Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Numbers Perspective #GivingTuesday # India

Secondary Class at Project Why
The Numbers Perspective! Sounds like a title of a Robert Ludlum thriller doesn't it? Come to think of it is is a thriller in its own right: the numbers referred to are the (ill)famed marks that a student secures in her or his class XII examination. They will the chart the child's entire future.

The dreaded results are out and once again we are caught in the dilemma of whether to celebrate or not. The topper this year got a whopping 99.04 % with 100% in two subjects.  Just like Project Why children, she is from Delhi but that is where the comparison ends. According to her dad the reason behind her success is that she did not miss a single class and has not taken a single holiday for TWO YEARS not to forget intensive coaching and a supportive family. And that is not all, the candidate she beat by 0.1 % candidly admitted on TV that she had learned every line of every school book by heart!

Project Why children too have cleared their Boards with success, with the top percentage being Kapil with his whopping 92%!  That is a real feat when you live in a tiny hovel, have a drunk parent who disrupts your studying, a TV blaring around you, only 2 short hours at Project Why in the name of coaching and illiterate parents who rather than supporting your efforts tend to undermine them. In these circumstances the 92 % beats the highest  of marks. So we at Project Why are celebrating big time!

Nevertheless we cannot ignore the reality that stares at us. With 99.04% as the benchmark, the cut off marks for admission in State run and thus affordable universities will hit the sky and children from Project Why will not make the cut. Though there are some seats reserved for sports and creative pursuits, once again our children miss the opportunity as their schools and families cannot help them excel. Private universities are unaffordable and so the options are few: evening classes or distance learning. In most cases they need to work to pay for their studies. Two of our old students teach at Project Why so that they can continue their studies.

This was not always the case. One upon a time, and yes it does sound like a fairy tale now, toppers were in the sixty percentile. What that meant was that the difference between the topper and the  student with the lowest marks would be about 30+%. Today the pass percentage of 33% remains unchanged so the difference becomes a whopping 66%. There is something terribly wrong.

Exams earlier had questions that demanded reasoning and thinking like the dreaded precis in English and numerous essay type questions in other subjects. Getting 100% was quasi impossible. Over the years the evaluation yardstick changed and the result was that children belonging to underprivileged homes quietly dropped out of the net of higher education.

This is a worrying situation as many students who are thus denied the opportunity to study could have accessed avenues now closed to them and  excelled. It is time decision makers looked at this problem seriously otherwise education for all becomes devoid of meaning.

To put things in a different perspective the topper of the prestigious IAS (Indian Administrative Service) was declared last week. The topper 52.49 %.

Need we say more.



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He who opens a school door, closes a prison #GivingTuesday #India


He who opens a school door, closes a prison.
Victor Hugo


The little beds in this picture take us back to a childhood fairy tale where a little girl 'dared' to  sleep on a bed only to be chased away by a family of bears. The Project Why fairy tale is a little different. These little beds are in a boarding school dorm and invite children to make these their own should they aspire to quality education.

All children aspire to quality education; it is also their constitutional right. Sadly for many the aspiration remains a dream rarely fulfilled. In India  for too many children quality education remains inaccessible. What they get is a wasted array of options all falling short, particularly for those born on the wrong side of the divide.

At Project Why we attempt to better the education imparted in State run schools to the best of our ability. We do somewhat succeed but are aware of the reality that so much more needs to be done to provide the enabling environment a child needs to bloom.

Amidst all our programmes there is a tiny one that ticks all the boxes. Seven children are being quietly educated in a boarding school on the outskirts of Delhi.

Many have been skeptical and even critical of this programme that sounds elitist and out of sync with the approach Project Why believes in. That is not quite the case.

Project Why is a firm believer in the neighbourhood state run school attended by children from diverse social strata. That was true once but over the years the advent and mushrooming of private schools that profess to teach English has seen the migration of many children till what is left in state run schools are the poorest of the poor. State run schools are no more level playing fields.

Yet the belief that children from the poorest homes can excel if given the right environment is something that Project Why believes in. When unforeseen and perilous circumstances arose and a child was in need of a safe environment, it was time to put theories to test and begin our boarding school programme, the best option to secure a enabling environment for a underprivileged child. Six others would follow.

