Thank you project why

Thank you project why

I found your blog and Project Why site and it is amazing.! Your words are truly an inspiration and your projects! When i needed some insight, your beautiful face and children’s pictures popped up on my computer along, with your compelling, clear message. THANK YOU!! These words dropped in my mailbox this morning. The sender someone I had never met. Needless to say I felt elated.

Yet once the euphoria of the moment died down, I reread the message quietly and pondered over the words. It seemed that pwhy had once again cast its magic! And it also seemed that to many I was the magician. That was not quite true as in fact I was just like the sender of the mail: I too drew strength and insight from the children’s faces and smiles. It was time to talk a walk down memory lane and try and discover how and when pwhy took a life of itself and I became just a mere instrument.

In all honesty for me personally life changed when I first lay eyes on Manu. Till then charity – for want of a better word – was something that was important yes but not visceral. But the sight of Manu roaming the streets aimlessly, letting out heart wrenching cries was nothing short of unbearable and touched a chord I never knew existed. No self respecting society could allow such an aberration and though I knew that I could not change society, I also knew that from that day forth if would not be able to live with myself if I remained a mute spectator. The journey had begun, mine as much as pwhy’s. I guess at that time I still thought I held the reins in my hand. It would take another encounter before I realised that I was a mere cog in a much larger machine.

When Utpal landed on our planet many thought he would not survive. Yet somehow I knew he would. I am not professing to be a soothsayer or a seer, but as I gazed into his incredible eyes I only saw life, a life that needed to be saved and celebrated. And as the miracle enfolded in front of my bewildered eyes I knew that I was blessed and that pwhy was far larger than I could fathom.

The rest is history. Miracles happened every day and I just watched in awe, my heart filled with gratitude. Utpal left for boarding school, Manu moved into his home, scores of broken hearts got mended, umpteen children left project why with their school certificates in hand. The list is endless. Not a day passes without a miracle and not a day passes without my saying: thank you project why!

2011… time to push dreams to become reality

2011… time to push dreams to become reality

I sat wondering for a long time what my new year blog would be about. A new year is time for resolutions and resolves, many of which are never kept! For us 2011 is a watershed year as we are poised for the final straight line towards our sustainability. It is a do or die situation as if we are unable to meet our goals we may have to chart our journey again and set a new course. Yes 2011 is when we launch our donation drive for planet why and also the time we have given ourselves to fulfill it. It is a do or die year for planet why!

Deepak Chopra said:The greatest ideas are nothing more than daydreams until they are pushed to become reality and till now planet why has been a huge day dream. I must admit that it was one in technicolour where all details were vivid and radiant. It was a dream so close to reality that each sense was activated and one could hear, feel, see, smell and touch planet why! It has been a long time in the making – this dream! As Deepak Chopra aptly wrote the greatest ideas are nothing more than daydreams if they are not pushed to become reality. And this is what we need to do with our whole heart and soul in 2011. Planet why has to become reality.

Easier said than done as we know the road is a long and arduous one. And yet on this blessed day we need to renew our faith in our dream, to cast away all doubts and hesitation and to begin this New Year with hope and belief. This is and should be our resolution!

I will just allow myself a passing instant of vacillation where I dare to ask myself fleetingly what would happen should we fail. The thought is terrifying: Manu would roam the streets again, Champa and Anjali would be prey to predators that lurk at every corner, Munna, Radha and the others may have to fend for themselves on the streets, Utpal and his pals would have their dreams hijacked and crushed. But that is not all. If planet why does not happen than over 500 kids will not be able to get the support they so need to be able to prove their worth and fulfill their dreams. And above all the effort one has put in to craft a system that has proved its worth will just wither away. The thought is too scary and yet it could happen if we fall short of our convictions.

So on this brand new day of a brand new year we resolve to ensure that all dreams do become reality and wish yours do too!

Happy New Year!

Looking back at 2010

Looking back at 2010

2010 is coming to a close. It is time to cast a last glance at the year gone by, to assess its highs and lows, to reflect upon achievements and failures and ponder about resolutions that need to be made.

When I look back at 2010 the one feeling that comes to mind is one of quiet achievements. The year went by with no fuss or flurry. All centres ran like clockwork. All challenges were met with poise, all problems solved calmly. It seemed we had come of age! And it almost seemed to good to be true.

We had to close two primary centres: Sanjay Colony and Govindpuri. The former because of a sudden proliferation of new NGOs that made us almost redundant and the later because of non availability of space. In their place we opened a new primary centre across our main centre in a rented space. The new centre is now running to full capacity.

