Us!

The sustainability of project why has been foremost in my mind since the very day it all began. many options were tried, tested and rejected. Some had a longer life shelf than others. Some though doable were found to be not practical, others had scant returns. From our cloth bags almost 4 years back, to planet why, it has been a long journey.

But as we inched forward, I realised that sustainability did not mean securing funds alone. It also entailed passing on the mantle to a new order, one that would and should emerge from within to give the word empowerment its true meaning. We had to reinvent ourselves.

A lot of resistance came our way as no one was really willing to take responsibility. Every one preferred following orders. But the real litmus test of the model we set out to create lay in its ability to move be steered by the very team that held it together, albeit under the benevolent eye of a ageing lady.

For some time now a hesitant question had been doing the rounds, barely voiced but often though: what after Ma’am. Actually I wish people would scream it loud as it is a very real one. And I would like to see it reworded as who after Ma’am? And the answer I would like to hear is: us!

And though it was not quite said of formulated or even understood, the first step towards that day was unconsciously taken last week. During a meeting called to discuss are now almost legendary precarious financial situation, an idea was mooted by one of the team members. To save rent money why not approach the local councillor as apparently the first floor of the local community centre was apparently available. I initially recoiled at the very thought. It brought back thoughts I did not want to recall. The building he was mentioning held too many dark memories. And yet when I look back on those days, it also was the springboard to our freedom. So was this divine justice at play.

I also remembered that when the said building was being erected I had strongly held that being a community centre built with public funds, it had to be steered and managed by the community. When we had applied for it, it had not been in the name of our NGO but in the name of a community residents association. So was it not time to redeem that pledge. Things were coming full circle. Life always does.

Hence a plan was drawn. A posse of our staff – those who live in that area – would approach the councillor and make a bid for the building. And it is they who would subsequently decide to ask us to run selected activities in it. To some it may look a rather convoluted approach. Actually it is the first step to the empowerment I always longed for. The day when project why will be truly community steered had dawned.

Matters are still under consideration and there are many slips between the proverbial cup and lip, but I am confident we will ultimately overcome. The us I sought has come to life, now we need to nurture it and help it grow.

Radha

Little Radha is back. She was away for a whole month as she had broken both her legs after a stool fell on her brittle bones. Not easy to care of a little girl with glass-bone disease when you live in a tiny hovel with hardly any space to move. Ostoegenis Imperfecta is not easy to manage even in the best conditions, in Radha’s case it is quasi impossible. And yet her mother does her best in spite of having 5 other children and a drunk husband.

In spite of her distorted bones and her frail structure, Radha is one of a kind. A girl full of life and spunk whose only dream is to be able to walk. I do not know if inside her she knows she will never be able to; if she does she has never shown it. She is an avid learner and wants to live life king size. And perhaps it is this very side of her that makes me believe that little Radha knows she has little time.

Little Radha’s smile is a lesson for all of us. Her spirit and zest for life is contagious though heart wrenching. As I watch her dragging herself from one side of the room to the other or simply bending over her copy book, her tongue poking out in deep concentration I am filled with a sense of total helplessness. I know what awaits and I also know there is nothing or little I can do. So help me God!

a precious gift

I have been looking at your website, since I arrived in Delhi a few months back. I have been able to see with my own eyes how some kids are living in this area, and despite their hard lives, they still keep on smiling, which gives anyone the will to live and enjoy life in the simplest way. I am writing to you today to see if you need a person to help you time to time, I do not have a job here yet and therefore I am not able to donate some money, but I am willing to give some of my time, help or love if needed.

These simple words from someone I have never met dropped in my mailbox this morning. To me they were the most precious gift as they validated much of what I hold as true. Today’s world is engrossed in seeking things money can buy and hence is also blinded by its obsession to make more and more money. In that frenzy we seem to have forgotten that there are more valuable, rewarding and abundant things waiting to be discovered. The recent events have shown how fragile and shaky the gaols we seek are!