The other question often posed, one that is ethical, was how was the selection of children made and why one and not the other. The answer to this question is that it was circumstances that led to the choice: two third degree burn survivors with dysfunctional homes; a young girl whose heart surgery was sponsored by Project Why and who instead of being in school was found working; a child who was adopted then abandoned. All were children who were at the risk of being exploited and abused.

This may not be a satisfying answer as there are millions of children in the same situation.

The only answer that can be given is that these kids were chosen by someone we like calling the God of  Lesser Beings and we were His instrument.

When you see the pictures below, you will realise that some of these kids have been with us for many years, since when they were tiny. Their destiny was linked to that of Project Why. Once we held their hands there was no going back.





Saturday, May 21, 2016

Sadafulee so that Project Why children bloom



Her name is Kashmira. She lives in the US and though she has never visited Project Why in person, she had been one of its staunchest supporters. She has walked into Project Why's heart through a screen! Over the years she has supported our work financially, but more than that, her words of encouragement and love are sent before we ask for them, as if she knew intuitively that they were needed.  The precious time she devotes to our children makes her so special.


A few years back she informed us about  a jewelry crafting initiative,that she named Sadafulee - ever blooming - that she set for helping our kids. With every pearl she threaded and every knot Kashmira tied she wove dreams for little children she had never met. As she put it so well: "This venture comes from my passion for art and for helping underprivileged children. I plan to donate most of the proceeds from this store to a charity working with slum children in India. I am hoping the universe will help me grow this store to help the children to "always bloom"!

Recently when funds were needed to help Manisha get an artificial arm she was the first to take on the challenge and managed to raise much more than what was needed.

When funds were needed to help a desperate kid she decided to revive Sadafulee. Her absolutely stunning pieces are available through her Facebook Page.

We have no words to express our gratitude and love to Kashmira. The only way we can do it is by continuing the work we do with renewed commitment and energy

Thank you for being there for us, Kashmira

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Thursday, May 19, 2016

Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much #ThrowbackThursday


"Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”

  Helen Keller

 How true these words are and Project Why is a proof of this. It was in very early days that Anou decided to source 100% of her team from within the community. The decision was instinctive. What was available were women with unfinished educations often due to early marriages, men who had obtained degrees from other states and could not find employment, and people in desperate conditions where a job, however small, meant food on the table. That is where most of Project Why's team comes from.

In early days there were many doomsayers who believed that this experience would be a disaster and Project Why would have to walk the trodden path. But Project Why stuck to our guns and never looked back.

Project Why's maverick team rose to meet expectations and performed with commitment, motivation and passion. These are the qualities that stand out and that are not to be found in people coming from the outside. For many, working at Project Why meant giving children the opportunities they never had. That is not all: being from the community they understand the needs and the solutions they offer are appropriate and work. They have allowed Project Why to truly address the real needs of the children.

Moreover we have a team that stays and those who left did for real reasons: relocation, marriage and in a few cases a better job- something we celebrate. Some left to start their own organisations. To be applauded!


n many cases Project Why has allowed many to climb a few rungs of the social ladder. As one staff member who is now married and a mom, told us, though she could get a better paid job in a factory, being called Ma'am on the street by her students and their parents is an honor and worth the lower salary.

Project Why has also prompted many of our staff, mostly women, to complete their unfinished studies. We are very proud of all of them. Some children who have been with us since early years are now teachers at Project Why. We have come a long way.
True, there are some challenges, mostly because all staff members have a very emotional tie to Project Why. Project Why stands with them all the way and it is this that makes the Project Why team formidable and invincible.



We invite you to meet them.


Do you have


Do you haveany words of encouragement for our staff?





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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

BEIRUT CALLING #GivingTuesday #India


It has been International Month at Project Why.  First we had visitors from France, then from Japan and now hold your breath… from Lebanon!  A group of twenty young girls from the American Community School: Beirut came to visit Project Why shepherded by our dear friend Chris of Hands Up Holidays. It was truly special to have visitors from a part of the world that has ben torn by war for so long.

