social entreprise, sustainability and the funding saga

It has been 8 years since pwhy began and it has been 8 years since I have spent almost every waking moment worrying about funding and devising ways to meet the monthly requirement to keep project why alive.

Right from day one I knew that we had to one day become self sustainable though one did not quite know how this would be achieved. Along the way we tried out a plethora of ideas, each one seeming to be at the some time or the other the right one! We embarked on many ideas from pots and bags to bio diesel plant nurseries via chocolates. But each though successfully implemented never met the required target of sustainability.

And as each idea failed, the saga of funding became more demanding as demands increased each day. It became a real challenge to find the required amount and it was anever ending race that I still run. Some time back, one struck upon the idea of hospitality as a possible sustainability option and though the idea was daunting, it seemed to be one that refused to go away, no matter which way we looked at it.

As luck would have it, a volunteer came by project why last month and was to become a catalyst in our quest for sustainability. Barbara was not only a dynamic volunter but turned out to be the pioneer of social entreprise in the UK. As we got to know each other better and shared thoughts and dreams, she introduced me to the idea of social enterprise and showed me how our idea of planet why fitted within it. It was heartwarming to feel that one was one the right rack and that panet why was actually a social enterprise.

This of course strengthened our resolve to see that planet why becomes a reality.

tender minds

The recent court decision to compress pre-primary classes – aka nursery and KG – into one year seems bewildering. True that they have raised the nursery age to 4 but knowing the pressure a child has to deal with once in class I, one year of preparation seems very insufficient.

At pwhy we have been running a pre-school unit for over 7 years with children between the age of 1 to 5. Initially the whole class was held in a big room with out desks and chairs and children were taught through play and creative means. However we soon realised that the transition to a government school class I was difficult as the tiny tots found themselves in an alien world when faced with desks, chairs and blackboards. That is why we began our prep class where children are taught pre-primary skills in an informal and easy way.

Informal play schools or groups do not prepare children for what awaits them in schools and one year is too little to prepare for this whole new experience. The module of nursery and KG seemed a good way to slowly break in the child, without having her or him lose its creativity.

The Indian school system is one that puts undue pressure on young minds and the mark based system that ensues promotes unhealthy competition. It is heartwarming to see that pre school education is now being debated in courts, but one hopes that the interest of tender minds remains the centre point of all debate and decisions.

a new journey begins

The recent demolition of the Lohar basti is a harbinger of days to come. We have, over the past five years, witnessed many a demolition drive of this very basti. Bulldozers came, tenements were brought down, but each time they were rebuilt as money changed hands and eyes turned away. But this time was to be the right one as no one was allowed to rebuild their destroyed homes and in spite of the fact that the families doggedly remained in situ for two days, braving rain and sun, they ultimately realised the inevitable fact that after thirty years they were once again homeless.

Demolitions and sealing drives have become commonplace as one has seen over the years and each til date end in some sort of reprieve or the other. However the raising of the Lohar basti proves that the writing is an the all and that sooner or later many of the slums we work in will face the bulldozer.

With the raising of the Lohar basti we have lost one primary centre and we too feel somewhat orphaned though we knew this day would dawn and I had tried to prepare ourselves for it, albeit unconvincingly. But life has to go on and we need to remember that there many children who still need us.

So once again we had to make a course correction and as luck would have we were still on the lookout for a place for our women’s home. So instead of finding a place to house a creche and activities for women, we have decided to also include a primary outreach. We have been able to find a place in Madanpur Khader, a village in South Delhi near a slum resettlement colony and will be opening a new centre there very soon.

So a new journey begins and with it new challenges. But we will miss our Lohar children and their free spirit.

will it; won’t it

The will it; won’t it game that has now been played for years at end came to a final closure for the Lohar camp next to the Kalkaji bus depot. Yesterday the small basti of thirty odd tenements was finally raised to the ground to make way for the much awaited metro.

This basti has been in existence for over thirty years and has withstood many a demolition drive, as each time a few hard earned rupees bought the inabitants the right to rebuild their ramshackle homes. Whereas other slums managed to once again get a one year reprieve from demolition as a pre-election sop, this basti did not as the metro is part of the 2010 target when our capital city needs to shine for the much heralded sports fiesta.

