Our recent efforts to bring about qualitative change in our work call for some modifications and adjustment in our functioning and one of them is the transfer of some staff from one location to another. This of course has met with some resentment. Last week one disgruntled teacher came to my office stating that he would not accept any move. I must admit that in his case the change was rather drastic as his centre - the junior secondary - was being relocated to Okhla. His attitude was childish as he simply stated that he would rather be thrown out than move.
At first I was angry but controlled myself and asked him to give me a reason. The one he proffered was flimsy and unconvincing: I get sick in Okhla was what he said. It is true that he had been teaching in Okhla some years back, when the conditions there were not salubrious but since things had changed and Okhla was today by far one of our most vibrant centres. I knew that this was not the real reason so I prodded some more and out came the real issue: a salary raise!
This was the trigger needed to unleash feelings that I had tried to keep in check for far too long. It was time to let it all out. I simply told him that I was aware of all the reasons necessitating a salary increase not just for him but for all my staff. But I also added that he and all the staff had never bothered to understand how pwhy was funded and had over the years almost contemptuously discarded all the valiant and feeble attempts I had made to try and generate funds to enable us to become sustainable. The reality was that the only source of funding we had came through pa(e)nhandling and that the only one who held out the beggar bowl was me! I had done it for over a decade and quite successfully! And at each and every moment I had been painfully aware of the fragility of our funding model that depended solely on an rapidly ageing woman.
I had oft repeated these words but they always fell on deaf ears. No one was willing or ready to hear them. I had also mooted innumerable funding ideas that all fell short as again no one was willing to give them their hundred percent. The very ambitious one rupee programme that I believed, and still do, to be eminently doable as it required no special gift or skill, was pooh poohed away. My team found it infradig to solicit help, and the mere idea of rejection was anathema to them. Our weak attempts to market things be it recycled copy books or soap made from home milled pongamia oil landed us at the labour court courtesy some disgruntled staff. The stories are endless but the outcome the same: we never moved to another funding option.
Somewhere along the way came the idea of planet why and though the figures were mind boggling and the idea almost preposterous, we barely managed to keep afloat and here I was dreaming of something that cost more than 1o years of pwhy, I intuitively knew it was the only way I could ensure pwhy's life beyond mine. And I held on to it with passion. Slowly friends and supporters came around and what once looked outrageous starting making sense. Today many not only believe in the idea but have come forward to extend help and support. For me it has become my raison d'etre and a befitting swansong. But to see it happen requires me to give it all my time and energy and thus be freed of having to raise any additional funds for pwhy. Hence the words raise my salary were, to say the least, most inopportune! I tried once again to convey all this in the best manner possible to the one who sat in front of me but I saw I was getting nowhere. It seemed everyone and everything was stuck in a inescapable loop. I needed to find the way out.
My mind travelled back to the time when we first began and when I doggedly decided to only employ staff from the slums. It was not simply a matter of creating honourable jobs for those who could not never aspire to them - the woman stuck in a home in spite of her long years in school and good results, the young migrant armed with a useless degree and an alien accent-! It was more than that. Would it not be extraordinary if these marginalised people could be empowered to one day take over the task and become leaders in their own way. And one strived towards that, carefully and painstakingly imparting the needed skills. I must admit that whereas each one of them rose to the occasion and became great teachers, I was never truly able to get them to take the one step needed to set them free by finding their own resources. There are many reasons for this: the fright of stepping out of a comfort zone, the reluctance to get out and seek help from others, or was it simply that they thought that funds came easy and were perennial.
It was time to spell out a few more things. I asked the teacher sitting in front of me whether he really knew how we were funded and what kind of persons send us money? As luck would have it K, a volunteer and also one of our supporters was in the office. K is a young man who lives in the UK and works in a company. He also moonlights as a DJ. The money he gets as a DJ is carefully set aside and sent to pwhy. I pointed this out to my teacher and asked me whether I really could ask a person like K to send me more simply because my staff felt they needed more. And it was people like young K who were the backbone of pwhy. Was it not time to prove to all our wonderful funders that we were empowered enough to fly with our own wings. So if the teacher did not want to move to Okhla, there was an option available: set himself up and run his own secondary support classes. We would help him in the initial stages, but it would be his enterprise and he would have to ultimately run it independently. The choice was his and the sky was the limit. In his present state he could just hope for a marginal increase that would not really make any difference.
I had said my bit. As usual the teacher has not uttered a word. I asked him to think about matters and get back to me. I know he will ultimately accept to move. The other option is still too scary. But a see has been sown and I hope it will bear fruits sooner than later.