2010 also saw the coming of age of our Okhla centre. From a ramshackle space with a handful of kids, it is now a thriving semi permanent structure that has 200 children and secondary as well as computer classes. It is a matter of pride for us to see children who had joined project why in early primary classes graduate to secondary school and do us proud. And to think that many of these kids could have gone astray gives me goose bumps.

Our senior secondary kids are slowly getting used to the new examination and test pattern under the guidance of their ace teacher. And our babies are happy learning new things each day. So as they aptly sing every morning: All is well…. at pwhy!

In April 2010, three little children packed up their bags and joined our gang of five at the boarding school. So now eight pwhy kids are busy changing their morrows and believe you me they are all top of their respective classes. Way to go!

At the women centre all is well too! The centre runs to perfection; the proof: I have heard no complaints! What more should one ask! Over 300 children and 60 women execute a well orchestrated ballet and partake in their set activities in spite of the shortage of space. Kudos to the team!

Our Focus on Quality programme took off with a bang in April 2010 in two centre: Okhla and the women centre. Daily spoken English classes and awareness programmes. The result is for all to see: the children now s-p-e-a-k English even if it is halting and we even performed on stage in English! Plastic bags have almost disappeared. Both centres even have small patches of greenery and the women centre a small kitchen garden. At the women centre composting is on in a big way and all water is recycled and Saturday is hand washing day!

An eventful year isn’t it? But there is more. Ruby a young girl who had joined pwhy in class IV is now a secondary teacher at our Okhla centre and a small survey of the whereabouts of our alumni revealed that many of them were now gainfully employed in good jobs and earning handsome salaries. Many had thus broken the cycle of poverty in which they were born. Were we justified in giving ourselves a pat on our backs. Maybe not as there was so much more to do.

In 2010 we got 100 children admitted to mainstream school in consonance with our initial mission: arrest drop out rates! This is always something that fills us with great joy and pride. So all in all on the academic front we did not fare too badly.

The special kids were also spot on! As always they filled the space with their laughter and abundant energy reminding us that life is worth living no matter what the challenge be. Manu, Champa and Anjali were impeccable roomies who are slowly mastering the art of living together and complementing each other and this winter they were joined by Radha whose brittle bones could not have withstood the cold and dampness of a slum tenement. This brought to light once again the need of seeding planet why that would give such children a safe and enabling home.

Yes Planet Why is still the big dream we seek, the one that will ensure that pwhy survives the test of time. 2010 was a year where plans were refined, costings reworked, feasibility studies undertaken and new proposals drafted. We are now ready to launch our donation drive and have set 2011 to do just that. We hope that the God of Lesser beings will be on our side.

Yes, we have come of age. Now it is imperative to think of the future and consolidate what we have achieved. That is the challenge that awaits us in 2011!

Any belief worth having must survive doubt

Any belief worth having must survive doubt

Doubt is uncomfortable, certainty is ridiculous.” wrote Voltaire. For the past week or more my pen has been silent, the words frozen in a tired mind. I guess this happened after the 3 D pictures of planet why landed way, bringing a strange inevitability to what had been a cherished dream for more than five years. Where I should have been jumping with joy I instead found myself ridden with doubt and apprehensions. Where I should have been furiously composing mails, blogs and proposals heralding to one and all that we were finally there, I found myself turning strangely uncommunicative and mute. Where I should have been passionately polishing and sprucing up my good old virtual begging bowl and seeking the much needed funds, I found myself reluctant and even unwilling to retrieve it from where it lay dusty and almost forgotten. Something was terribly wrong, this time not with the world but with me.

Was this not the moment I had waited for for ever so long. Was not planet why just a moment away? Had not everything finally fallen in place? Then why was I ridden with doubt. Was pwhy’s sustainability not the one and only thing I had wanted from the day the journey began? Then why was I suddenly voiceless. It was time to soul search. I must admit that I was at a complete loss and did not know what to do and where to start. It was time to call up on the Cartesian mind I always took pride in and analyze the situation.

Planet why was undoubtedly what I wanted then why was I running scared? Was it the sheer size of the images that had landed my way that filled me with fear. True I had never imagined it to be so. Was it that they did not quite fit with what pwhy stood for till now: reclaimed pig parks and garbage dumps, road sides and street corners, kerchief sized and windowless rooms. Was my dream tinged with a hubris I had not been aware of. Was a huge building needed to protect the spirit of pwhy? Or to put it another way was pwhy’s spirit large enough for such a structure. Was there a disconnect I had not been aware of whilst building my dream?It was time to find out and I did not quite know how.