The smiles that greet me each day as I walk into pwhy truly remind us that happiness is not directly proportionate to the size of a wallet or bank balance. These kids have nothing to smile at were we to apply our canons of success. Some went to sleep hungry, others may have been beaten by a drunk father. Some cannot walk, or talk or even hear. And yet they smile with abandon at the slightest prompt.

We seem to have forgotten how to appreciate small things, how to enjoy the beauty that surrounds us, how to marvel at a flower just bloomed or bask in the morning sunlight. We have forsaken the simple pleasures that lie in wait at every corner of our lives. We are just busy counting our gains and losses. When we hear the word give we recoil in horror as we are convinced that everyone just wants our shrinking pile of money. We simply forget that there is so much more we can give: time, help or love as writes my young friend. These are far more precious than all the gold in the world as with these you give a little of yourself.

mummy and daddy I L U!

Utpal is home for his Diwali break. Home this time is the women centre without mom as she is back in rehab. Home is where his toys and preferred TV programmes await his return, where the fridge is laden with his favourite goodies and where his pals both big and small look forward to his homecoming.

On his way home, Popples dropped by my home. He sauntered in a huge smile on his face, a twinkle in his eyes. After some hugging and cuddling, he fished out a folder sheet of paper from his pocket and handed it to me. It was a Diwali greeting card, the kind every school child makes: some glitter, a handful of lamps, candles and diyas carefully coloured with crayons, and the customary Happy Diwali in curly letters. Inside the card was a simple message: Rose is red, sky is blue, Mummy and Daddy I L U.

As I read the words, my hear missed a beat. I looked at him and softly asked him: is this for me? The answer was a simple: yes.

I was moved to tears; my throat choked painfully. I just hugged him tighter unable to utter the words I wanted to. He simply held on to me tight. Then like all little boys he wanted to know what i had got for him and whether there was an orange – his favourite fruit – in the fridge. Needless to say there was. We spend some time chatting and he told me about his maths test that had been held the same morning and in which according to him he had secured 10/10! After a while he wanted to go off to the women centre and watch cartoons.

I sat for a long time, his precious gift in my hands. I wonder whether he understood the meaning of the words he had scrawled, whether he realised that there were things in his life which were different. Did he feel he was missing something is pals had. Or was his still too young and had just made the card without grasping the meaning of the words. Or was it that he felt that it was meant for the people he cared for and hence for his maam’ji! I knew the day would come when real questions would spring in his mind and when answers would have to be found.

My thoughts went back to what I had written in dear Popples: Popples you will have to, one day, write an essay about your family and you will find it very hard to do it because if you do what big people ask you to, then you will be writing a pack of lies, and if you write the truth, your little friends may not quite understand. But I want you to know that if you begin by writing lies then you will have to do so all along, whereas if you say the truth and even if one person sticks by you, you will have won!

God bless India

God bless India were the words chosen by the Orissa nun who had been mob raped in August to end the almost half an hour statement recounting her horrific tale. In a controlled and choked tone she related how she had been abused, humiliated, violated and defiled. Her narrative was graphic. She described everything she was subjected to including the total apathy of the police.

I sat in total silence, dumbfounded and shocked. Her last words carried terrifying portent. Which India was she blessing? The one that had stood silent and watched her ordeal? The one that had refused to give her justice? The one that claimed thousands years of civilisation and tradition but could not protect one of its own? Or the one that today was using her harrowing ordeal to garner political brownie points?

Which religion are we defending as we chose to violate a woman of faith? In which God’s name were such acts perpetrated? And what makes seemingly innocuous human beings commit such horror?

The questions are endless, the answers few or empty. I was shocked beyond words by the pathetic and pitiable defense put up by a guest at a talk show debating the issue: the rape has not been proved he shouted. I would like to ask him what more proof did he need than the woman herself saying on national TV that she was raped. Need I remind him that it is not easy for any woman to come out in the open, least of all one who has taken wows of chastity? But who is listening, no one is really interested in the plight of the poor woman. Every one is seeking his pound of flesh.

