Let the twain meet #GivingTuesday#India

Let the twain meet #GivingTuesday#India

I challenge anyone to tell me who in this picture was to the manor born and who was not. It is quasi impossible. And yet some in the pictures come from one side of the social fence and the some from the other. Let me elucidate: this is a picture of teachers from CSKM and Project WHY, taken on the CSKM basket ball court after a spirited and engaging workshop.

The workshop was meant to bring new and innovative teaching methods to our team!

They were many similarities between the two groups: both were teaching school children the same curriculum and many had done so for more than a decade. The CSKM teachers shared their experience and knowledge. There were many new ideas that I am sure our teachers liked and will include in their work. A little prompting did initiate a Q&A session that was most interesting. And by the end and much to my delight, Project WHY teachers were sharing their experience and the methods they used.

I sat and watched the proceedings with a little apprehension at the beginning. It was short lived. It did not take long for me to realise that the idea was a winner both ways. As stories were shared, I realised that the CSKM teachers has no idea of the constraints and limitations our teachers had to face. They were a world apart from the facilities the CSKM staff enjoyed. If one had spacious classrooms with big blackboards, well endowed labs and access to virtual classes, our teachers had to ‘teach’ on cold floors, in a cramped space they shared with other classes. Whereas the CSKM teacher had hour long periods per subject. mine had 90 minutes to teach ALL subjects. I found my heart swelling with pride at the yeoman task my incredible staff had performed for the past 16 years with passion and commitment and not a single complaint. And year after year every single Project WHY child had passed her/his exams and the dreaded boards. Wow! Chapeau Bas to them. I felt compelled to share this and I did. The learning had to be mutual and the next step was to invite te CSKM teachers to visit our centres!

I have always held that India will truly change when all invisible barriers are shattered, as they were in this workshop. What will transpire is mutual respect and bonding.

I hope this is the first step to just that.



Broken Beyond Fixing #GivingTuesday#India

Broken Beyond Fixing #GivingTuesday#India

I recently stumbled upon an article entitled: India’s education system is broken beyond fixing; we need to reimagine it entirely. It caught my attention as this is something close to my heart. The author refers to education as being a ‘terror outfit!’. It kills an average of 20 teenagers everyday due to academic pressure. For her the indian education system is nothing short of calamitous.

She retraces the origin of the education as we know it today and quotes an interesting excerpt of a TED talk that sums it all: “The schooling system as it is today goes back to 400 years of an empire’s colonisation and this empire needed three kinds of people: Soldiers to protect their land interest, clerks to run their offices and, after the industrial revolution, assembly line workers to make things. So for 400 years we produced millions and millions of people like them and what are the properties of those people? They should be able to understand instructions, follow them and most importantly, they should not ask questions and they should not be creative. Imagine if an assembly line worker started being creative! o produce millions of such people, what the empire basically needed was a system that kind of worked like a factory. You take raw materials, subject all of them to exactly the same processes and conditions and finally test them. The finished products that clear the test are ready to be sold and the remaining products are simply passed off as defects. The empire managed to build such a system and a very efficient one that: The schooling system.

And we have been nurturing this system for four centuries. This system is obsolete and cannot be fixed. It has to be re-imagined. In tomorrow’s world where AI will reign and robots proliferate, such products will be jobless. In India the number is staggering: 600 million in a scenario where 68% of the jobs will be sacrificed at the alter of automation.

Who will bell the cat, or will anyone bell the cat. Without sounding alarmist, it is imperative someone look at this in time.

The question remains as to whether we can ‘fix’ the system as we know it. First and foremost ne can of course try and ensure that the system as we know it works as in many ways it does not. Over the years the rot has set in and a system that once worked is now hijacked by the absurd race for marks. Maybe that is the first thing that should be addressed as it is also the cause of the many suicides we see. A couple of decades ago 60% was considered to be top of the scale. Today it is close to failure. I felt extremely disturbed when I heard a topper question why she did not get 100% in a particular subject as she has mugged the entire book by heart.