That is when once again the God of Lesser beings came to my rescue, though I did not quite realise it at first. Not knowing what to do to deal with a restlessness I could not share with anyone as I would have seemed nothing short of foolish, I decided to download all my blogs and read them again chronologically. I looked for ways of doing it rapidly but not finding any – and thank heavens I did not – I set about the task of copy pasting each one individually, all one thousand one hundred and sixty six of them. And as I did, pwhy came alive in front of my bewildered eyes. I was spellbound as I read each one of them. It was a treat of all the senses.

The story began five years ago when my pen was still somewhat hesitant and naive. I found I had recorded every little moment of pwhy and though it may seem to some as extremely wide-eyed, it truly reflected the spirit of pwhy where nothing is too small or too inconsequential. Every lopsided smile was worth recording, every seemingly meaningless tear merited to be addressed. And I did with all my heart. There was anger too, at things that did not seem right but it was somewhat guileless. Every tiny achievement was recorded and celebrated and carefully logged.

As I read on I discovered how I slowly found my voice. It was strangely comforting as I had often been one to remain silent. But somehow pwhy has empowered me to start reacting and venting my feelings even though in a barely audible way. Laced in between everyday occurrences were hints of concern be it about the girl plight child, the state of education for the poor, or the precarious nature of slums. Even five years ago these had been felt and expressed. And today many were vindicated in more ways than one. Over time my voice had become louder and my words more and more mordant. Wonder why? A question I need to answer some day.

But the one thing that is woven like a leitmotiv in a Wagnerian opera right from the very first blog is my fear of the future, my angst about what would become of planet why after my exit and that is why ever so often there are references to the elusive sustainability of pwhy. But then I did not know at what price it would ultimately come and how alien it would be from what we stood for. Or was it? What where we really trying to sustain. Was it worth the tag? I needed to read more.

I spend the next few days reading he 1000 odd pages. I was pleasantly surprised at the fact that it was in no way tedious or boring. Neither was it the normally annoying drag of rereading what one has written. Far from that; at times I got so engrossed that I even forgot that I was its author! As I read page after page, the last five years of pwhy came alive in front of my curious eyes. So many things that had been forgotten along the way: the plethora of human and humane stories that brought a smile on the face; the indomitable spirit of blessed like souls like Manu or Nanhe who gave a total new meaning to life; the simple yet cogent answers to complex issues mouthed by innocent children when God simply becomes Boman (Bhagwan pronounced by a two year old) and makes you wonder whether he is not simply that a beau-Man! The list is endless, each instance confirming in its own special way that we must have been doing something right. Then interspersed in between are the concerns and disquiets be it about the plight of children in general or the girl child in particular, about education and habitat for the poor, about new feudal masters and so on and the often implied need to try and do something.

This post is not meant to be a synopsis of a thousand and more blogs. I it is simply an exercisein soul searching meant to validate a belief: the belief that pwhy is worth fighting for, that no tag is too large when it comes to giving special children the right to live and die with dignity; when it comes to helping a few hundred children build a better future, when it comes to empowering people everyone had given up on to take hold of their lives.

It is time for me to walk the talk; to jolt myself out of this false comfort zone I am sinking and to fight the last battle to the very end.

Any belief worth having must survive doubt”. I guess mine has. So help me God!

an apologia for a dream

an apologia for a dream

The 3 D images of planet why truly gave substance to a long time dream and brought in a new set of apprehensions and nerves. What till now was a sedate yearning tucked away in the recesses of one’s mind suddenly sprung to life. Dreams were becoming reality and it was scary.

Many found the images amazing and wonderful and the kudos came pouring. In the midst of it all came a much needed dampener: would the idea work at all. I normally would have pooh poohed the note of caution as I often had in the past when planet why still lived in the realm of dreams but not now. I had to listen to all voices. Particularly today when we were a step away from realising a dream. It was perhaps the last chance one had to review things calmly and dispassionately before it was too late. So no matter how difficult and wearisome, it was time once again to write an apologia for planet why.

So what is planet why and why should it see the light of day? That is the question. Right from the outset planet why addressed two almost existential questions that had been plaguing us at pwhy. The first one was humane and concerned the plight of our very special children and young adults. These were the handful of lost souls that had been guided to the portals of pwhy by an unseen hand. We all knew that they needed to be cared till the end of their lives and thus was seeded the idea of a residential programme that had to outlive those who steered pwhy. Planet why was thus born. The second question was more materialistic in nature and addressed the issue of the autonomy of project why and its ability to raise its own resources. Planet why would also be a guest house that would generate funds and thus support not only the residential programme but the rest of pwhy’s initiatives.