There are more disturbing questions, the ones that address the cause and not the effect, the ones that are never asked for fear of revealing what we are not ready to hear. Why is this happening? What is making people act in such dastardly ways? What is ailing our society? What lies behind it all? Where are we heading?

who invade the privacy our homes through innumerable TV programmes and intoxicate us with nonsense? I wonder why not one of them has ever denounced such And again I have no option but to resort to my leitmotif: the widening gap between the have and the have nots, the absence of any self respecting system of education, the total abdication by the powers that are to address real issues. Such are acts are indeed whipped up by some vested interests but are executed by disgruntled and weak individuals seeking instant gratification and unless we address the problems of such individuals we will never be able to reverse the situation. But again who bells the cat: a hijacked education system that has lost its way and instead of bridging gaps is playing to the gallery and widening them; religious Godmen who invade the privacy of our homes through innumerable TV programmes. I wonder why not one of them had ever denounced such despicable acts.

Unless we garner the courage to face real issues, such acts will continue. Another headline will replace the story of Sister Meena, actually it already has and even those of us who were moved to tears by the tale will move on. Such is life. I wonder how many more such horror stories will it take to awaken our collective conscience.

God bless India said sister Meena. I wonder which India she was referring to.

Ho’oponopono

Ho’oponopono means to make it right. It is an ancient Hawaiian healing technique that can be applied to any problem or difficulty. The reason why I talk of this today is because of an incident that occurred yesterday and that left me quite baffled.

The daughter of a dear friend came to me with a problem seeking the right answer. She was on her a way home in a three wheeler when a small accident occurred involving a bigger car. No real harm was done and the protagonists could have continued their journey without much ado, But that was not to be. The occupants of the car forced the rickshaw to stop and pulled the driver out and started bashing up violently. The poor man kept apologising profusely but to no avail. The beating and abusing carried on mercilessly. My little friend tried to glare at the perpetrators but that seemed to have the opposite effect as the miscreants decided to play to the gallery. A small crowd gathered, mostly simple workers and bystanders. The enraged men shouted at them and they too dispersed. Someone gently told the young to take another ride home.

The young girl came home visibly shaken by the incident. What disturbed her most was the fact that she had walked away and not been able to help the poor rickshaw driver. She wanted me to tell her what she should and could have done. She felt like a coward for having walked away.

We sat for a long time trying to find an answer, and sadly in the given circumstances and situation there was none. Rage that seems to have become the order of the day. The arrogance of the rich and the helplessness of the poor provide the right stage for such incidents that seem to be the rule rather than the exception. And once again we seem to be healing the effect and not the cause. The true answer lies elsewhere. In ourselves more than in others but are we willing to look inwards.

I looked for answers too, larger ones and that is when I remembered ho’oponopono. It is a code of forgiveness whereby you have to accept as being the cause of everything that surrounds you and learn to forgive not only others but yourself. The problem with things around us today is that we thrive in the blame game and never accept our part of responsibility let alone begin to forgive. The men in the car could have simply forgiven the rickshaw driver and moved on. The young girl has also to forgive herself for having walked away.

It is time we all learnt to ho’oponopono.

when did you last say…..

When did you last say thank you to the man who washes your car, the one who delivers your newspaper or the one who collects your garbage every day. When did you smile at the lady who leaves her children to come and look after yours? When did you look into the eyes of the waiter who served you your coffee while you sat laughing with your pals? A mail from the founder of dream-a-dream reminded us all of just that. He said: Change, I believe, will have to happen in two-ways. One, empowerment of the vulnerable who can stand up for their dignity, respect and rights as an equal in society and at another, more difficult level, empowerment and sensitization of the community of people like us who over generations have become immune to the prejudices and biases we exercise in our daily lives.

As we sit watching the market crashing and stocks tumbling and dolefully counting our losses, it is perhaps time to take a peep into ourselves and see what we have truly lost. If we do so with honesty and candor we will be compelled to realise that over the years we have lost our ability to care, love, give an reach out to others. Hubris took hold of us in more ways than one, and we lived insulated little lives protecting what we had been taught to believe as being the only asset of true value. We had all become targets of what a friend called financial terrorism. A very insidious form of terrorism as it does not operate through violent and visible attacks, but feeds on surreptitiously creating large than life dreams in innocent people’s lives, dreams that are waiting to crash.