As their arrival was delayed ,the visit was limited to the Okhla Centre. In spite of the terrible heat twenty sparkling smiles walked in. Soon the place was filled with palpable vibes. After a short introduction the girls proceeded to meet their Indian counterparts. The visitors were all class X and XI students and being afternoon, the secondary girls were on the roof. It did not take long for the two yet unknown worlds to meet and bond.

The girls danced to Bollywood and Arabic music, each one teaching the other their moves amidst laughter and giggles. All barriers were broken; it was just a bunch of young girls having fun together. There would be card and other games and even visits to homes as the Project Why girls wanted to show their Lebanese friends where hey lived.

Time flew. It was soon time to bid farewell with the hope that one would meet again.


Thank you, Chris for this wonderful opportunity


Enjoy some precious moments of this visit






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Thursday, May 12, 2016

One year of the Yamuna centre #ThrowbackThursday


The Project Why Yamuna Centre is one year old! 

A simple look at the smiling faces in the picture is ample proof of the fact that we got it right. Only a little over a year ago Project Why came to know about the existence of the "Yamuna Kids,” a bunch of happy children who run in fields along the river amidst vegetable patches tended by their parents. And this in the middle of the concrete jungle that is Delhi. 

These are children of what is known as agricultural labour who hire these fields from the landlords at a fixed price and then make their living from the vegetables they grow. They are at the mercy of the weather gods; excess rain or extreme weather can destroy the crop. Their homes are made of straw with a plastic sheet for protection. Unlike the rich who can build unabashedly on the flood plains, these people are not allowed a single brick. 

There is no school in the vicinity; in any case their children do not appear in any census and hence do not exist. They used to spend their time helping their parents in the fields, a task they can legally do as the child labour law has recent been amended to make working in the family business ‘legal.' These kids are happy-go-lucky children living in a time warp and a bubble. The question that comes to mind is what is their future? A simple change in building laws could destroy their lives in a jiffy.

Project Why had to intervene but once again what mattered was to find a way to adapt our intervention to the reality of these children. 

An informal day-school was set up and it was decided that children would be taught according to their age and capability as some seemed to have had some non formal teaching. 

The gods conspired to make the Yamuna Centre a reality. Friends and donors pitched in and one even decided to provide a hot lunch to these kids six days a week. The lunch was a huge success. Other friends sponsored a roof, supplies and everything we could possibly need- even a toilet!

It did not take any time for the Centre to function perfectly. The Yamuna kids are probably one of the most eager kids of the Project Why family. The numbers increased till we had to put a stop as there was no space left. Today there are about ninety children studying in the centre.

Anyone coming for the first time will have a difficult time believing that the Centre is just one year old.

These are God's own kids who had never stepped out from their fields. We were surprised to learn that they had never seen India Gate. A few days back our friends from Enfances Indiennes took the children for an outing to INDIA GATE.

The Yamuna Centre is something we are very proud. Our endeavour is to ensure that we guide these children gently into the world, without them losing their deep their deep bond to Mother Nature.


What birthday wishes do you have for our Yamuna Centre?





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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

有難う 御座います Yoshiki San #GivingTuesday


Yoshiki San and Doraemon
Project Why has a Japanese connection. It goes back to 2003 when Naoko  San visited the Project why with  the Japanese Volunteer Group. A connection was made, one that lasts till date.

Thus began a relationship with ladies from the land of Doraemon and a bunch of slum children from India. The ladies would come regularly and spend time with the children teaching them the magic of Japanese craft and culture. In August 2005 we all celebrated the Tanabata festival where every child wrote her of his wish on a bright paper and tied it to the bamboo stems our Japanese friends had bought. The children even learnt a Japanese Song.

For the past year the Japanese Volunteer Group has been a steady and committed support. They have been there for us at every step of the way and meet our needs constantly. Be it a water cooler, a fan, mats for the children to sit on, stationery, sweaters and socks to keep warm in winter, our Japanes friends have always called 'present' to our need. When the Yamuna centre needed a roof, they collected funds and thus provided shelter from the cold and the heat. They also give the children school bags and supplies, school books, uniforms and sweaters.

