There is something about India that never ceases to amaze me and that is her ability to contradict everything negative that you may think about her.
She does play games with you, wears you down, makes you angry or even sad, but then when you are just about to lose all hope and give up, she makes up for everything..
At pwhy we have never been media savvy, and most of what has been written about us has been either by friends or by accident. We have had our share of request for telephone intreviews politely rejected as we felt that someone in Delhi could make the effort to come and see us; we have seen copies of what was written by someone dear, lifted time and again sometimes without even a mention of the source; we have had journos come in a hurry for token visits and photographers that never had the time to go beyond our front door..
when a young journo from a leading newspaper called on a sunday afternoon wanting to write about us I must confess I had thought that it would be another journo in a hurry who would appear for a fleeting moment.. well that was not so.
N came on time and gave us the feeling that he had all the time in the world for us.. he interacted with the children and even saw them present a project, he chatted with the staff , shared lunch with us and came and saw our okhla project too..
for all of us it was special as we felt that someone was looking at our work and giving it due respect… and we were touched..
N is a journo with his heart in the right place, and I just wish it stays that way..
Project why wishes him all the success possible
asiya and fatima, the two year old twins sleep reaching out to each other for comfort… while rabiya takes a much needed break.. like any mom would.. only rabiya is four, just two years older than the siblings she looks after with great care and maturity..
rabiya is not an exception.. she is almost the rule in urban India’s slums!
on my way to project why I often drive past what we sometimes refer to as ‘potty nager’. It is a rickety camp known as sudhar camp and is home to migrants from as far as Karnataka, or Tamil Nadu.. most of the women work as part time household help, and the men as security guards; the place is crwaling with toddlers who can be often seen easing themsleves on the road as the only bathrooms are a set of public conveniences where a rupee needs to be paid! As many of our children from the creche have moved to the primary section I thought it would be a good idea to get some of the kids from this camp.
Last Seema went to survey the place. the story she had to tell was chilling: in the day sudhar camp is almost like a neverland, as most of its inhabitants are children.. with a few elders hanging around quite unconcerned.. many of the children came to meet her, ready to listen to waht they had to say. Many were quite excited about going to ‘school’ but it did not take long for them to tell Seema that they could not as they had to look after their siblings. seema told me that it was then that she realised that something was not quite right: every child – and they were between 3 and 5 – was carrying a younger child in his arms.. and what was difficult to believe and heart rendering was that they did it with a sense of responsibility that could match that of any adult..
Seema came back crestfallen and perplexed as to what could be done in to answer the tiny voices who were all saying: I want to go to school but who would take care of my sibling…
i am still trying to answer that question…
last week I decided to take a class..
this decision was prompted by the constant complaints of some of the primary teachers who felt the kids were getting difficult to handle…some not doing their work and disturbing others..
as all the advise meted had not worked, I thought best to see things for myself..
I asked for the rowdiest class.. I was given the boys of class IV and V…
when the teachers asked me what I was planning to teach, I simply answered that I would let the children guide me…
we decided to sit outside on the floor, in a circle and as I looked around I saw lovely eager faces with big eyes staring at me..
I decided to ‘take it from the top’ and ask them simply why they were studying… they all looked bewildered, not knowing what to say…. the teachers were as amazed as the kids. I repeated my question gently addressing myself to one child, then the other, and then the next.. after some prompting I got my first answer: to change things in the world… to have a better future said the next.. to gain knowledge said the third…
stereotypes that no one really undesrtood. so we sat and talked about education and the different subjects studied and picked up social studies… for my little pals social studies meant learning from the book..
we sat and talked about why we should learn about our social system, about laws and rights and duties; how they could change our lives and help change the world or better our future..
at the end of the hour, the little ones were asking for more.. somehow in their minds boring subjects had acquired a new meaning: hindi or english would help word petitions, maths would help calculate losses, and civics would tell us how we could play a role in building our land.. redressing wrongs.. remaking te world..
actually what i was witnessing was the making of true citizen India!
Look at the picture.. what do you see?
three little girls playing, the way all children that age should, three children savouring what is know as the best part of one’s life: early childhood, when others take care of your creature comforts and everyday needs, when you do not have an ounce of worry or concern…
oops I forgot to tell you this scene is from an urban slum in India… so let me reinterpret it for you..
Rabia and her twin sisters Asiya and Fatima live in a fifth floor hovel in a slum in Delhi.. They have an elder sister and no brother. When they came into the world there was no joy or happiness but they were meant to feel a burden from the moment they saw the light of day. Their father drives an auto ricshaw, their mother takes on needle work for greedy exporters who pay her a pittance, the house is unkept and unclean..the girls uncared for..
The twins now two cannot walk or even stand, they do not talk or even smile. All the medical tests done were negative, the verdict brutal: lack of love; suffer from extreme neglect.
When little Fatima is upset it is not her moma she runs to for comfort, but elder sister Rabia, barely four, as you can see in the picture. And the little four year old surrogate mother does her best to wipe off the hurt…
Now look at the picture again, do you see what I see….
till we can get a picture of the young couple, this is what a bonboniere looks like
“Barbara and me will get married next September 24th and we decided to donate to you the money we were to spend to buy bonbonnieres”
I have never met Barbara or Massimo, they are friends of a friend’s daughter …
I first googled to find out what bonbonieres were: bonbonieres are pretty little souvenirs that are handed out to each person attending a wedding in Italy as a traditional wedding favour.
Now this wedding will not have the traditional bonbonieres that guests normally carry back as a souvenir.. but there is something that they will carry back, something many will remain unaware of, something intangible .. something they would have help create: bonds of love and friendship between two young people starting their life together and children who strive for a better one… and the world will have become that little bit smaller..
