serious musings

One of the devious ways to disrupt pwhy in the (mistaken) hope of wishing it away that local politicos have adopted is to first get some simple minded staff to commit a serious lapse that forces us to take action and then edge that person to take us to labour court.

This often makes many friends and detractors question my decision of employing people from the community. And each time I find myself wondering whether that very stubborn and intuitive decision needs to be reviewed.

There are many reasons for my decision ranging from giving employment, raising social status to ensuring sustainability if and when slums are relocated.

But the incident with babli took care of the last vestige of doubt, if any. No matter how much we help people, there is no guarantee that they will continue to follow the course charted for them. The only way to ensure that children remain in school, are not used and abused, and so on is to have your own staff right there almost 24/7.

Babli is now back in school in the morning and at pwhy okhla in the afternoon and many hawk eyes now ensure that this continues.

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micro reflection of a macro reality

Strange that something I have always held as true is validated time and again, even when you pray that this one time one should be proved wrong.

When we set out to establish a model for education support in order to contain drop out rates, we wanted to evolve one that could be replicated and one that whit stood the test of time and space. Hence our decision to select local resources both human and material. Now if we were to go by school results as the only criteria of success, then we have been successful. But that is not enough as statistics published last week state that 100 000 children between 6 and 10 years of age are not in school in Delhi alone.

Were there many little clones of pwhy in all areas where we these kids are, than maybe things would be different. But that entails an in-built sustainability and that is where we have not done as well. Our efforts to seed and nurture the one-rupee programme has been a non starter.

My firm conviction that this is the ultimate weapon that would free children remains stubbornly in my mind. What seems to be the problem is our lack of competence in packaging and marketing the idea.

So I thought the time had come for a debriefing and the first step was to cross-examine myself. There are many things that happened along these six years that I could not have imagined. One is our frequent trysts with the labour courts and the other is the extremely passive attitude of some of our staff who refuse to take things in their hand and content themselves with doing what they think is their duty leaving me to raise funds for their ‘salaries‘! If many funders have been honest enough to ask what would happen after me, the staff members have not.

The fault is not with them; the fault lies in India’s reality where any social grouping is the reflection of the macro reality. What is good for the gander.. says the proverb. So all societal ills are very much part of our work, the ones that prevail across India, and the ones that are particular to Delhi. Divisive forces ready to play the caste/creed game, the sarkari (government) job syndrome which means goes by the credo: minimum work and maximum cribbing, the lack of motivation to take challenges and the plethora of dubious well wishers waiting to pounce of soft targets like us with the vilest accusations.

To be able to fine tune pwhy as a model, it has become imperative to take some tough steps in order to be able to turn the equation and make people want and seek our presence, be it parents or staff members.

The innumerable problems that plague India will not find a solution if they are addressed from the top only. It is only when things change at the micro level that programmes will percolate down and reach out the true beneficiaries. In the present scenario what is meant for the poor cleverly and insidiously hijacked..

It is time for some plain talking at pwhy, even if it means starting again, the difference being that this time all programmes will be initiated by the beneficiaries and nurtured by them.

I have resisted this many times, be it my ego, or my reticence that I had been wrong, or my innate and candid faith in the goodness of all beings, or my incapacity to assess the deviousness of my detractors, or my belief that my ways would prevail. I do not know.

Today I realise that, I too was a reflection or the macro reality, and that what was needed was to turn the tables.

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intuition to validation

The bete noire of any not-for-profit organisation is undoubtedly its sustainability particularly if one views such work as having a duration in space and time. Education above all does not make any sense if its temporality is limited to the ‘bon vouloir’ of funding agencies.

This is one of the reason that we, from day one, shunned instructional sources of funding as they are far too often linked to too many ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’. We preferred a far larger funding group namely individuals.

I cannot even remember when I first thought of the one-rupee-a-day option, but in spite of its Herculean administrative hassles, it intuitively felt right from the instant it sprung in my mind.

Then like so many of us, I got swayed by others and the ideas that they mooted ad nauseam. As everyone seemed to view my idea with an array of negative reasons ranging from doubts about its difficult execution to cynical remarks about its every essence I played along and began our quest for sustainability which burnt a huge hole in our tiny resources and covered a range of activities: paper and jute bags, costume jewels, nutritive biscuits, baby clothes, bio-diesel plant nurseries, soaps, chocolates.. the list is endless and met with as many obstacles: lack of adequate outlets, competition that one could not meet, licence and permit raj but above all the total refusal of people to give up their salary syndrome, something that I believe is particular to Delhi.

Somehow when people set foot in India’s capital city – @ of over 600 a day says recent statistics, they somehow feel they earned the right to the elusive government job. I can cite countless instances of simple people having paid unfathomable sums to touts to get them a government job. Wonder how rich they and self sufficient they could have become had they invested that amount in something as simple as a chai shop. So it becomes impossible to get people to shed that attitude and take their lives in their own hands. Now basing our sustainability on such efforts, was a recipe for disaster as we learnt the hard but necessary way.

So we are back to square 1 and to the magic number 1 as this is the only way we can flip the existing equation. I have always held that development and change will come from the bottom when every one is aware of his/her responsibility in the democratic and civic process. As long as we carry on dispersing hand outs things cannot change as the process entails immobility: the giver gives and the recipient takes.

We have seen in the recent past many things move when people got involved albeit thanks to the oh so powerful media. A rupee a day gives everyone the possibility of altering his/her status irrespective of caste, creed, or economic background and of taking an active part in change.

It is a uphill task, one that will take time as we move with baby steps. But it is the only one that will esnure duration and multiplication. Till then we will need support and we hope that it will be in the form of 1 rupee donors so that we can evolve a strategy and put it to test.