It is easy to vindicate the first question as everyone would agree that our special children deserve but the best and keeping in mind the realities prevailing in India we know that they need life long care and the chance to live and die with dignity. Planet why would ensure just that. The second one, the sustainability of project why, is perhaps a little more difficult to defend. Some may contend that it borders on hubris. Many successful ventures close when time comes and why should it not be the case with pwhy. Others may profess that the price tag of planet why is too huge to be justified and that there may be other ways to ensure sustainability. The more cynical ones would argue that nothing needs to be perennial, and that wisdom lies in knowing that.

I will try and address each of these issues. There is no misplaced ego in wanting pwhy to live beyond me. I admit that the idea of seeing it all dwindle and fade away is difficult to accept but that in no way is the reason to seed planet why. I have often been asked what would happen to pwhy after I exit this world and the thought has kept me awake many nights. And not for any hubristic reason at all. My fears have been for those who depend on us in toto be it Manu and his friends who might find themselves on the street or the eight little souls who study in boarding school and still have a long way to go. What would happen to them? They need to be secured and planet why is for them. One could rebut this by saying that there may be other less expensive ways to do that. Touché! Yes there are. One could for instance create a corpus fund the interest of which would pay for the needs of these children. But somehow that defeats the very spirit of pwhy. Let me elucidate.

Pwhy was set up to create a model that could be replicated. One of its main mission was to empower local communities to not only steer the education of their children but also take hold of their lives and destinies. We did succeed in a certain manner as all pwhy staff is from the community. The one area however where we were left wanting was undoubtedly fund raising. All our attempts failed or at best fell very short of the targets be it our one rupee programme, our varied sales of products or our sole attempt at running a raffle. Till date fund raising remained in one hand and skills that could not be transferred. The real litmus test was to find a way that could be successfully handed over to the team. When the idea of planet why was first mooted it seemed to be one that could be steered by our team and that is why we decided to explore it further. Running a business is definitely something that can be taught.

But that is not all. Over the past years we have come to realise that imparting education, no matter how efficiently is not sufficient to change the morrows of slum children. While a small percentage of our kids move on to higher studies, the vast majority is unable to do so keeping in mind the present education scenario where either very high marks or large sums of money gives you access to higher education. A simple school leaving certificate with average marks does not get you anywhere. The need for going further was felt by one and all. Planet why could answer that need as it would provide a platform for training our kids in a host of vocational skills thus enabling them to access employment. Not only would be able to train our alumni in hospitality and related activities, but having our own space would allow us to run training workshops in many other fields. This was indeed very tempting.

So as you see planet why has been a well thought idea that aims to cover more than one issues. From providing a dignified life to those forsaken by all to ensuring that eight children complete their education and prove themselves; from ensuring that 500 children complete their schooling to allowing them to learn skills that would ensure their gainful employment, and above all giving to have to those who have steered pwhy till now the chance to show beyond doubt that they are able to run a business successfully.

Two points still need to be addressed to make this apologia honest. The doubt raised was: would it work? Or in other words does the idea make sound business sense. This was indeed our worry and we decided to take a professional approach to the question. With quivering hearts we handed over our busines proposal to world class consultants for a feasibility study. The conclusion is for all to see: In our opinion, the proposed development at Planet Why is a lucrative and financially feasible and one which would be able to generate much higher returns than are typically found in guest houses operating across Delhi.

The last slightly uncomfortable question that needs to be asked as it is one that is in every one’s mind is whether the project is worth the cost that will need to be incurred. May I simply state that the cost of planet why equals what is needed to run pwhy for 5 years and will allow the work to continue for times to come. Is that not reason enough.

now put the foundations under them

now put the foundations under them

Yesterday evening, our architect delivered the first 3 D representation of planet why! I must admit that I was floored. Over the past 3 years I had conjured many images of planet why. At that time it had been a piece of barren land that held unimaginable promises. I would close my eyes and see it come to life. I must admit that what I saw were the smiles of my special children, what I heard was their laughter and what I experienced was pure joy. The building remained elusive. I am no builder. Yet when I gave my brief to our wonderful architect I tried to pour out my heart. But no matter how hard I tried I never saw planet why!

So imagine my excitement as I waited for the file to download yesterday and my delight when I finally saw planet why come to life, albeit yet on a screen. My eyes filled with tears of joy. I was watching the morrows of project why as if and when this building came to life, my children would be safe and I would be able to go in peace. My promise to Manu would have been fulfilled.

I was reminded of Henry Thoreau ‘s words: If you build castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them. It was time to do just that.