What was destroyed yesterday was not just thirty rickety structures but the hopes and dreams of over 200 souls. This basti has tiny babies, school going children, men and women who earn their living within the area and old people who wait for another morrow. Like all nomadic tribes they too were promised permanent homes after India acceded to Independence and they gave up their roaming lives in the hope of seeing that pledge fulfilled. These 1000 odd families have been residents of Delhi for more than 50 years and though millions who came after them are today settled, they still live on the edges of roads and amidst the fumes of the growing vehicle population.

Thanks to greedy and wily politicians they have got ration cards and voter’s identity cards and their illegal structures even had a postal address making them true citizens of the capital. But yesterday their tiny vote bank was outweighed by larger interests and they were left to fend for themselves in a city that had suddenly become hostile.

They will survive I know it, as nomadic tribes have a spirit of their own but this little unit will now be probably be scattered across town and we will lose the lovely children who we taught for over 7 years now. And learn they did as tow of our most committed teachers – sanjay and Vicky – are from this very basti! Wonder whether they will still be able to come to pwhy.

The destruction of the Lohar basti of Kalkaji brings forth once again the burning issue of habitat for the poor. There is seems to be no real policy in this matter and ad hocism reigns. One has seen the multitude of recent scams where land for slum dwellers has been hijacked with impunity by mafia type operations. Slums that have been in existence for decades due to corrupt minions now face the danger of being demolished but there seems to be no alternative offered. Just short reprieves doled out to meet political agendas.

One wonders how it will it all end.

All one can say today is that we will miss our Lohar friends.

more heart matters

In her bright school uniform and sporting a sparkling smile she looks just line another school girl. However if you look at her again you see her little chest rising at an unnatural pace and realise that she can barely breathe. She has a hole in her heart and was what is know as a blue baby at birth.

Her father drives a rickshaw he does not own and drinks most of what he earns. She has two siblings and after paying the whopping 800 Rs for a tiny room there is not much left to eat. A visit to a nearby private hospital resulted to the family being told that a huge sum of money would be needed to repair the congenital defect. For this little family the road ended.

Soni dropped by pwhy one hot afternoon and somehow we all fell under her spell. Once again the God of small things had wowen his magic as some visitors from another world were also there. The impossible became possible as they decided to help Soni and sponsor her surgery.

There is still a long way to go, but we know that this little girl will have a future.

a breath of fresh air

It was once again time to make the one hour car journey to Utpal’s school for his PTM. And in spite of this being the nth time, the excitement was palpable.

With little Kiran the true blue childhood pal, I had packed the proverbial bag of goodies that contained all that was not allowed: chips, fizzy drinks and chocolates. We set out early and go there just as the clock struck 11 and the gates were opened. As we hurried to the residential block I realised that my heart was beating a little faster.

Utpal dressed in his Sunday clothes waited at the bottom of the stairs for his parents. This time we were six: Kiran, Chanda, Dharmendra and Barbara and Cyril, two volunteers who had decided to come along, not forgetting the old maam’ji! Presentations were made and I was thrilled to hear the confidentfine thank you maa’m” to Barbara’s: how are you? Our little Utpal seemed all grown up as he set out to show his room and cupboard and introduce his Dolly ma’am.

The rest of the day passed in a tizzy. A metro ride, a shared pizza and then the now legendary lunch at the school where Utpal acted as the perfect host. But as the hour of departure approached I could see his tiny face crumble. He snuggled closer to me and said: you will stay awhile, won’t you?

We did, but soon it was time to say our goodbyes, and for the first time I saw Utpal holding on to the tears that were welling up in his eyes. I held on to mine and hugged him a little tighter as I whispered: see you next time.

