Project Why all-stars

When I first dreamt of project why, in the days when I was still a green horn and did not know the reality, I conjured a lovely and enabling space where slum children could come and spend time after (or before school as even after 65 years of freedom our capital city has not been able to build sufficient schools for its children and thus the same building runs 2 shifts a day) school. I envisioned a place where there would be some tutors to 'help' with the homework and loads of fun and creative activities. Board games, paint and colours, musical instruments, computers and whatever else a growing child and fancies. In hindsight I was a little like Marie Antoinette when she was told about the people not having bread and quipped: Let them eat cake! (Though it is said that it was another princess who uttered these words). You may wonder why I am using this simile. Well the bread and cake of French royalty are   akin to the studies and extra curricular activities of Indian underprivileged children. How could I offer them extra curricular knowledge when they were no way near getting to terms with their basic studies.

The lovely enabling space had to be sacrificed and replaced by a down to earth school support one. So Project Why became what it is! Creativity was quietly laid to rest or so I thought.

A few days ago an organisation contacted us. Their aim was to promote art and institute an Art programme in pwhy. They asked me to write a proposal in which I was to highlight all the artistic pursuits we had undertaken till date. My first answer was almost a loud None but I held myself back and promised to get them what they needed asap. Time to put the thinking cap on and revisit the recesses of my ageing memory. Quite frankly I was not expecting to find much creative activity. When I think of pwhy I see a multitude of little heads bent over books and looking extremely serious. But then    I had to get over this image and delve deeper. It just took a little time and wonders of wonders a found a real treasure trove. How could I have forgotten the three Annual Days we wad in the first three years of our existence. They were a mine of creativity from the unusual decor made with bits and pieces as we was as always short on funds to the terrific performances.

There were dances choreographed by our staff often inspired by evergreen Bollywood but executed to perfection. There were action songs by the tiny tots in an English taught to them by our Ugandan volunteer Stone and sung with great aplomb in an accent that was almost impossible to fathom where circle sounded like socko! And what about the plays written by the older children with the help of the teachers and touching on issues that disturbed them or felt important to them: importance of education for girls, alcoholism and its effects on families and dowry and bride burning. The play had even got a scene where the young bride was burnt. It took a lot of persuasion to made them change the ending and have the young bride saved by her sister-in-law! Talk of creativity! It was there in ample measure. Oops and how can I forget the piece de resistance of one our Annual days. It was a Bollywood dance but three of our senior boys and had been choreographed by the local Michael Jackson, a young man who had christened himself Michael in hommage to his favourite star.

In our shows every one performed and the most touching item was the one presented by our special children often an action song where all the class was on stage. Sometimes a kid or teacher wanted to sing solo and sometimes it was not quite in tune, but who cared, they were ours and deserved a big hand.

But the the project grew and spread out in different locations. Annual Days were given up as they were a drain on our meagre resources. Stage performances had to be abandoned. But creative activities were insidiously present though not center stage. In each of our locations however all festivals were celebrated and children put up small performances in their class space: dances, folk songs and even little plays. There were two plays in English performed by our Okhla kids and our Khader kids. They may not have been the best but they were unique as they had all been written and produced in-house and were loudly applauded.

My memory is on over drive now and long forgotten things surge from everywhere: the lovely friendship bands the children made with the help of some  volunteers and what about the candles and diyas made by the special children Diwali after Diwali? Are they not creative pursuits? And how can I forget the liters and kilos of paint and paper that have been diligently turned into works of art week after week in each class during drawing hour. True it took a long time to graduate from the mountain/river/sun/tree syndrome that seems to be the preferred theme of all Indian kids but we got some stunning paintings along the way. Should have kept them. And what about the brown paper gift bags with a child's drawing pasted on it that we made one Xmas. They too were one of a kind.

Oh and I just remembered the lovely hand shaped Xmas decoration made by our special children and hung on their tree. A true treasure.

Our kids have made papier mache masks, terracota objects, bead jewels, finger and vegetable printing, face painting, murals and much more. The special children do face painting once a week and the results are really something!  The Khader children even painted pictures of two fairy tales for a Pantomime in Bedford (UK) and have made many drawings that were used for greeting cards. We have had a dance teacher come and work with the children. Praveen a young student from our Khader centre expressed his desire to learn singing and is now attending regular singing classes sponsored by a friend.

We have also held drawing competitions of specific themes, one of them being pollution. The results were truly impressive.

And that is not all. Some children of Khader and Okhla participated in photo workshops and mastered the art perfectly. They gave us some stunning pictures. I am sure that if I had time to scroll the tens of thousands of pictures I have, I would find more examples of the creative ventures of project why. It is simply that they got forgotten and ignored in the face of the dreaded exams and ensuing studies. We are truly all stars!