It was almost two years ago that I wrote about my fears about plastic money and bank loans reaching the pockets of the poor. But the adversary was too big for me, the terrorist forces were at work and the dreams too tempting to resist. It has been two years since the loan was taken. The money was used in a day to add veneer to a wedding. And since that fateful day the little family of 5 has had to live with half a salary, the other half being used to pay the dreaded EMIs. This is just one instance. There are innumerable others.

But was this post not about saying thank you! or rather about the importance of getting past our prejudices and fears, of reclaiming lost values like compassion and empathy. I somehow feel that it is the new mantra we have all been taught to chant that is the cause of such a behaviour. In a world where the material, the visible and the transient are valued, there is no place for the immutable, the permanent and the invisible.

Maybe it is time to reclaim lost values and make them part of us. Maybe it is time to garner the courage to look at those we take for granted and whisper a simple thank you. I am sure that we will be the ones truly gratifies. I an never forget the beggar woman who many years back thanked me warmly not for having given her a coin or banknote, but for having simply looked into her eyes and told her that I was sorry i did not have anything to give!

the roads are houseful

Today, I was treated to one of my best moments at pwhy. The day began normally and nothing would have prepared me for what was to come. As I was about to leave the office I asked my colleagues what was their plan for the day and they answered that they were going to the senior secondary section as the students were having an English Debate competition. I must confess I was a tad vexed at not having been invited but I said nothing and went my way.

As luck would have it an appointment got canceled and I found myself with time on my hands and decided to make my way to the senior secondary and be part of the debate. I do not know whether my move was apreciated but everyone played by the book and I was greeted with warmth by all. A dozen boys were in the class room and just one girl. The students were mostly from class XII, XI, X and IX. Some time later three girls joined the group. Though initially a debate had been planned, Gunjan the English teacher sprung a surprise on his nervous wards. Everyone was to chose a topic and speak for at least a minute. The new dictate was met with bewildered looks, nervous glances and uncomfortable stances but the teacher was relentless. After brief introductions it was time for the first speaker to address the audience.

The next hour was an absolute delight in more ways than one. The topic selected by the students were varied and showed a great deal of maturity and wisdom. Child marriage, dowry menace, terrorism, education, environment, importance of doctors were some of the chosen topics. Some spoke with confidence, some with some hesitation but each one stood proudly in front of an audience where some were outsiders and shared their dreams, hopes, fears and aspirations in a language they were learning to master. I must confess that for once the boys outdid the girls.

Young Ravi who bagged the coveted first price took my breath away. He chose an unexpected and somewhat trite topic – traffic – and in 1.50 seconds painted a socio-economic canvas of today’s India. Ravi’s English would be considered by many as wanting, his construction faulty and his grammar poor but he managed to convey everything he set out to, vindicating my firm belief that language is a communication tool and should be viewed as such.

Ravi’s speech was a delight. He used stunning metaphors and images to convey what he wanted. The one that bowled me over was: the roads are houseful – to convey the state of traffic on Delhi roads. In his nascent English, Ravi talked about the misplaced egos of Indians where families had not one, not two but four cars! He talked of the car companies always coming up with bigger and newer models to tempt consumers. He mentioned increased pollution and subsequent health hazards. He even touched upon the apocalyptic scenario that waits us with the arrival the low cost Nano that would make roads even more houseful! He even highlighted the fact that in other countries people were content with two cars per family. He ended by saying that he walked the talk as he had neither car nor bike. What a stunning little speech it was, delivered with passion and aplomb.

Everyone shared their views with sensitivity. It was a moving moment as I sat and listened to the hopes and fears, the likes and dislikes of these wonderful and yet forsaken children of India. Here they were rearing to go but we had assured that they would run the race of life with tied hands. The education doled out to them was nothing short of mediocre, one that even with the best effort would never enable them to win the race.

