Chandan Play it forward #GivingTuesday#India

(Posting a series of success stories  from the compilation The Project Why Stories 2000-2016)

Screen Shot 2017-03-08 at 11.11.44 AM

DSC00438

Chandan came to Project WHY in 2002 as an electrician. He lived in the community of Giri Nagar, where our original centre was based. The Project was in search of an electrician to do the odd repairs around the centre. Vinod Chaudhary, a friend of the Project WHY told us about his nephew, Chandan, who was willing to assist.

After a few months of such work, Chandan explained to us that he wanted to do more than just fixing lights; he wanted his career to progress and he wanted to leave a real impact on this world. As he was interested in teaching, and demonstrated raw talent in maths and science, Project WHY hired him as a Primary teacher in 2003. Chandan worked as a full-time teacher by day and an electrician by night in order to supplement his income.

Chandan was an excellent teacher but, having been brought up in a society rife with casteism, his behaviour raised issues for the Project. In India, no matter how educated one is, an upbringing in the rural village of Bihar renders the caste system a way of life, making it a difficult philosophy to eliminate.

India’s caste system is among the world’s oldest forms of surviving social stratification. The system divides Hindus into rigid hierarchical groups based on the occupation of the family into which one is born. Traditionally, the system bestowed privilege upon the upper castes whilst sanctioning the repression of the lower castes by privileged groups. Often criticized for being unjust and regressive, the system persists in many rural and urban cities.

As a non-discriminatory mission, Project WHY employs staff from all walks of India, regardless of community and caste. Unfortunately, people like Chandan were taught from a young age to avoid any group situation that involved both high and low class. Initially, we did not pay much attention to Chandan’s behaviour in the hope that he would naturally integrate into our way of thinking. He would occasionally avoid the Project’s group activities that involved groups from mixed castes, but otherwise did not pose a problem. However, in 2004, when our local tea seller lady Seema picked a fight with Chandan for having refused to drink her tea, the Project WHY team had to step in to calm the situation. Seema reported Chandan to a village elder that night and the ensuing violence between communities required intervention. We found ourselves using Chandan to explain to the community that violence was not the answer and that all issues could be resolved in time.

After working with Project WHY over time, seeing its progressive approach to hierarchy and understanding the value of each member of society, Chandan slowly changed his mindset and began accepting all castes equally. By welcoming him into a career that he believed to be above his reach, we taught him to do the same for others, and he now finds himself relaying the same message back to his village in Bihar.

In 2004, Chandan wanted to do more and learn more. He took extra classes with Project WHY’s resident mathematician, Naresh, in the hope of teaching secondary classes in the future. In 2005, he began teaching our Junior Secondary classes, but continued to teach electricals for those looking for careers in the field. It also transpired that he was a talented artist and the children enjoyed learning to draw under his guidance.

After eight successful years with the Project, Chandan, along with another teacher, Pravin, wanted to take the vision and concept of Project WHY and apply it to their own community of Bihar by creating a new NGO. In 2010, Chandan therefore created the “Deepjyoti Charitable Trust” which works in a similar way to Project WHY, but targets education and social mobility in his home state of Bihar. Chandan has replicated our concept, initially taking small groups of children into education, and going on to expand into an all-round support centre. Project WHY provided its expertise to the trust and acted as an adviser, as well as providing financial assistance for its first two years. We continue to maintain close relations with Chandan and his team, but the organisation is now able to stand on its own two feet. Chandan and his Pravin are now proud owners of an NGO that makes a genuine difference in Bihar and playing it forward!

Bindass Babli #GivingTuesday#India

(Posting a series of success stories  from the compilation The Project Why Stories 2000-2016)

Screen Shot 2017-03-08 at 11.11.44 AM

bablinow

When Babli first came to Project Why in 2004, she was a bright-eyed, feisty girl; what some Indians would call Bindaas, meaning carefree and confident. She loved books and seemed to always have a smile. It took Project WHY’s resource persons some time to realize that every breath she drew was an effort. Babli had a hole in her heart from birth and needed corrective surgery. Her family was unable to come up with the needed funds. They had simply accepted that she would not live long.