That is what we have let our education become: the art of rote learning. A child has to give up everything to mug books by heart. Our education system has hijacked everything that is the prerogative of a child: playing, singing, dancing, running, laughing, giggling, day-dreaming, having fun, being creative and above all being a person. It is time all this was reinstated.

Learning by rote is useless. Once you have regurgitated what you learnt at the given exam, you forget it all. Learning is about understanding, interpreting, reacting, giving your opinion and it is possible but is needs commitment and motivation from the teachers. I remember the question I had to answer way back in the sixties at my History exam for my Baccalauréat. It was an oral exam without any choice. The syllabus was World History from 1914 to present days. The question I got was the following: Had the Allies lost the war, what in your opinion would have been the economic situation today! There was no correct answer, you simply has to analyse what you hd learnt and give your opinion and defend it. Rote learning in this case would have got you nowhere.

This happened over half a century ago and I still remember the question and my answer. That is because we were made to comprehend what we were taught. Maybe the first step to take is to teach our children to understand what they are being taught. That would challenge every child’s independent thinking.

School curricula are being reviewed the world over. Finland seems to have got it right. Please watch this Michael Moore’s film!





Auf Wiedersen Liebe Carla #Giving #Tuesday India

Auf Wiedersen Liebe Carla #Giving #Tuesday India

This post should have gone up a long time ago! All in perfection as it is said. Our website crashed and for almost a month we were ‘under construction’! But we are back now.

A few weeks ago we bid farewell to our dearest Carla: friend, mentor, fund raiser extraordinaire and above all the rock we needed to lean on. She came to us at a time when we needed her most and held our hands ever so gently throughout the makeover that was crucial to our existence.

The organic, from the heart, slightly topsy turvy organisation I had steered for a decade and a half had to be given a new image to meet the requirements of the world it had to now step in. It was the world of strategic plans, assessments, reports and projections in time – words we barely comprehended – and we were lost. Till date Project WHY had functioned in reverse mode: first the why that needed an answer and then the resources to meet it. In the new scenario essential for sustainability, we needed to first plan and then raise the money. Daunting to say the least. But thanks to Carla’s extreme patience and caring approach the transition was painless. The reason was that her heart beat for Project WHY and hence she never lost sight of its spirit.

We came close to losing her as the initial days were a bit choppy. We could not understand why she wanted to organise things. Mercifully the penny dropped in time and that was the beginning of the most beautiful relationship.

Through many meetings and workshops Carla introduced us to the demands of the outside world and slowly but surely we completed our makeover. I hope she is proud of what we achieved. She also was a star fund raiser who came to the rescue every time we were in need devising new ways of garnering support. Being a mean photographer she participated in the creation of a beautiful coffee table book on Delhi, the proceeds of which were donated to us. But that is not where it ended, she also commandeered the support of her family making Malte her lovely son one of the youngest donors we have as he set out to collect money with his Scout Cubs and come and paint our Okhla school. We were extremely touched when Peter her husband decided to forego his birthday presents and ask his friends to donate to his wife’s favourite charity.

Favourite charity! How lovely these words sound. And to return the compliment can we say that Carla was our favourite: friend, supporter, mentor and so much more.

We will miss her. We will miss her kind heart and her loving ways. We will miss her wise counsel. We will miss her presence.

I know she will be back! But till that day she lives in our hearts forever.

And I will miss my friend.

Auf wiedersen Liebe Carla! Till we meet again!

Hungry for Education #GivingTuesday#India

Hungry for Education #GivingTuesday#India

(Posting a series of success stories  from the compilation The Project Why Stories 2000-2016)

Priya is a 5-year-old girl who lives on the Yamuna Floodplain. Her parents, like the majority of those living on the plain, have no skills other than farming. Priya lives with her parents, two brothers and two sisters. Nobody in the family has received any education, as the expectation is that they will join the family farming business. As soon as they are of age, they will learn to harvest vegetables, which their parents will sell in town. The closest school is over 3km away over a dangerous road, and these children do not feature on the government radar, so would be unable to join.