And yet as I watched them, all I saw was winners who had beaten all odds and were determined to break glass and lead ceilings and it accrued to us at pwhy to help them do so. It was also a proud moment as many of those who stood in front for me were toppers in their schools thanks to the efforts of our precious teacher Naresh. While introducing themselves they had also shared what they wanted to be: math teachers, chartered accountants, computer engineers, pilots, were some of their aspirations.

I left the room with a silent prayer to the God of Lesser Beings, entrusting these precious dreams to his care.

In the name of a mother

It is that day of the year when I remember Kamala, my mother. Last year on this very day I dedicated our women centre to her. Kamala was an extraordinary woman in more ways than one, a true free spirit in times were women were often relegated to the shadows. She was passionate about many things but what she cherished the most was education, something she achieved with great difficulty and strife. When I decided to open a women centre it had to be dedicated to her memory. Today one year down the line, it is time to ask whether the women centre is worthy of the one whose name it bears.

The Kamala centre is a placed filled with joy, laughter and a palpable energy. In the span of a short year it has over 200 children and long waiting lists. Over 50 women come each day to learn stitching of beauty skills to enable them to slowly take the road to financial independence. One a week there is a women’s meeting where many topical and sometimes. disturbing issues are debated while sipping tea and nibbling on biscuits. Till now the women have talked about gender bias, child abuse, women’s rights, girl child, HIV and much more. Simpler issues have also been discussed: hygiene, balancing household budgets, saving, immunisation and insurance. On a lighter vein and on popular demand there was also a pasta cooking session where the women were taught how to make pasta in tomato sauce!

The Kamala centre also has a library, that is even open on Sundays. The children are thrilled and consider the library as one of their most precious possession. Not a single book has been torn or misplaced. The Kamala centre is a vibrant place. It is not simply a study centre but a true children centre, one that they consider their very own. They celebrate festivals and come to play in it after working hours. It is a place where children know they can reclaim their right to be children and they do!

The centre may be just a year old but it is imbued by Kamala’s spirit and a reflection of all she believed in. It holds in custody the dreams of aspirations of a many: children on their way to a new tomorrow; women slowly getting empowered. It is a place where people of all caste, creed, social background come together as one in a true celebration of life itself.

the project why bugle

Normally it is left to me to blow the project bugle and list its achievements. Not an easy task I must confess. A few days back Megha our Asha stewart was here for the yearly mandatory site visit. She spent a few days at pwhy interacting with staff and children. When she sent me a copy of the report I felt I was looking at pwhy through fresh, candid and honest eyes and was vindicated in many ways and truly overwhelmed. I share the report with all of you.


Project Overview:

Project Why (pwhy) runs a number of centres that provide after school education for children from slums. They also have creches, a centre for disabled children and adults, and a women centre. We supported about half their budget in FY 2007-2008. They have recently begun an initiative, Planet Why to generate income that could be used to support the activities of Project Why.

Site Visit

PWHY was started by Mrs Anouradha Bakshi in 1998 as an endeavour to return her debt to society. It started with English classes for kids from the Govindpuri slums. In a decade they have grown to 13 different centres reaching out to approximately 600 children in three low income/slum areas of New Delhi. The field coordinators are Shamika (her daughter) and Rani (a resident of Govindpuri). Mrs Bakshi is the big picture person and chief fundraiser. Shamika and Rani handle the day to day logistics of pwhy which includes speaking with students, parents, managing teachers and resolving any type of community issue that crops up in their classes. Shamika has trained to work with autistic children and Rani has a degree in nursing. Rani is in fact a product of pwhy, having been one of its first students.

My site visit was spread over a period of one week where I was very cordially taken around the various centres, introduced to teachers and was able to have exhaustive discussions with Anou, Rani, Shamika, Barbara (a visiting volunteer from UK who worked with the British civil services) and Mr. Dharmendra (who runs the women’s centre).

