March 8th was International Women’s Day. It was also the day I was asked by my friend Damyanti to do a Live on Facebook and share the story of the women of Project Why, the women who had inspired it, helped set it up, run it and manage it. I must admit that I had never truly given a thought to the role of women in Project Why. It had always been an education programme for children!
I was very nervous about going live. Till date I had been interviewed on camera and even ‘talked’ about Project Why in front of an audience, but it had always been known ground. Going Live on a social media platform was nothing short of daunting. And that too on Women’s day which meant that the discourse had to be different. Simply talking about our skilling programmes for women was far from enough.
I sat with my thinking cap on and took a walk down memory lane trying to see what role women had played in enabling Project Why. It is then that it struck me that actually Project Why was inspired by the life of one woman, Kamala, my mother, whose life and spirit imbues every aspect of the work of the last two decades. That it is education that I chose to make its centrepiece, came from the importance Kamala gave to education and the way she fought to get an education for herself. That I decided to select a staff of women from the community, came from her fight for women’s rights and her belief that every woman had the right to make her own choices. That I am my mother’s daughter is validated by Project Why!
Project Why is steered primarily by women, women no one believed in, women no one would have given a second thought to. It is such women that run it today. Every single one has walked that extra mile and proved her worth in more ways than one. They have guided me and counselled me and stood by be at every step. Just like Kamala, I believed in them and felt that I had to help them find their voice and make their own choices.
Today almost 40 women run Project Why. Thousands have been skilled and become financially independent. Thousands of girls have entered its portal and left as determined young women who would live their dreams and become equal partners and super moms.
This is the story I would share on the famous Live, I decided.
Easier said than done. For the next days I tried to write a script but was unable to as I sounded flat. I wrote some points and walked around the house rehearsing what I would say but mumbled and fumbled. I slept fitfully and was up before dawn on that morning. When faced with the camera I almost froze and the first lines sounded terrible but then I do not know what happened. I think it was Kamala’s spirit that took over and I shared my story from deep within my heart and the words flowed with ease. It was soon over and I was told it had gone well. For me it had been an incredible experience: that of my sharing my life with the world. I felt humbled.
Today Project Why is at crossroads, its future in peril. If I am unable to find funding, part of it may shut down. I know I have to once again draw strength from the spirit of Kamala and do everything I can to save it.
I owe it to her, I owe it everyone woman who has reposed their faith in me.
If you’ve read so far, please consider making a small donation to the Project WHY Okhla school established by Pushpa and Sophiya, whose quiet perseverance not just established the school, but help run it today.