A toddler tied up to a charpoy with a scarf: a sign of love and also one of desperation. This image was one of the first resounding WHYs Project Why encountered and we responded by creating the creche.
We realised this was a daily routine: the mother would pull the charpoy outside the family’s jhuggi, lock the door, tie the toddler, kiss him fondly and leave. A few hours later she was back and would smother the baby with kisses as she untied him and carried him away. Something did not fit. The violence of the action (as we perceived it) did not match the love this young mum seemed to have for her child. There had to be a reason.
The mother worked and there was no safe place to leave her child. Any childcare cost more than her meagre salary and government-sponsored education only begins when the child is six. The mother had to find a solution and this was the best she had. It had its own logic. Tying the child with a scarf long enough for him to move around ensured that he would not stray away on busy streets. Placing the cot outside meant the child was watched as this was a street where people mostly live outside and there is always someone around. Hugging and kissing him was her way of showing him she cared.
What would you have done?
Needless to say this one incident was sufficient for Project Why to begin its early education programme and, like all else, the creche began with makeshift resources. The tiny space in front of the office where staff convened was emptied and turned into the first creche. A few mats, a few toys garnered from friends and a young local woman who was willing to teach: that was all we needed.
The creche would move to a tent, to a space that looked like a box (meant to be a shop), to a corral like enclosure, to a room on the third floor, and then finally to space in Govindpuri where Project Why owned its first building. The babies were the first to find a home.
It is a happy place and as you climb the stairs to the little class you hear laughter and joy. These kids come from very deprived homes and if they did not have Project Why to come to, would be left to their own device in dangerous surroundings, easy prey to predators lurking around.
At Project Why they are safe. They are fetched in the morning an dropped back in the evening in transports that have evolved with time and resources.
Whatever the ride, the children love it. In class it is time to learn. Learning comes early in India by the time a child is in class I she had to master two alphabets, numbers upto 100 and even begin reading simple words. Children from better homes attend pre-school from the age of 2+ and the learning begins then. Underprivileged children who are unable to go to pre-school are at a disadvantage. Project Why bridges that gap with care and love. They learn and but also are given a chance to explore their creativity and be kids.
Afternoon is siesta time enjoyed by both the young and the not so young as the classroom turns into a rest room in the afternoons. But that is not all it also becomes an auditorium for bubble shows, story telling and much more!
Children are also taken on outings and that is a very special moment for all.
The Project Why creche is a wonderful place; even father Xmas knows that!
Over the years many children have “graduated” from the Project Why creche and entered school. Many come to one of our centres for after-school support. We feel a sense of pride at seeing all these little children ready to take on their future but at the same time feel sad because there are so many children who are not able to aspire to education and a better future. We wish we could do more.
The creche is Project Why's Neverland. The children are eternally tiny and the moment any adults steps into the classroom, they too become children, filled by the laughter and joy the children share. It is the world of Peter Pan where smiles abound and laughter is ever-present.
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