A few months ago Ayumi San, a member of the group, contacted us and told us her husband's company was willing to help us. Yoshiki San visited the Okhla centre a few weeks ago and it was decided that his company would build a shelter on the roof and provide two callers to beat the heat.

Last week Yoshiki San and his team visited the Centre and spent time with the children.

It was a wonderful morning where again many words met. The Japanese, their Indian colleagues and Project Why. Once again we were touched by the gentle mood that prevailed. Somehow whenever the Japanese come there is never a feeling of rush. Time seems to take on a different pace.

Yoshiko San and his team spent quality time with the Okhla and Yamuna children. We were pleasantly surprised to discover his drawing talent as he produced drawing after drawing of the children's faces. Then it was time for the children to showcase their talent: Sanjay showed his yoga prowess and then the boys performed a stunning dance. Yoshiko San then spoke to the children and gave them wise counsel. He told them to believe in their dreams as dreams come true but for that they needed to study hard and listen to their teachers. The morning ended with a distribution of stationery and cakes.

The guests then moved on to the Yamuna centre. It was lunch time so they decided to serve the lunch. Then it was fun time with more laughter, more sharing and more caring. All barriers were broken as one and all intermingled with ease and joy.

Then it was time for goodbyes and promises to meet again.

So また会いましょう!Yoshiki San, till meet again



Enjoy some of the very special moment of this unforgettable day here:





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Thursday, May 05, 2016

Things never get back to the day they were #ThrowbackThursday


There's no tragedy in life like the death of a child. Things never get back to the way they were wrote Dwight D. Eisenhower.

One of the most difficult moments we have had to face at Project Why was the death of a child. But sadly children die. Over the years we have lost children, too many. Some may live on in the memories of their loved ones, but in poor homes, where life is a battle to survive, grieving is a luxury you may not have. And children rarely get their place on the wall with the customary garland draped on it. According to religious custom they do not even get a decent funeral and are buried on the riverbed with no grave or dumped in the river with a boulder tied to their little wrapped bodies.

We would like to share their tiny life stories in the hope that these become their obituaries.



SONU
Sonu contracted polio at a very young age. His family was very poor and did the best they could which was not much. His legs froze in a sitting position and would remain so. He had to be carried everywhere. He was one of the first students in our Special Class and we loved his gentle ways. He always spoke softly and never wanted to bother anyone. It must have been terrible for him to ask for the help he so needed.  One day he caught a fever that he was unable to recover from. He died in the very fetal position he had braved the world in, without a sound, tiptoeing gently out of this world





ROHAN AND PUJA

Rohan and Puja were two delightful cousins studying in our crèche. One evening they went to the temple next to their home, never to return. A day later one of their shoes was found near an open drain at some distance of their house. The approach to the drain was across a vast expanse of open land dotted with thorny bushes and trees. To reach it you had to cross a busy road that even adults fond difficult to negotiate. The children had definitely been abducted and murdered.

In spite of Project Why’s best efforts, the case was closed and the deaths deemed to be an accident. The life of two tiny slum kids is not worth fighting for.


ARATI

Arati was 3 when she first came to Project Why with her two older siblings. She had lost her mother and her father was a drunk. She lived in a home so tiny that her father who was six feet tall had to sleep with the door open and his feet hanging out.

She joined our crèche and was happy. One summer morning she came to class licking a bright pink candyfloss. She was in good spirits and went to class as usual. Sometime later she felt sick and was vomiting.  We tended to her and she was soon back to her normal self.  Later that night she got high fever and was taken to the local doctor who recommended she be taken to the hospital a good 40 minutes drive away. She never made it.

What killed Arati? The pain of losing her mother, poor nutrition, inadequate care, an abusive father who beat the children mercilessly, the quack unable to treat her, the long drive to the hospital or simply the total lack of love, one we were unable to make up for.

.

RAJANI

Rajani was a special child. She was 11. She was the granddaughter of Tau, the head of the Lohar Camp where we held classes. She was beautiful but was mentally challenged. No one in her clan understood why she could not walk or talk or be like children her age.  Her mother simply left her with her grandmother who spoilt her silly. She was very shy, almost wild. It took a long time to persuade the grandparents to send her to Project Why. She did come and soon began to interact with other children and started learning basic living skills. But God had other plans for her. He took her away one fine morning, leaving us more than a little lost.