Is it the magic of project why at work once again..?
Jonathan Blake Wade
1950 – 2005
If ever there was a man who epitomized all that project why stands for it would be Jon..
A human being par excellence..
A man who was first a man, before being white, or brown, british, or indian..
He transcended the usual tags and definitions, and refused to be locked in the little boxes of religion, country, race, colour and all that divides…
Born british he chose to be an Indian and imbibed in every pore the essence of India at its best..
Son of a pastor he chose to follow a universal religion that encompassed nothing short of the greatest..
If ever there was a friend that gave friendship its true meaning it was Jon…
Always present when needed, he knew the art of tiptoeing away when the task was done..
Generous to a fault with his time, his patience and his love, Jon found a special place in the hearts of everyone who met him, albeit for an instant..
If ever there was a man who embodied all that project why stands for and strives to impart, it was Jon..
A man who stood by his convictions and his beliefs and never gave in to the flavour of the moment..
A man who had the guts to walk the right path, even if it was the more difficult one..
A man who displayed courage and fortitude in the face of any obtsacle and always found the right solution…
A man who was simply ‘ a man’ !
The children and staff of project why mourn the loss of Jonathan Blake Wade who for the past five years was on its Board of Directors
New Delhi August 20th, 2005
the door bell rang and for once it was not the impatient courier man, but Ram Lakhan, our good old postman!
Strange it had been a long time since one had seen him. I had almost forgotten the days when one waited for the postman at given times, .. how he had been part of so many memories, happy ones and sad ones.. but then with the advent of emailing and courier services, Ram Lakhan had faded away like so many good things..
But today there he was, looking older and greyer, but still smiling as he shouted: ‘money order didi’!
I walked towards the gate as he fished the money order out of his wizened bag, and looked bewildered at the one hundred rupee note he held out. On the form, was a hand written message form an unknown person hailing from Pune that simply said: a small contribution for the work you are doing…
I was moved beyond words as, with a shaky hand and clouded eyes, I signed the receipt. To me in this slightly crumpled note lay the heart of India. Who was this unknown indian who had read about our work and thought it valuable enough to deserve his trust and this note.
I held on to it for a long time… feeling humbled and elated .. feeling I had finally found the way home…
In many parts of our country and in many lands across our planet, shoes are left outside the homes.. a custom that makes a lot of sense which ever way you look at it
if one were to take the image a little further, one could also think of it as a way to leave problems and tensions that are part of our ‘outside’ world, before we enter the haven of our homes..
On the tiny planet we have conjured and called why a lot of shoes have to be left at the treshold.. and they are those that we have been made to wear because of our own ignorance, our inability to look with our hearts, our short sightedness..
They are the shoes that divide us and marginalise some of us, the ones that we often wear without realising or comprehending: they have names yes, names we often see on news headlines whenever ugly incidents occur: caste, religion, gender, colour, race….
At project why, these are left outside with the hope that one day we will forget to wear them, the day we will be truly ‘educated’… and hence trule independant.
Happy Independence Day!
August 15th 2005
project why.. where children dare to dream..
were the words that came instinctively to my mind when I designed the first project why brochure. they have remained there, unnoticed… but somehow quietly guiding us in our task…
when our friends from Japan decided to celebrate the Tanabata festival at project why, even though it was a bit delayed, we were thrilled, as this was a great step in our ‘exchange’ programme with Japan.
Nauko and her formidable gang of lovely ladies came with huge bamboo stems and every child wrote his or her wish on a little piece of colourful paper that would be tied on the stems…
I decided to give a set to the special section.. and they too wrote their wishes :
Umesh, our spastic child who can barely walk wants to fly an areoplane,
Preeti who is not loved by anyone wants to be a mother
Soni who is always in love wants to dance with Salman Khan
Anurag locked in his autism wants to drive a car
Shalini our down syndrome girl wants to be a doctor
Pinki who has severe retardation wants to be a police woman
Ruchi who suffers from a severe nervous condition wants to be a teacher
Manu, yes our very own Manu wants to be a monitor
Rajni our lohar mental retarded child simply wants to eat delicious food ..
Read these dreams again as they are a true reflection of the lonely lives of these kids.
yes they have dreams, the very children we feel uncomfortable with, the children that are cast aside by their own family, those who do not even get proper food let alone love.. they have dreams..
In the five years that project why has been in existence, this is the first time I felt I had achieved something… yes planet why is a place where all children can dare to dream..
let me tell you a tale.
once upon not so long ago there lay an unused palace in south delhi district.. it had been a labour court, but then as it lost occupants and soul, it lay empty sometimes utilised for noisy and messy marriage functions that left their plastic scars..
occupants of a strange planet called why did try to get it to live again and wrote numerous petitions suggesting it become a place for children and elders and find its soul again..
one day there was flurry and activity and buckets of paints, and grass and flowers: time for a great makeover and the once cast aside lady became almost a beauty…
cars rolled by and many queens and kings came to the second coming of age ball.. then big hoardings appeared bearing the little red ribbon that names today’s dreaded scare and tiny letters spelt out the wonderland that was to enfold..
even planet why was happy, something was in the offing..
but great locks and iron gates were set up, no one knew what happened there..
then one fine morning, actually it was today, a kind hearted lady who lives near there stopped us and with great angst told us that all was not well behind the iron bars, that old deranged women and hurting people were beaten with sticks and blows.. that something needed to be done.. it was not a land of love and care..
the words on the board did mention the old and the ailing and many souls of lesser gods..
what was happening..
was that the plight of the ones that even families hoped to wish away, those like our darling Preeti who ate flies and insects to fgeed a starving body till one day someone in her own family would lock her in the place where they fed you blows!
insects and blows are lesser children’s woes.
all is not well in the state of….