In India, little girls are sometimes considered dispensable, their hearts not worth mending. The Census of India 2011 demonstrates a decrease in the population ratio of female children (age group 0-6 years) of India compared to 2001. For every 1000 male children, there were now 914 female children, a drop from 945 – where are our girls? Investigations show that female infants experienced a significantly higher mortality rate than male infants in all major states.

Thanks to our wonderful friends, Project Why was able to raise the funds for Babli by 2005 and the operation was performed successfully. It was scary and painful for this innocent little girl, but Babli’s bindaas spirit saw her through it all.

After her recovery, Babli was expected back in school but, to everyone’s shock, it emerged that she would not be able to continue her education. Her mother, being the sole earning member of the family, didn’t have time to take Babli to school. She also needed her to take care of her younger sister. The father was busy playing cards, and it eventually fell to Babli to manage the father’s work cart that sold tobacco and biscuits.

One step forward and two steps back. The Project WHY resource persons soon found Babli sitting on the cart selling chewing tobacco, cigarettes and biscuits instead of being in school, and her little sister standing in the background. She told them about how her name had been struck off from the rolls of the school and why she was working. But Babli’s words, spoken when she had trouble breathing, still resonated: “I want to be a police,” she said, without hesitation, when asked about her dreams.

Project Why found the situation unacceptable, and took steps to change it. After a meeting with her parents and a visit to the nearby government school, Babli was back in school.

 Today, thanks to a kind sponsor, Babli studies in Class 9 at English Medium Boarding School in New Delhi, where she often tops her class. True, she won’t become a ‘police’ as the aftermath of her surgery resulted in scoliosis, but she will shine. Her education, which had fallen into peril this year because of a major donor backing out, will continue thanks to another kindhearted donor who has stepped in to fill the gap. This is Project WHY’s attempt to prove that given equal opportunities, children from the slum can do as well as those from the privileged classes.

babli1babli2

Anita the power to say ‘NO”! #Giving Tuesday#India

(Posting a series of success stories  from the compilation The Project Why Stories 2000-2016)

Screen Shot 2017-03-08 at 11.11.44 AM

project why
project why

 

Anita’s relationship with Project WHY started in 2002, when she started studying as a young girl studying in Class 3. Her father comes from Bihar and moved to Delhi in the late 1980s to look for education. Due, however, to financial problems, he was forced to start working at the nearby factory at an early age and settled in the Giri Nagar area.

In 2004, with Anita in Class 6, her father, the family’s sole earner, was told that there was no work in the factory and told to take a two month ‘break.’ Whilst her mother had previously devoted her life to running the house, she was forced to begin running a stitching and embroidery service from home. In an effort not to make her family suffer, Anita’s mother combined this income with her life savings to support their lifestyle.

Anita is a glowing example of the opportunities that Project WHY can create. She attended the centre in Girin Nagar until Class 12, and recorded consistent scores of 75-80% throughout her school career. As one of our brightest students, she secured admission to the prestigious Delhi University to do her B-Com in 2012.

Anita returned to us after graduating, wishing to provide the same opportunities to similarly underprivileged children. Her parents were supportive, indeed they knew she was safe with us and did not want her working anywhere else. As one of our oldest and most successful students, we were happy to taker her on as a primary teacher. She then went on to teach some of our brightest secondary students.

In 2015, she came to us with the news that she would have to leave the job, as her parents had found a boy in the village and wished for her to get married. We had no choice but to accept this. Yet, four months later, Anita returned and asked to resume her old post, which we were happy to give her. The boy’s family had demanded a large amount of money as ‘dowry,’ claiming her to be dark in skin, and apparently not sufficiently pretty. Yet Anita, as a product of Project Why, had learned to speak for her rights. She knows her self-worth, beauty and value to society and refused to get married under these conditions. She therefore spoke herself to the family to reject the boy and the forced marriage.