Visit to centres

Pwhy office is located in Govindpuri, gali no 3. A narrow lane leads up to a three story building that the project owns. The ground floor is for mentally and physically challenged children and adults. They are divided into three groups based on the level of their disability. The first floor is a creche for children from 1.5 to 3.5 yrs of age. The disabled children and creche babies are picked up from their homes and dropped off to the centre each morning. The second floor is a primary after school centre and the final landing has an office and small kitchen. Across this building is the foster home and another primary after school centre in a rented accommodation. In Govindpuri, gali no 1 is another creche where I was treated to nursery rhymes and number recitation. Many kids were absent due to a flu that was making the rounds.

A five minutes ride away is a primary after school centre located in the very heart of the Govindpuri slums. A labyrinth of narrow lanes, criss-crossing many homes, kirana shops and recycling businesses leads to a single storey rented accommodation. A gutter along the homes was chock full of unhealthy and smelly sewage. In spite of this I landed into a neat, clean and odor free classroom with children bent over their books and two teachers administrating over 3rd and 4th standard boys. Teacher: student ratios were about 1:10 but this fluctuates with time as the after school program is voluntarily attended by children. I doubt if I would find this classroom without Shamika and Rani seeing as a dizzying circuitous route is needed to reach it!

A ten minutes ride away is the Okhla primary after school centre. This centre has an interesting history. Ms. Sophiya, one of the teachers who has been with pwhy for 7 years urged Anou to start a centre in Okhla slums because the Govindpuri centre was too far for the children and could not in fact accommodate more children. After much debate with the community, one room brick building (10’ X 20’) was built. This structure was repeatedly broken by miscreants from the locality over a period of one year. In Shamika’s words – “Saturday we would lock the room and on Monday nothing would remain.” Pwhy remained persistent and by focusing on their educational activities they were able to convince the community to embrace the learning centre. Today, outside the room a boundary wall has been erected and children sit out here, under a canopy, since they are too many to be accommodated into the room. The roof leaks, there’s a rudimentary toilet since the slum has no plumbing and the kids have to sit through hot summer months under one fan or huddle together in the one room during cold winters. In spite of this the teachers remain resilient and kids look very happy.

Located in the Sanjay colony slums, a five minutes ride from Okhla is another primary education centre. Situated on the first floor, this primary centre has three teachers who were busy with their charges when we visited. The door was locked because dogs were using the ground floor as a sleeping area and bothering the children.

The furthest away is the women’s centre located a twenty-minute ride away from pwhy office, in the Sarita vihar village. This centre runs independently solely due the perseverance of Mr Dharmender, the manager of this centre. Dharmenderji has been with pwhy for 8 years and started as a teacher. Realizing his potential and interest in taking on a bigger role Anou has made him sole in charge for the women’s centre. His commitment and passion are evident by the amount of progress he has made in just 8 months since the inception of this centre. It took several months for him to find the right space and convince a landlord to rent it to an NGO. The interior was then re- designed to accommodate a creche, sewing class room, beautician’s class room, library, room to house women, a kitchen and, a primary as well as middle level after school program. The after school kids occupy space on the terrace under a canopy bravely withstanding the heat (they have only two coolers so children sit close to it by rotation – another innovation by Dharmenderji). Not only does he run the entire outfit but he’s also called on each day to resolve the myriad problems of his students and parents. The after school programs are so successful that he has started a waiting list!

He’s also done a remarkable job with the women who stay at the residential centre. Junoon, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder was ably handled each time to calm down. She was in rehab when I visited. Having querulous women is also a problem with the neighbouring community who will not tolerate this type of behaviour making his negotiation and diplomatic skills all the more valuable. Dharmenderji is grooming the centre to function independently from him by setting up processes that encourages the various teachers to take more initiative and ownership in their endeavours. Dharmenderji will take over the administrative running of planet why and is wholly committed to making it a reality. Meanwhile his thoughtful, humble and intelligent manner have greatly distinguished his contribution to pwhy and I can’t think of a better manager for planet why.
The women’s centre was also a pilot program to see how project why can run a centre far away from the main office as well as one that ran numerous activities. So far the pilot has been successful and the problems they have had to set it up have provided valuable lessons that they can apply to planet why.

