it’s a kind of magic..

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One dream one soul one prize one goal
One golden glance of what should be
It’s a kind of magic
One shaft of light that shows the way
No mortal man can win this day
It’s a kind of magic
The bell that rings inside your mind
Is challenging the doors of time

wrote roger taylor for the rock group queen…

strange that these words came to my mind today… the day after having had to face some of the social ills that continue to plague our society: caste, women ruled by their husbands, narrow mindedness..
yet this morning when i saw the little project why inhabitants getting ready for their morning activities, i was once again touched by the magic of our little planet…

look at the little souls in the picture.. a happy lot they seem, intrigued at the presence of the big ma’am…

did you know that one is dalit, the other a muslim, the third a watermark brahman, and yet another a nepali; one is orphaned, the other illegitimate, another is a gypsy; some are very poor others own scooters, some live in airless shanties while the others in well cooled flats… would you be able to stick the correct label on the right forehead…

and yet they as the song says, they are the shaft of life we seek but do not recognise… soon they will be taught the ugly and divisive side of life, but today they are touched by the magic… the magic of planet why..

shhhh.. do not disturb them… it’s a kind of magic

when today is over…

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This is nanhe, nanhe means small or tiny.. he came to us a year ago, could not walk, was incontinent, and barely spoke… we put in with the creche children were he spent time on a chair looking at others ..

A few weeks back, we decided to ‘promote’ him to the special section.

Nanhe loved this change as somehow started interacting with his peer group and learning new things: puzzles, hesitant steps, smiles and sounds, sharing his food, anything to say ‘main hoon na‘! ‘hey, here i am, look at me‘ and of course the unexpressed words only audible if you listen with your heart: please love me!

All seemed well on planet why.. till an ugly incident occured bringing a simple question to my mind: when today is over for nanhe.. what about tomorrow.

One of the daily tasks of the special section is to give manu a bath. Manu, the one for whom project why saw the light.. Manu the child like adult, the child of the lesser god, the one with all the labels saying ‘wrong’ stuck on his head, and Manu’s bath, not a pleasant task i agree, is such an issue, but one that brings out the ugly side of India.

There are those who accept this task with love, those who do it as an act of charity, those that do it because it needs to be done and then recently some that refused.. citing all kinds of unacceptable reasons…

When logic and humanity did not work, the axe had to fall and it has on two persons. For us it was a simple matter of fairness and equality: what is right for one has to be for all..

Threats have ensued, threats of violence, threats of legal action and we will take them head on, as the question does not stop with manu, when today is over.. other boys in need of care and love and help would have grown up.. and the solution does no lie in employing a person of the risgh caste, age, sex, creed to do tasks one does not want to do.. creating barriers that seem to difficult to bring down today..

if tomorrow has to come, then barriers have to be broken with the heart!

‘You’ve got to find what you love,’

3 stay hungry, stay foolish

Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dotswill somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something -your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Steve Job

Today I had to put my 7 year old dog, Cleo , to sleep. Cleo has been sick since the time she was born. She was a bull mastiff ; but Cleo was also the result of human greed whereby one forgets that nature has laws that should not be broken: Cleo was the result of extreme in breeding. She came to us one night and one look at her was enough to realise that nothing was right: from her distorted legs, to her tongue that was too long: but she was beautiful and we all fell in love with her huge melting brown eyes.

she lived a brave valiant life in spite of her kidneys having failed.. at the end she could barely stand and was in pain.. and today I put her out of her misery… all could say to her as I held her was ‘sorry’..

I was far more disturbed than I thought I would be and shared my pain with a dear friend who sent me a mail with the text of steve job’s speech delivered recently to a group of students. The words somehow dealt with all the questions that were crowding my mind…

You can read the speech here.

many times, when things are not quite the way you want them to be, you wonder why and it is only much later that the dots get connected into often a perfect picture..

Steve goes on to say:

You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.

And thinking back I am blessed as I have found what I love in project why and the rewards I get every day of my life.

I just had not realised it ..

faith, courage, instinct and the magic of project why

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Piya, Sudha, Asha, Misha,Paul, Ronnie, Greg, Sandra, Melanie, Jennifer, Ritu, Sameer, Rohit, Rahul, Ben, Eric, Dr Cohen, Dr Rawat, College of Du Page, Nazeer, Himanshu and the list goes on…. are friends we did not know we had, but the magic of project why touched sarmishta one day as she browsed the net and maybe saw one of the little souls that inhabit or planet..

she decided to help them fulfill their dreams of a better tomorrow.. by pledging part of therevenue from the sales of her maiden film.

but that simple generous gesture sarmishta did much more.. she created bonds between people who would have never known each other and made the world that much smaller..

today we are overwhelmed and humbled

bless you all

french fries and curry

pappu pass ho gay(i)

pappupass

when i asked some kids what made them laugh most, they all refereed to the famous chocolate ad where big B leaps of joy at ‘pappu’ passing his XIIth..

well yesterday when rani brought her class X result, my joy was not for the camera, it was genuine .. and that for many reasons..

the first is maybe because i simply love this young spirited woman.. but more than that because from the time i set eyes on her exactly five years ago to the day… she has never let me down.. from accepting to work without salary as a health and nutrition volunteer, to taking on small responsibilities to becoming my right arm and steering the day-to-day activities of project why..

rani was a shy withdrawn girl, who had dropped out of class IX as she had been severely beaten for not having brought her fees in time, and her mom had decided to stop her schooling..

well this year she decided to sit for her Xth Boards, did not even take a day of leave to study – god knows when she did – and came beaming yesterday with her results..