Dowry or Dahej is the payment in cash and/or in kind by the bride’s family to the bridegroom’s family along with the giving away of the bride (called Kanyadaan) in Indian marriage. It runs across all classes and castes. Although Dowry was legally prohibited in 1961, it continues to be prevalent and highly institutionalised.  The groom often demands a dowry consisting of a large sum of money, vehicle, house, furniture, and electronics. The dowry system puts great financial burden on the bride’s family

At Project WHY, we pride ourselves in discussing prevalent social issues such as caste, dowry, violence against women and sexual abuse. We believe that we have made our resource persons fully aware of their rights and responsibilities. Anita, at that moment, stood up for her rights and refused to get married on those terms and conditions. “I am as good as any girl on this planet,” she voiced.

Today, Anita is back teaching and continues to value education above all else. Together with her mother, she is funding her brother’s B-Tech from IP University, at a cost of INR 60,000 per year, striving to give him the same opportunities in life that she had. Concurrent to her work as a Secondary teacher, Anita is now pursuing her M-Com. She wants to apply for a Government job, from which she feels she can have an impact on an even wider scale. Yet, always thankful of her roots, she will never stop supporting Project WHY, both through donation and through education.

anitaanu

“At the age of six I wanted to be a cook. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon.” #GivingTuesday#India

 

lionel (1)

“At the age of six I wanted to be a cook. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since” wrote the inimitable Salvador Dali.

Dreams are never too big. Dreams are never too small. Dreams are dreams and dreams come true if you dare to dream. At Project WHY we do.

Last week we welcomed Lionel and his charming wife Leila. Lionel suffered an accident that left him paralysed and no one thought that would come the day when he would come and visit the children he had been supporting for many years. But Lionel is a dreamer who holds on to his dreams. His wife decided that come what may, Lionel would meet his beloved children at Project WHY.

No road was too bumpy; no door to narrow to come into the way of this dream. Lionel visited Okhla and Yamuna and could hold and hug the children he had only seen pictures of. The wheelchair could not climb stairs but the children came down and what else would be the topic of the day but dreams.

It was a wonderful and heart warming moment as child after child came to them and told they what their dream was: become a teacher, doctor, software engineer, pilot, army officer, police officer, singer, cricketeer, astronaut. It was touching to see boys and girls of all ages share their dream and for a tiny moment one forgot that these children came from underprivileged homes where surviving from one day to another was a challenge. But no challenge can come in the way of dreams and no dream is impossible.

As I watched these wonderful children some of whom I have seen grow for the past decade, I knew that the task was far from over and that these dreams had become mine. It was now time to make them come true!

 

 

I am a part of God’s wonderful creation #GivingTuesday#India

DSCN3277_Fotor

Use the skills that I have got.

Do not focus on what I have not.

Of course, I am aware of my limitation.

Yet, I am a part of God’s wonderful creation.

William E. Lightbourne

A recent article brought once again the terrible plight suffered by mentally challenged souls. The article gives us a glimpse of the state of affairs in one of Delhi’s Home for the Mentally Challenged: overcrowding (4 to a mattress), filth, stink, inmates crawling for want of wheel chairs, no medical or psychological support, poor nutrition, no hygiene. The list is endless. And it gets worse: the inmates are even denied the last shred of dignity.

Was it instinct or God’s intervention that made me shun sending Manu to a ‘home’ I do not know. What I knew was that I was the one that needed to care for him. And in order to do that Project WHY saw the light of day. The biggest lesson I got was that no life, however wretched, was worthless. Every life was a plan of God.

And soon God’s plan unfolded as a little later a lady landed with a motley crew of differently abled children whose school had closed and who had nowhere to go. Project WHY’s doors were open even if their first class was on the road side.

