We are no one's Trojan horse

NGOs are in the news and for all the wrong reasons. A recent article entitled It Is The Pot Calling The Kettle Black examines the two sides of the coin quite pertinently. The author states: not all NGOs are neo-liberal Trojan horses furthering a subversive agenda, while the number of actual good Samaritans working for change is also not particularly very high. I guess we belong to the later category. However what is rather disturbing is the last lines of the article that state: The establishment may be over-exerting itself to hijack the mojo of the well-meaning NGOs, but it is for the latter to fight their case. So the onus falls on us to defend our work, integrity and honesty. One has to prove that one is not furthering a subversive agenda and then go on to show that one is well meaning. Tough task in a space where each time you mutter the word NGO, you are looked at suspiciously even if it is the almost imperceptible raise of an eyebrow. So how does one go about convincing one and all that we are 'well meaning'! Let us take it from the top.

The little girl in the blue cap leading her class in the picture above is the same one in the picture on the left in her yellow top. That is how much we have grown. Kiran, as that is what she is named and rightfully so as she is a ray of sunshine, is now in class VIII in a public school. That her life would have been different had we not landed in her home in the year 2000 when she was born, she most likely would have gone to the local government school but as her aunt Rani joined the project team as a teenager and now leads it with aplomb and confidence, she also set about changing the lives of her family members and the one thing she did was ensure that all the children of the family go to a good school. I do not know what Kiran will become as the world is wide open for her, all I know is that she will fulfil her dreams. We are in the business of fulfilling dreams of children who did not dare to dream. One of our bye lines was: where children dare to dream. If it is subversive to fulfil dreams, then we are subversive and fulfilling dreams is our agenda, an agenda we do not hide but flaunt with pride.

So what dreams have we fulfilled? A young gypsy lad that now walks the ramps for the designers in Paris. I guess that is our show stopper and his God given good looks were a head start, but in the past 14 years we have given over 1000 children the opportunity to finish school and aspire to better morrows. This may seem paltry to some but believe me if they had been left on their own, they would have most certainly dropped out. Let me tell you why. In Government schools in Delhi there is practically no teaching. This is due to many reasons: no fail policy till class VIII, overcrowded classes - 120 in some cases,  and 35 minute periods, disinterested teachers who have no fear of losing their jobs,  one the one hand, and illiterate parents who cannot afford private tuition which is essential, cramped rooms where it is a Herculean task to study on the other. Project Why provides them the enabling environment they need to study and fills in the gaps which are enormous. If providing an enabling environment to children is subversive then we are just that.

What is under the scanner is foreign contribution and the famous FCRA! We have one as without it we would be dead and gone. Our donors are not big agencies, Foreign Governments or international foundations. Our donors are small people like us who give small amounts often because they have come and seen what we do or sometimes because they read these blogs and feel that we are real and down to earth and trustworthy. They are of all age and hues and come from all the corner of our planet thanks to the magic of the Internet. They have no hidden agendas but want to help one woman who decided to get up and walk!

I would not have needed an FCRA had my fellow country men found their hearts and dug into their deep pockets. We cost a pittance. Were the amount spent on what is called a normal wedding placed into an account, we could run perennially with the interest. Our annual budget is less than the price of a fancy watch, pen, or such luxury items owned in multiples by many. Sadly donations from India cover less than 10% of our needs so we knock at doors outside our frontiers not by choice but by necessity.

When we got our precious FCRA it was supposed to be for the life of the NGO but I just got an email from a friend and donor who informed me that now our FCRA will come up for renewal next year and henceforth will have to be renewed every five years. I do not know whether we will meet the conditions and also do not know how many renewals I will witness in my lifetime. I remember how long to took for us to get our FCRA specially of you want to do it in a kosher manner.

Another article on the same topic begins with these doomsday words: The Hindu nationalist. The neo-liberal. The grassroots activist. The Leftist. Everybody, it seems, has a reason to hate NGOs! Some have been charged of “de-Hinduising India" whatever that means. Some are accused of hijacking the left agendas and displacing and destroying organised Leftist movements by co-opting intellectual strategists and organisational leaders. And in the present situation when growth has been promised at all costs the Intelligence Bureau report is a welcome one. Add to this a delhi High Court order that observes that most private-run so-called philanthropic organisations do not understand their social responsibilities. 99 percent of the existing NGOs are fraud (sic) and simply moneymaking devices. Only one out of every hundred NGOs serve the purpose they are set up for. Scary! The onus lies on us tiny NGOs to prove that we are the 1% that accepts our responsibilities.

There is more. According to the same article most NGOs are top-heavy, with little connect to the cause or individuals they work with, resulting in very little of the budget actually finding its way to field work. We can most certainly beat this one as we are none of the above. More than 80% of our budget goes to the beneficiary and the only top we have, if any is me and I cost zilch! The rest of the team belongs to the target group we work with.

The task that awaits me is haunting. I hope I can put my best foot forward and overcome all obstacles. So help me God!