sponsors continued to help us as usual but some scaled down their donations. We ran 4 online campaigns and they were very successful.
The end of the year brought some cheer as we got some new contacts we hope will bear fruit. On December 20th 2020 we organised a Facebook Live fund raiser. Ranjan, my better half, played a medley of Beatles song and many supporters joined from different parts fo the world. This concert opened new funding avenues. We enter the new year with hopes in our heart.
I end this difficult year with abundant gratitude. Gratitude to the team, the Board, the sponsors and supporters who stayed by us in these difficult times. I do not know what awaits us in 2021. I just know that miracles are waiting to happen.
Many of you maybe wondering where my blog and I have disappeared for the past few weeks. Yes, we did go AWOL but this is because I got diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma. Suddenly the world as I knew it changed forever. It was a double whammy with Covid having taken centerstage. I shared the news on Facebook and I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love that came my way from the four corners of the world. It gave me the will to fight and beat the beast. My life partner of more than four decades and my family took matters in their hand and soon we had a roadmap to follow.
Today I have had two chemos and have 12 more to go. Then the situation will be assessed. It is a long run.
The pain at times is excruciating. At times my brain feels muddled and mushy. I have been away from my computer for all these days. It is only today that I mustered the courage to come and sit at the computer and write a few words to all of you from Delhi with love.
For the past weeks we have been trying to ‘imagine’ what Project Why would look like post Covid 19. If and when schools ‘reopen’ it is likely to be without children or at a later stage with children sitting six feet apart, their faces masked and their eyes brimming with questions that may remain unanswered. A dystopian morrow awaits us all. Children from privileged homes will ‘return’ to school virtual or real. But this might not be the case of children from poorer homes. A large number of migrants have taken the long road home and they may or may not return. Many had children attending government schools. From past experience we know that often girls above a certain age are left in the village as they are likely to be wedded. I wonder how many girls will see their eduction come to a halt.
At present schools are resorting to ‘online’ teaching. Not an ideal situation. Eyes glued to a screen for long hours cannot be good for any child and the absence of your classmates and the energies that emanate from a regular classroom will ultimately take its toll on the mental well being of all children. School is not just about the subject taught but it is also about all the life lessons you learn along the way. Let us not forget that one of the four pillars of education according to Jacques Delors was: learning to live together. This will be scarified at the alter of Covid 19.
But let us get back to Project Why post Covid 19. I am confident that our teachers will be able to adapt to online teaching but I also know that most of our children do not have access to smartphones and Internet and have hardly any space in their overcrowded tenements. Squinting over a tiny poor quality screen will do more harm than good. Moreover parents will not be willing to pay for Internet access. And if there are more than one school going child in a family, it will be impossible for all of them to learn.
At present our 5 boarding school children are following online classes but with innumerable problems: from poor connectivity to the father needing the phone, to the smaller sibling wanting to see her favourite cartoon, it is nothing short of a nightmare. My heart goes out to them as 4 of them have Board exams in 2021.
If and when we are allowed to open Project Why we will have to find a way of supporting our children. If children are not allowed to come then it will have to be online and perhaps it is time to start exploring ways of acquiring tablets or phones for those who do not have any and also raising funds to pay for internet access. Time to review the way we were. All suggestions are welcome.
Schools are closed and are likely to remain closed. Education has never been a priority. Once again this ‘new’ normal has drawn the lines between the haves and have not. Privileged schools are running online classes and their students are busy studying. Laptops and tablets are in use with stable internet connections. There is sufficient space in privileged homes for finding a secluded spot even if there are siblings. Parents hover around to make sure that the child is studying.
For children from the underprivileged homes the story is different. An ersatz of online teaching has been put in place: a poor quality smart phone, an unstable internet connection, a tiny space shared with many where the TV blares, no parent to hover over you, WhatsApp groups where no smart phones exist and in many cases no study at all as no adult is willing to give you their phone.
Welcome to the world of education in the times of Covid 19!
Class XII 2020 children are living on a razor’s edge. Every section has one or more papers left. No one knows when these will take place and when the results will be announced and how that will affect college admissions. My heart goes out to all these kids.
No one knows when schools will reopen and what will be the ‘new’ normal then. Will children have to wears masks? Will there be fewer kids in a class and many shifts. And what about play?
Schools are the opposite of social distancing. They are a place where you share a bench, share your tiffin box, share your secrets, your dreams, your pain and your joy. How do you do that six feet apart!
And what will happen to Project Why? It was a place where you packed as many children as possible in the space you have as the motto was to help as many as possible and try never to send a child away. Here again I cannot imagine the new normal. I know we will need to reinvent ourselves but I wonder how. Education in the times of Covid 19 is indeed our biggest challenge.
Last week Jennie one of the trustees of Project Why UK wrote asking whether we were doing anything to help underprivileged families survive the Coronavirus pandemic. I told here that we had identified about 100 families who were in need of food and were providing them groceries to ensure they do not remain hungry. Each distribution cost us about £700 and would last 15 days. She wrote back saying they would do something to raise funds for another distribution. On April 18 they launched a fund raiser to help us raise funds for another distribution by having their 7 trustees walk 500 miles over 21 days during their daily exercise.
Imagine my surprise when I received a mail on Sunday morning, the day after the fundraiser began, informing me that they had raised the whole amount in ONE DAY and had now doubled their target. I was speechless.
Project Why UK is a perfect example of the magic that Project Why can weave. The seven trustees are all volunteers and friends who came to spend some time at project Why, and carried us back in their hearts. They became staunch supporters and last year decided to formalise their support by registering Project Why UK as a charity. They have stood by us through thick and thin. I feel overwhelmed and humbled.
Thank you Jennie, Harriet, Cat, Catherine, Jon, Mahua and Viren for truly seeing with your hearts. And a big thank you to little Zephyr who ‘walked’ for Project Why on his mum’s back. I love you all!
The fundraiser is on. Please help Project Why UK reach their new goal by donating here
You can also donate by Paypal on this link.
Meet Project Why’s corona warriors. Seema, Dharmendra, Vijay, Sanjeet, Amit, Mithu. For the past days they have been busy organising passes, identifying needy Project Why families, procuring and packing goods and braving all odds to see that these reach the beneficiaries. In the first lot 30 families from Okhla and 70 families from Yamuna were identified and a care package delivered to each of them. It consisted of rice, flour, lentils. cooking oil and salt.
The first distribution was organised at Okhla with our one and only Seema taking the lead. The next day it was dependable Dharmendra who spearheaded the distribution in Yamuna with the help of the local police beat officers who ensured proper social distancing.
In the meantime we received a letter from the Home Ministry asking for our help in arranging cooked meals for the homeless and daily wage workers. Kabir from Azure Hospitality and the Savitri Foundation came forward and immediately agreed to sponsor 1000 meals per day for a period of 30 days These will be distributed in Okhla from next week onwards. It will again be our corona warriors who will take the lead and ensure that this is done in the best way possible.
It is heartwarming to see how the Project Why team responded to the call. Each one of them was willing to come forward and do what was needed.
I am deeply grateful to my incredible team and to Kabir and the Savitri Foundation for rising to the occasion and am confident that we will win the war against this invisible enemy.