 

Love is in the air #GivingTuesday#India

popplesmagazine 2

Today is Valentine’s day. A day to celebrate LOVE! A day to remember what love truly means by going beyond the pink hearts and red roses! A day to take a walk down memory lane and reminisce about all the love stories of our lives. I have been blessed with many, each one as beautiful as the other but the most unexpected one was close to my 50th birthday and when a little scalded bundle swathed in bandages walked into my heart and changed my life forever.

That is not all. Two days ago when I visited the school for the ‘dreaded’ PTM I was handed a copy of the school magazine where one whole page was dedicated to this very special love story. And tucked away in a box was a poem dedicated to me and written by that little bundle of joy now a strapping and handsome teenager!

Feels wonderful.

I have written volumes about this little soul, even a book.

Today I simply want to share the magic of keeping your heart open. You never know who will walk into your heart and stay there forever age no bar!

It happened to be when I was 50 and he was 1!

This is the love story of Utpal and his Maam’ji!

Happy Valentine’s day!

Love is really in the air!

 

 

 

True beauty is reflected in the soul #GivingTuesday@India

beauy

Called it synchronicity but came across the word UGLY in two different contexts recently. The first was a touching article about a woman who had to bear the ignominy and hurt of being called the ugliest face on earth in a post that went viral and the other was as an explanation for dowry giving in a class XII Sociology text book.

The so called ugliest woman is today a great motivational speaker who truly exemplifies the saying: True Beauty is reflected in the Soul. Her talks are a lesson to all showing us the true meaning of defining who we are. Lizzie Velasquez has overcome all that was thrown at her.

The second instance though is far more dangerous. It s surreptitious and insidious and can hurt and harm so many beautiful souls.

Believer it not but a sociology text book for class XII states the following in a chapter entitled Major Social Problems in India: “If a girl is ugly and handicapped, then it becomes a very difficult for her to get married. To marry such girls, bridegroom and his family demand more dowry. Parents of such girls become helpless and pay dowry as per the demands of the bridegroom as family. It leads to rise in the practice of dowry system.

What does one say to these words. Just imagine the young girls in class who do not consider themselves pretty! And there are many as the canons of beauty today are so stringent and so in your face courtesy the Internet or Television that I have rarely come across a young girl who thinks she is pretty. More often than not even a pretty girl finds herself too fat, to short, too dark and so on. Her nose is too big her hair to thin, her skin pimply and so on again. Her self esteem is below her feet. Now is she reads this passage imagine her plight.

Girls are often considered a burden and know it. Their marriage is the prime cause of concern of her family and reading such callous and hurtful words are bound to affect her.

Many questions come to mind. The first one is that no one seems to vet books, and if they did then how could such a passage pass the test. Then who defines beauty? In this passage it seems that beauty is physical based on skewed social constructs. What about beauty of the heart, the soul. Why do authors who write books for school children who are still vulnerable not realise how such words can destroy a child’s self esteem.

It is time we understood this.

 

Smiles in custody #GivingTuesday#India

kk

A little girl was crushed to death by a vehicle last week. She lived in a shack under the Nehru Place flyover. Her family is part of the posse of beggars that live there. It is a spot I pass often en route to Project WHY and have been interacting with such children for very long. The fear of such a tragedy happening was always there. She was just like my little beggar girl of yore years.

The plight of children begging has been the one deafening why that is still unanswered. The only source of comfort is the opening of our Kalka Temple project for children like the little girl who lost her life. The children you see in the picture are all children of beggars and would be roaming the streets and begging. Now they study for a few hours and some even go to school. They may escape the grim future that beckons them. We will definitely try our best to ensure that.

Once again the death of this child brings to the fore the plight of children who beg on the streets.

When you see the smiles on the little faces in the picture, you see children just like any other. Nothing differentiates them. They are full of mischief and giggles, like to play pranks, love games and deserve what every child does!

It is time we stood up and did something for them!

Empower them to say NO! #GivingTuesday#India

dscn4052

The recent incidents of sexual molestation in Bengaluru have once again brought to fore the reality of gender biaises and the stranglehold of patriarchal values in across society.

