In a previous post, I had related how tings had changed in pwhy calling for a realignment of our forces and the need to reinvent ourselves. As fate would have it, I fell sick soon after writing that post and was forced to remain away from pwhy for almost three weeks.
Seems like this forced absence was god sent as it cleared all doubts I may have still had about the ability of pwhy to run without my presence. It ran probably better than I could have imagined! My efficient team handled every situation with efficiency be it the presence of three volunteers or site visits over and above the day-to-day running of each of the 12 centres. If there were any crisis, these were resolved without my ever getting to know about them.
As I tiptoed back into pwhy, I realised that it had finally come of age. Everyone seemed confident and the place ran with clockwork precision. I was briefed about some of the decisions taken in my absence and was pleased to see that sound solutions had been found. Staff had been relocated in some instances to meet new requirements and new activities had been launched with the help of our volunteers. I was also informed of the outcome of a day long workshop where they staff had shared their experiences and come up with new and better options. Time tables were being reset and streamlined. The new centre that had 40 kids when I left now boasted of 80! A better place had been found in Govindpuri and the shifting scheduled for this week. Come to think of it I almost felt de trop!
It did seem too good to be true and one could have been tempted to sit back and bask in this new found sense of achievement at least for some time. But how could one forget the reality that loomed large albeit faraway. The day was not far when many slums would be relocated and the necessity to ensure continuity needed to be addressed. One had to start working on possible options to meet the situation as and when it arose and that I guess is what one will have to start working on.
It is true that pwhy and its 12 centres can run on their own but that is only possible as long as required funds are available and even if individual centres continue to function even if they are shifted to new places, pwhy’s existence depends on its ability to create a long term sustainability project.
The one we have thought of is planet why but it requires a huge initial investment. We do hope to be able to one day see this dream come true.
Yesterday morning Mehajabi came by project why with her mom. Today she will be going to the hospital and if all goes well, should be admitted for her open heart surgery.
It has been a long journey for this little girl and her family. She was born a year ago in the well protected world of a madrassa where her father eked out a living as a helper in the kitchen. Her mother and four siblings lived in the precinct of this place of learning. Her older siblings even attended classes. Life would have continued placidly had little Mehajabi been hale and hearty. But that was not the case as from her early days the little girl seemed in poor health. The local doctors could not do much and even the doctors of close by towns advised a visit to Delhi. The family had no choice but to pack up their life and come to the big and uncaring city.
Mehajabi was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect needing expensive surgery and the little family waited for a miracle. The father took on work as a daily wage labourer and the mother carried on surviving, while praying for the life of her last born.
This week, in all probabilities, Mehajabi’s heart will be fixed and a new life will begin for her. As I watched the almost picture perfect mother and child, I wondered what lay in store for them. I listened to mariam, Mehajabi’s mom, as she shared her life plans with candid simplicity. They had plans to return to the madrassa and its sheltered life as soon as Mehajabi would be well. There they would resume the life they had left on hold. The father would continue helping in the kicthen and she would bring up her children within those walls for years to come.
I looked at little Mehajabi as she sat on her mother’s lap and wondered what her life would be like. Would she too be married at a young age and live a life akin to her mother’s or would she be able to break free. The question is almost redundant. The options for little Mehajabi and millions of little girls like her are few. The shackles of the society they live in will not allow them to go far.
At times like this, I feel utterly helpless. What can one do to change things and give little girls like Mehajabi a brighter tomorrow and a right to live and not just survive?
A few minutes back an email from a dear friend entitled: the silence is killing dropped by my mailbox.
It is true that it has been over 20 days since I last wrote a post. The reason: a nasty viral flu that got the better of me.
The last three weeks were spent between bouts of high fever and waves of exhaustion as I waited impatiently for the clock to strike four as that is when the girls got back from pwhy with the news of the day.