Priya loves to explore the local area and now knows the Yamuna well. When she discovered our centre, which at that time served only secondary students, she began to come every day and watch the children from a distance. The children of the Yamuna, unlike those of the other centres, are served a full lunch that is generously donated by one of Project WHY’s sponsors. This allows us to provide the children with proper nutrition, and also frees their parents to spend the day on the farm. Priya would watch the secondary students get served every day with wide and envious eyes. Rajesh, a teacher at the centre, one day decided to bring her into the centre and offer her a meal, which she was delighted to accept.

Rajesh started talking to Priya and asked her if she would like to study. She explained that she knows only farming techniques, but she doesn’t enjoy such work and would like to be able to read and write. It was this conversation that inspired us to create the Yamuna primary programme, through which we now teach eighty-four students. Without birth certificates, these students rely on Project WHY for all of their education. We therefore run the centre as a full-time school, following closely the Government syllabus and giving the children the basic skills of literacy that they deserve. As for Priya, she now dreams of being a teacher, and in fact loves her studies so much that she tried to come to school on a Sunday!

Malte, The joy of Giving #GivingTuesday#India

Malte, The joy of Giving #GivingTuesday#India


(Posting a series of success stories  from the compilation The Project Why Stories 2000-2016)



The only issue that really disturbed him and made his life miserable in Delhi was to see the poverty and suffering on the streets. Every afternoon, returning from his privileged school in Chanakya Puri, he passed by the same busy traffic light where small children begged for money. It broke his heart seeing their daily struggle. Unanswered questions bothered him as to WHY he had such a privileged and enjoyable life while these street children of the same age did not even have shoes to wear or clean water to drink? So, his sister and him came up with the idea to make small packages of dry fruits to hand out to the street children. But still, that did not feel enough, as their packages disappeared fast without bringing any desired change. He realised that the packages of sweetness were welcome, but only provided a very temporary relief from the misery of the streets.

When his mother started to work with Project WHY in 2014, Malte heard about Project WHY’s support for slum children, who also had a difficult life, but now had a chance to learn and improve their future. One Saturday morning, in October 2015, he came along and saw for himself how a small group of committed people was trying to make a longer-lasting difference for a lot of poor children. He was amazed to meet with the children, see their smiles on their faces and their eagerness to learn. A couple of weeks later, he took his cub-scout group to whitewash the newly renovated Okhla Centre. They all joined hands with the Project WHY children to make the centre colourful and a happy place to learn. It gave him immense joy. He finally found a place where poverty was not accepted as a fate but as challenge to overcome! And where he, a ten-year-old boy, could contribute to make a difference.

Malte’s determination to make a difference did not stop. He, with his friends Stefan and Scottie, decided to do even more. They came up with the idea of organizing a donation drive in their ‘privileged’ school. They designed colourful posters to show Project WHY’s work, and asked the special kids (of Project WHY) to colour and decorate traditional piggy banks (gulak) for collecting donations. With everything prepared they got up early every morning, for one week, in the freezing month of December 2015, to build their stand at the school entrance asking all children, teachers and parents passing by to donate for Project WHY. Even the school principal and the American Ambassador were impressed and eagerly squeezed their donation in one of the gulaks.

Malte and his friends raised INR 12,000 in total. With these funds, Project WHY was able to buy a Bamboo roof for the Okhla centre, giving the students a covered shelter that protected them from the harsh summer and winter months.

Since then, Malte has felt a part of the Project WHY family. He is constantly asking about the different children, and is always happy to join his mother for a visit. Periodically, he gives away his pocket money to buy school supplies for the Project WHY Centres. Every time he is overwhelmed by the poverty in India, he thinks up something new he could do for the children in Project WHY, knowing that at least his friends there will enjoy a different future.

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