As we travelled back none of us spoke, not wanting to break the spell Utpal had cast on all of us.

when the heart takes over

S decided to sell his kidney because life had become unberable after his business failed. It must have been a pondered decision and one that must have taken a lot of grit and determination. What happened next is what heroic tales are made of. When S realised that the person in need of a kidney was poorer than him, he simply donated it without a thought, as if that was the only valid option. In that pure moment of human compassion reason had no role to play; the heart simply took over. There was no time to think of the ifs and buts or of the consequences that might ensue.

In our day and age, where acts of charity are often proportionate to the benefits they accrue – be it tax benefits or public recognition – and have lost all spontaneity and selflessness S stands tall. Cynics may say that ultimately he did get recognition and kudos but the essence of the matter is that when S gifted his kidney, he did not know they would come by and if one reads his story he suffered much indignity before being honoured and applauded.

S’s story stands like a beacon for all those who still believe that in some matters the heart has to take over, something we at pwhy stand by.

full circle

It was almost three years ago that two women of substance set up our Okhla school. The school was set up in a garbage dump for all the right reasons and much of what we set out to do was achieved and somehow we felt that nothing would or could disturb the pattern we had set.

We were in for a rude shock as yesterday we were told that the local politician had dropped by and decreed that our ramshackle structure would be raised to the ground and that a new building would be built that would house a school bearing her name. It was almost as if the clock had turned back 5 years to that wintry day when our tent was destroyed in a Giri Nagar park with promises of another building.

We had come full circle once again.

The first reaction was undoubtedly anger, dismay and hurt. The thought of having to see our neatly organised class space with its mud murals brought to nought seemed outrageous. It seemed as all our efforts were in vain. But as the news seeped in and the initial shock subsided one came to realise that perhaps there was more in this situation that met the eye.

If three years of unabated struggle and dogged determination to carry on our teaching in spite of everything had made a politico want to create a space for children and run a school, then we had achieved the goal pwhy had set for itself: to make the community aware of the importance of education and children.

Many of our early supporters still wonder why we left Giri Nagar and sought other pastures. Our answer is simple: 7 years back Giri Nagar had no structure for children; today it boasts of 4 NGOs that run child related activities making us almost redundant and though our pride took a blow when we were ousted, the greater objective was achieved. I guess the same applies for Okhla if what we have been told is true. If what once was a garbage dump and a haven for drug peddles becomes a school with play grounds for children, we would be fair in giving ourselves a pat on the back.

As for us we will once again find a place where children roam the streets and start all over again.

a bonny bundle of joy

Prakash is a bonny four month old, a far cry from his elder brother Manoj who came to us almost two years back and reminded me of a garden gnome with his big head and emaciated body.

When we came to know that Manoj’s mom mas pregnant again, we set out to chart a road map for her and like many of the programmes started by pwhy, we launched our pregnant mother support programme on the spur of the moment. Our sine qua non requirement was that the programme was open only to mom’s who came our way and were in need of support.

Today when we look at little Prakash sleeping or playing in the lap of his content mother we feel once again vindicated.

the sting that lost its bite

The latest sting school. operation turned out lost all its bite when the reporter in question was arrested. I am referring to the case of the school teacher accused of waylaying girls students in Delhi. Though the story had created furore and even rioting when aired, somehow it had not rung true and I had chosen not to comment on it though I often find myself reacting to stories about abuse of children.

Sting operations seem to be the flavour of the times and they have undoubtedly redressed many a tort and brought justice to some. And though one had even been at the origin of Ghaziabad girls operation, the silence that ensues such operation is sometimes too deafening to bear making us wonder as to the role the media can and should play in such cases.

It is true that in the past year of so the media has risen as a watchdog bringing to light many wrongs hitherto hidden. The power of images and the ability to edit and replay them brings stark realities into the very privacy of our homes making us react and one has seen people reaching out to others in gallant ways.

Sting operations have a role to play in waking up the slumbering conscience of a lethargic civil society and that is why one should not allow it to be hijacked to even personal vendettas or suit vested interests. If there are more such fake stings that we run the risk of having restrictive laws slammed on them.

Media has to be extremely cautious and conscious with such operations and not view them as a simple way to up their TRP rates. They also need to follow up and inform their audience on the outcome of each case. Only then can this powerful tool become an agent of change.