rani today steers a project which has 400 kids, a staff of 40 many of whom i have seen her grow..

but what makes this woman special is that she takes on any challenge with a smile and a determination no one can compete with… somehow she vindicates project why’s stand of empowering people..

of pigs.. garbage dumps … and new beginnings

okhla

look at the picture.. this is a project why classroom..

many of you may have conjured a ‘glam’ picture of project why.. yet this how we began in giri nagar five years ago, and this is what our new class room in okhla phase I, next to the railway tracks looks like…

we cleared part of a garbage dump, and set up our classroom and slowly the childen began to come in droves, and now there are more than 150 and our two spirited ladies who teach them…

maybe 5 years down the line, we would have found space in the umpteen factories that surround us… but now we need to carry on right here.. in this dump because that is how we manage to stop childen being used by uncaring adults to steal from the rail bogies or peddle drugs.. and hope to guide them back to a school, though there is no primaryschool close by..

of course no one likes us yet..we disturb the prevailing scenario.. and often on monday mornings our teachers find our classroom destroyed… but they valiantly rebuild it and carry on..

but the rains are around the corner and we need to repair the classroom..

maybe some kinds souls will come and helps us do so..

the long way home

funding is the one constant source of anguish to anyone engaged in work like ours.. there are many sources but we decided to take the long way home..
this is primarily because our commitment to empowerment only makes sense if its has a duration in time and remains rooted in a people steered approach..

we could have taken one of the oh so tempting short cuts, but they all end in mirages or dead ends: a big donor leaves town and bye bye children… india tests a nuclear device and some countries stop all aid so bye bye children… suddenely education is no more the flavour of the day so bye bye children again… the list is endless

and the poor unsuspecting beneficiary is the ultimate victim: the child loses its support system, women lose a job that had brought dignity and respect…

so we chose a the long road home, where home is the day the local community would steer such efforts by emulating the model we set.. a model based on large numbers and small sums of money.. the famous one rupee idea!

what is a rupee a day, or 365 rupee a year in today’s reality: a large pizza at the fast food joint, a movie for two, something each one could give up without even realising it..

then why is the long way home such a difficult one…

all you need is to look at the smile of this child who suffered third degree burns and who was left for dead.. he smiles because of those who walked the long way with us..

don’t you think it is worth it….

main hoon na!

little-prayer

main hoon na! or here I am is what each tiny project why tot proudly says every morning at roll call!

these three little words are overflowing with meaning… they are not simply an affirmation or act of presence, they hold all their still unformulated dreams.. dreams that can only be fulfilled if people find their hearts and reach out to help..

and when they fold their hands in prayer and look up, it is the same three words they say to the invisible one!

to help us fulfill their dreams we need caring souls to part with a rupee a day! easier said than done particularly in this city where people seem to have lost their heart somewhere…

everyone wants to know what they would get in return.. and you stoically retort in a soft voice: the satisfaction of helping educate children – but it does not cut the ice… you get a curt – all NGOs are crooks– and you want to scream – but come and see our work.. – but who has the time..

many friends say – go find a celebrity – but where does one find one who would be willing to associate with a down to earth effort like ours…

never mind if we get children new hearts, or give employment to destitute mothers, or even arrest drop out rates in school.. we cannot get you a place in page 3.. we never learnt how… and the question is – do we really want to…

i think you know the answer..

women of substance

okladies

meet sophiya and pushpa.. one is a tribal from ranchi the other a dalit..
sophiya and pushpa run our okhla primary extension programme..

it was about a year ago that we decided to start this centre, and these two ladies were the chosen ones to go and set it up from scratch and they did, to our utter amazement: found a dump, cleared it and cleaned it, set up a shack, negotiated with the cops and local politicos, handled the local goons, found the children and today teach over 100 kids, in conditions that would scare off many…

and they do it with a smile, without a word of complaint..

to me these two women of substance epitomise the spirit of project why, which only makes sense if community members can learn the skills and gain the ability to set up extension centres in different places learning to deal with local problems and find support within.

Women are like stars…only one can make your dreams come true!

i’m explaining a few things

wonderWhy

you are going to ask what is it that makes project why different.. so to borrow one of neruda’s poem titles i will say: i’m explaining a few things

look at the picture, a simple one of a teacher and a handful of children…

now listen:

the teacher is a gadiya lohar, the gypsy blacksmiths that many of you have passed by on the busy roads of the capital, often beating the iron with poised grace. they are almost invisible, for the see them you have to look with your heart and listen to the centuries of history that brought this proud tribe where it is today. Most of her peers would by now be mothers of many. Sarika managed to study till class IX in spite of all odds and we decided to giver her a new identity, that of a teacher… she has proved worthy of every bit of trust we put in her..

little manju who sits in the middle is one of the most neglected child one has come across. she is the youngest of three siblings who were abandonned by a cowardly father..

the other kids also have stories that would melt the coldest heart, they belong to diverse communities , religions, castes… does it matter

normally they would have been playing on unsafe streets, or been used by adults to fetch and carry, or even be sent across busy roads to buy a pouch of chewing tobacco..

but they sit every day and learn to live, to share, to sing, to play, to laugh.. under the loving eye and hearwarming dedication of a young woman of substance

they learn to love trees, to save water, to respect the environment..

they learn about other lands and people..

they learn that duties come before rights…

they will one day have to face the world, a world ridden by problems and ugly realities, but we hope that by then they will have ben infused by the spirit of project why that would have taught them to be simply human beings!

So of you if you wonder what project why is all about: come and see the children on our street!