ANIL

Anil was born with a congenital heart defect. Every breath he took was an effort and he could barely retain any milk. He needed surgery and we managed to raise the funds but the little soul gave up before we could help him.




SANDHYA

She tiptoed on to our planet quietly almost as if she wanted no one to notice her lest we let her walk into our hearts. She would slink softly behind her loud mother, hiding her face lest you lost yourself in her huge melting eyes. She would sit in a corner patiently waiting for us to finish whatever we were doing. Sandhya knew she was a temporary guest.

Sandhya was what they call a blue or cyanotic baby, where the heart is malformed and the blood deprived of oxygen. Since 1944 a simple surgery called a BT Shunt can repair the damage. For Sandhya's family the cost was exorbitant, but friends pitched in and she was operated upon. However she did not make it. Maybe she knew that hers was not a life worth living in society’s eyes.


SAHEEDA

Saheeda was a beautiful young girl. She was hearing challenged and in a country like India where inclusion is not practiced, she was never able to go to a regular school and build a future. She was one of our students and though sometimes a little stubborn, she was pure delight. She had learnt stitching and was all set to begin a beauty course which would open new doors to her.

We had gotten her a state-of-the-art hearing aid and she was discovering new sounds and learning to speak.

One day she went to the village and contracted fever and was hospitalized but was not getting better. The state of medical facilities in our villages is rather poor. Her family brought her back and admitted her in a hospital in Delhi but it was too late. Once again God had other plans.


NANHE


Nanhe was one of us for six year during which his incredible smile made us forget our worries and woes. He could not speak, barely walked but was able to lighten up the darkest room.

Nanhe was born with a simple mind and a broken body where everything seemed wrong. In his short life he lived with excruciating pain and was subjected to humiliating investigations, painful jabs and uncounted operations. But he never lost his smile.

One may wonder what a little broken soul like Nanhe could mean to us, how a little seemingly useless being could become such an important part of one's life. It is once again a matter of looking with one's heart. Nanhe was undoubtedly an Angel that the God of Lesser Souls sent our way. His message was simple and clear: no matter what, life is still beautiful and no matter how bad it looks, it is still worth a smile. And the little chap lived by the book; even in his worst moments of pain, he never lost his smile. And when you looked at him smiling you suddenly felt uplifted. No matter where and when, in a hospital ward where he lay or in his tiny hovel Nanhe smiled.

Today he smiles in heaven.




SOHAIL
It did not take long for everyone to fall in love with little Sohail, with his huge head, tiny body, shrill voice and incredible smile. He had hydrocephalus, a condition when fluid builds up in the skull and causes the brain to swell and leads to brain damage. Sohail had difficulty in maintaining his balance and walked awkwardly. Yet he loved dancing and would do so leaning against a wall. He was a clever imp!

His parents talked of an operation, actually the placing of a shunt to drain the fluids. This operation was not without risk as it could leave him paralysed. A date was fixed but as is always the case in India, the day given was a year away. In the meantime we began alternative therapies which helped him walk better. We had high hopes.
But that was not to be. A simple fall in his home was all it took for his soul to fly away.




MANU
One death we mourn every day is that of Manu, the challenged beggar who was the reason for Project Why to begin. If there was one meaning to his wretched life, it was to teach us all that no life however miserable is worthless and every life has a mission. His was to set up Project Why. This would take more than two decades of wandering in filth, two decades of being riled and abused, two decades of walking the same beat so as not to miss the moment when that person would come and the two would meet.

Manu would live another decade beyond that tryst. His presence would take care of the faltering steps, the doubts and uncertainties, the moments when giving up seemed an option. All it took to get on course was his smile. Any giving up would be an insult to his life.

One day Manu knew it was time to go. The foundations were strong and the edifice would last. It was time for him to report back to his Maker.

For us it was time to honour his memory and ensure Project Why would endure.

God Bless these little souls. Each one marked our lives and made is better people.

May they Rest in Peace


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