Molestation, rapes and all form of sexual abuse are a power game wherein the perpetrator cannot accept the victim deviating from accepted norms. True there are some aberrations that defy all explanations the most deafening being the rape of children and babies!

Sexual abuse of children in often committed by members or someone close to the family. These are the ones that  go unreported as they touch upon the honour of the family and what is terrible the code of silence is often imposed not by a male, but a female member of the family.

Patriarchy decreed the daughter would be the repository of the family’s honour. Why not the son? The son can do no wrong; this is a notion prevalent  across the board, a sentiment aptly defined in the words of a leading politician: boys will be boys.

Every time there is a rape or molestation case civil society wakes up and, post a few candle lit marches and fiery speeches, sinks back into silence. What is always sought is the hanging of the perp as if that act alone would solve all issues.

Experience has shown that this is not the case as rapes and abuse continue with impunity. Recently a tailor, father of five was arrested for having molested hundreds of girls!

We need to protect our children as boys too suffer abuse. The statistics on chid abuse are terrifying. One child abused is one too many!

Long term solutions are not the need of the hour. Children cannot wait. What we are dealing with is age old mindsets that will not vanish overnight. Patriarchy is too deed rooted. The only immediate solution is to inform children about abuse and empower to say NO, a no so loud that it cannot be ignored. It all begins with the notion of ‘good’ touch and ‘bad’ touch.

This is something we do at Project WHY at an early age. Our effort is to also lend a patient and understanding year to every child.

Regular workshops for adolescent are conduced regularly in order to address all the questions that can never be asked within the  four walls of a patriarchal home.

It is not easy to grow up in a slum. Though the family is uber traditional, the environment is quite different. Television has invaded the home and the ubiquitous smart phone had reached every hand each claiming its space, its supremacy. Think of the child, the adolescent, the teenager having to navigate in between these two!

We plan to have workshops on cyber crime soon.

We do our best to help children grow into responsible adults but above all we strive to give them a voice!

Zero-teacher, single-teacher… #GivingTuesday#India

 

child from our Kalka temple outreach
child from our Kalka Temple outreach

Whether born in a mansion or a slum, or even on the street, every child born in India has the Right to  Quality Education, a right guaranteed by the Constitution. Sadly nothing is further from reality.

A recent article entitled ‘Lessons in Negligence‘ is a stark reminder of what is happening on the ground. The article is about education in Madhya Pradesh, but the reality is the same across the land.

The article introduces us to the zero-teacher and one-teacher school. A zero teacher school is a school that has NO qualified teacher and in this state there are 4,472 zero-teacher schools and 17,649 schools with just one teacher. The ‘guest teachers’ who are barely qualified run the zero-teacher schools. In the one-teacher option, a single teacher looks after 8 classes!

A school has a flat screen TV that has never been used! There is no electricity as bills have not been paid; sports equipment lies unused as there are no playgrounds. The article also mentions the existence of a locked school. The date on the board is 11/12/15. Seems nothing happened post that date: a school frozen in time. In such conditions it is not surprising that 40 per cent of students of class 2 cannot even identify the alphabet, while 65 per cent of students in class 5 cannot read textbooks meant for class 2.

This situation is not contained to Madhya Pradesh. Many Project WHY students came to us with similar problems but a little hand holding was all that was needed to make up for lost time.

Education is not centre stage. Children are rarely centre stage. One wonders why. And yet everyone knows that education alone can transform society for the better.

Children cannot wait. In no time, it is too late for them. This is one fact that we at Project WHY know and believe and that is why we have never shied away from any challenge. Whenever we come across children in need we answer the call and give it our best. That is how the Kalka Temple was set up. Today, over 35 children study there after school. Had we not done so, the likelihood of these children becoming beggars was far too real. As we go along, we will elaborate a road map for them based on their ability and needs.

Every child deserves the best; at Project WHY we strive to give her just that!