In her second novel, Leonora Miano a writer from Cameroun talks about women taking charge of their own destiny, as this activist writer strongly believes that the new tomorrow will dawn on her continent only when Africans themselves take charge. This is a lesson that transcends continents, one I hope we learn soon.

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up, up and away…. another b & b

up, up and away…. another b & b

Wonder what mr p. is thinking as he climbs the steps to a temple he decided to visit on his monthly day out.

This is the same kid who should not have been around had all things remained as they were in the life he was born to live. So what is it that altered his life? A simple question with a multitude of answers starting with the now jaded and tired karma. From a boiling pan to a boarding school has been a quantum B&B leap.

Everywhere around us with fashionable and compulsive regularity people talk about the need to change things, build a better tomorrow, save children, impart education. The list goes on ad nauseam and often stops there: a string of words that often end with a cynical shrug at the numbers.

And yet if even an infinitesimal percentage of these well meaning should make the effort to translate their words into action, the change would be huge. What one should understand is that even one life saved or changed or even touched carries within it a ripple effect no one can stop.

That has been our philosophy all along and I can say that our success has been far greater than expected and heartwarming. The problems encountered have strangely and unfortunately come from the very people who master the art of juggling words and expounding on the need to change things. They have the power to do so, and it would not take them much. All we ask them to do is to dip in their pocket and give us one coin each day, but we have learnt that the coin in question is very elusive.

One of the stumbling blocks of organisations trying to work at the grassroots has been sustainability, which translates into the act of finding that elusive coin. Somehow between the thought and action lie a host of obstacles that can all be bundled into one word: mistrust. I do agree that present NGO sector is replete with dubious organisations, but among those lie some who do reach out and transform lives.

The reason why we thought of seeking a-rupee-a-day donors was based on the prevailing scenario in the hope that people would agree to set that mistrust aside as the amount sought was almost invisible. We still hope to be able to do it but at the same time we are aware that the ultimate power of change lies within the beneficiary group and that is and has been our ultimate goalpost, or to say it in other words the high road.

One has to however realise that this will take time and were we not to survive that the whole exercise would come to naught.

We will not give up, but this i a road we cannot walk alone, i hope someone is hearing?

apocalypse why….

Many a times I have wondered why funders are reluctant to fund running costs and staff honoraria.. I always felt it was because administation costs were heavy; to my mind project why did not fit the picture, as our salaries went to the slum people and above all we were creating new job opportunities..

I got my answer when a net friend visited pwhy recently and elucidated the matter. She heads a small employee funding group within a large organisation and has been engaged in helping out development work in many countries. She told me that at the outset they had funded running costs, and even though they had been assured that it was for a limited time, they had actually found themselves doing this year after year as there was always a valid reason and one does not leave children in the lurch. She added :” they just became dependant on us”.

For me it was like the dropping of the proverbial penny!

The glove fitted.. was this not what was happening to us, where many of the pwhy team were sinking into a false comfort zone, and some of us were seeking help over and over again saying that this would be the last time!

It would be untrue and unfair to say that we did not try ways to sustain our activities. Over the past years we have like many other NGOs made our share of candles, paper bags, jewels, jute bags, recycled paper copy books.. but in a saturated market we were not able to go beyond a few ‘pity’ sales!

We realised that unless a local market within the community was found, such efforts would not be suficient to sustain project why’s activities.

We were aware that the funding solution had to be found within and that is how the one-rupee idea took seed. A quick calculation of the number of dwellings that surround us – mostly middle class homes- showed us that a simple rupee a day frome each one of them would see us through.. but then someone had to walk up the stairs and knock at doors…

The problem lies elsewhere.. we can go on harping on the lack of concern and heart of the rich around us, but we cannot close our eyes to another factor which contributes to our lack of success: I will simply call it the government job syndrome and it ails most of the slum work force.

The same people who toiled in the fields and in their homes from dawn to dusk in their villages, feel that once they reach urban lights they have earned the right to get a salary without any effort or commitment..

One of the reasons I guess that has delayed the real take off of the 0ne-rupee-a-day campaign is this passive and non-productive attitude.. there are some people who have realised the futility of such an attitude and that is why the secondary section is almost self-sustainable.. but that is not the case with all..

So what does one do, carry on bringing doses of oxygen with the dangers of having sources – however friendly and supportive – die out, or take an extreme action, just like the one a sensible parent would take with a child who has set on a wrong course.

In our situation it would be to stop all activities unless all beneficiaries – staff and parents – do their bit.. Let us say bring 50% of the ressources in cash or kind..

It is not an easy thing to do– just as it is not easy to throw a child out in the cold to teach him how to deal with life.. but it seems more and more likely that this is the only way left..

What is left to be decided is when…

what’s buzzing on planet why

what’s buzzing on planet why

Today was a great day on planet why…

After much activity we finally got our first in house cloth bag … yes truly in house.. stitched by our very special kids under the hawk eye of their stitching teacher and printed on in our own in house printing unit…

Yes we have our screens, the lay out was done in our computer centre by our very own Mithu and then the printing was done under the suprevision of Dharmendra who heads our sustainability programme..

The message simply says:

project why children say No to plastic bags, and so do I..

they will soon be on sale and we can even add the company’s name or the buyers name or any other message. the bags are lightweight and can be folded and slipped into pockets or even tucked into the tiniest of bags. we hope they will help in containing the plastic menace that is now taking on alarming proportions.. and will go a long way in giving our special kids they social dignity they deserve

we also hope that all our friends will help us market these in a large way and will also come up with new suggestions to make this a great success

for further information mail shamika at