July has been a hectic month a pwhy with three dynamic young volunteers who have infused their own brand of charm in more ways than one: brand new activities in the special section thanks to Lucy, a dose of vitality at the somewhat slow Okhla centre courtesy Firdaush and new ways of learning at Govindpuri with Xiong.
4pm became the highlight of each day as the girls and the three volunteers sat around me and shared the spoils of the day: young Komal barely 10 months old now holds a pencil, the special kids made a scrumptious fruit salad, the new centre at Sanjay colony has over 70 kids now and so much more.
As I sat every afternoon getting the news of the day, I felt a sense of pride as I saw that pwhy had somewhat come of age and could carry on without my daily presence.
It is always with a tinge of sadness that a parent sees his child walk out of the parental home with confidence and determination. And yet it is something every wishes for its child and strives for.
Seven years ago, when we seeded project why, our dream was to one day see simple illiterate or semi-literate parents understand that education was an inherent part of their children’s future. That is when we set out to show then how and empower them.
It is true that the objective we set for ourselves was to contain drop out rates and enhance the school performance of slum kids, and it is also true that that what we often set forth as a measure of our success, but the dream loomed in our minds and we surreptitiously worked towards it, something forgetting that its fulfillment would mean our having to move away. And being human, we somehow found hard to accept that reality, and hence turned a blind eye to many glaring hints.
But how long could we ignore the writing on the wall? The number of kids in our Tilak Khand centre was lessening and many children now stated proudly that they had extra tuition classes ( some often give by our ex-students), and the setting up of 3 NGOs in a place where once not so long ago there was none, said it all. Our dream had come true gently but without any doubt. It was time to move to greener pastures or in our case to another slum where children and parents needed us.
Sanjay Colony was the chosen location and the availability of a small two floor jhuggi made the transition almost immediate. The new centre opened on July 5th and in just one day there were already 40 children!
Somehow we felt all grown up!
I am now convinced that all activities of project why seem to be ordained in some way. At every step that led us from barely 50 kids to over 500 in 7 short years via open heart surgeries and more, we felt guided by some invisible spirit. To the unordained and oft cynical outsider we may have seemed harebrained as we took on problems larger than us with cocky confidence and empty pockets.
And yet no matter how huge or daunting the issue, solutions and answers have always appeared making the words miracle and angels almost common place in project why parlance. Our virtual begging bowl crafted in a moment of despair had stood us through many a crises and is still going strong and has somewhat proved far more reliable than complex forms and formalities. The reason I guess is that it has always been held out by hands that have a heart.
As we set out on a larger dream a bit out of league for us at it requires time and planning and garnering a huge amount of funds, a two-pronged crisis hit us and needed a solution. Our woman of substance now back home after her surgery needed to be shifted out of her tiny room and our little mr p’s mom needed a safe haven, as 15 months of being locked up were taking their toll and she was yearning for a semblance of homecoming. Well we just put two and two together and decided to find a three room set which would somehow be a midway place till planet why became a reality.
For this no huge amounts were needed so the virtual begging bowl carrying its new message was set out and as always an Angel passed by. So we now have our midway refuge that can take care of any urgent crisis and also be a learning experience for us till the day another miracle makes planet why a reality.
It was just a year ago that a little red bag sat packed in a room in my home and that I wrote one of the most difficult letter of my life as little mr p set out for his first day in a boarding school, after bidding a poignant farewell to his mom in her first rehab centre.
Since that day a lot happened. Utpal learnt to settle in his school and did it as the stalwart survivor he is. He mastered the alphabets in 2 languages, his numbers, three letter words and host of poems. he even learnt to ride, swim and play foot ball and performed a well choreographed dance in front of an audience. And above all created a great network of friends that includes the school guard and his kind principal. Today the red bag is packed again but this time it has been filled with precise requests: I want Bournvita but do not give me Chawuanprash as everyone else takes it!
Unfortunately the road has not been easy for the mom who has moved to three places and never really settled and with her the journey has to continue till we reach the final destination knowing that we will reach it soon.