At the Girinagar slums is another rented accommodation. This is located 10 minutes from the main office. The ground floor contains a computer centre that is open to the public. Internet is available at a nominal rate of Rs. 10 per hour and computer classes are also administered here. The first floor is the domain of Mr Naresh perhaps, the most beloved of teachers at pwhy. He teaches maths to the senior secondary students andserves as a valuable role model to all his students. There’s also a library here. From the last batch a student called Janaki ranked 13th in the Delhi CBSE board exams. There aren’t as many senior maths teachers so his role is invaluable. It has been difficult to expand high school after school programs since there are too few maths teachers who can teach in Hindi at that level.

General comments and observations

All centres and classrooms are spotlessly clean. Students are responsible for cleaning them after class. The walls are decorated with charts and the children’s handicrafts. There’s a white board in each centre that is being used as per need – in some they have taken the place of blackboards and in some they are activity boards while in others they have a timetable. It’s particularly nice to have these instead of chalkboards because in the crowded small classrooms chalk dust causes discomfort.

All teachers (except from women’s centre) meet during noon to partake in the daily lunch together. The lunch is provided by pwhy in the terrace of the Govindpuri office. This ritual is very useful as it serves as a forum for the teachers to discuss their problems with Shamika and Rani and between themselves. They exchange stories and solutions. A valuable bonding time has been established.

All pwhy’s transport is taken care of by three autos that are driven by parents of children that attend the schools. They are full time employees of the NGO and they are indispensable. They cart children from various homes in slums to the creche ensuring that the children come to school and ferry Shamika and Rani, and their daily rounds of various centres.

  1. An unusual feature of pwhy is that teacher retention is high. Two contributing factors to this are All teachers are local i.e., they live in or very close to the slums where they teach
  2. Teaching provides employment to people who would otherwise have to do manual labour.

One example is Ms Sophiya of the okhla centre who is belongs to the SC/ST class and was unable to get employment as a teacher although qualified for it. Since pwhy doesn’t run schools it can employ people who don’t have teaching degrees but have had an education such as the two brothers Sanjay and Vikki who are lohars (migrants from the blacksmith gypsy community) and lived in a slum that was broken down. They teach the primary classes and if not for pwhy they would not have been able to get good jobs that would use their education.

Over all teachers at pwhy are very proud oftheir work and derive satisfaction from the respect and adoration they receive from the parents and children. Indeed, they are looked upon gratuitously byparents who otherwise, would have treated them with contempt just because of their caste!

There have been exceptions. A few years ago one centre had to be closed because teachers were taking extra tuitions for the children who attended their classes and charged them for the service; essentially they used pwhy for recruitment and space to further their tuition business.

  • Except for the foster children and staff no child is explicitly provided with lunch.Most children eat their meal at the govt school under the mid day meal scheme. Children who come to the creche bring their own lunch. I was surprised by this, but Shamika gave me the reason – pwhy feels that parents need to take some responsibility towards the care of their children. The 9-5pm creche provides a safe environment for children of families where both parents work and no one can stay behind to take care of the child. Since pwhy takes a nominal Rs 1/ day per family the lunch acts as an alternate reminder to the parents that they too are participants in the child’s upbringing and not to take pwhy’s role for granted. Of course children who do not bring their lunch are given a portion from the staff lunch.
  • Teachers are keen to learn English. An English teacher from US, Ms. Nina plans to work with them to improve their English as well as their teaching methods to grasp the language. Speaking good English is perhaps the best confidence that we can give these children.
  • The foster home was an inadvertent addition to pwhy. Encouraged by the donor who was to fund planet why these children were taken in as the first batch of entrants to planet why. When the donor quite abruptly pwhy decided that they had given too many dreams to these children to send them back to their homes (if they had any!) and has continued to take care of them. All except the disabled children will be placed in a boarding school next year. Many are older than they appear but were malnourished and with no education when they were brought in. They have been attending a kindergarten and have caught up to Std 1 education. These children would be a good match for the Support-A-Child program. Anou has already identified an appropriate boarding school for them.
  • The boy’s come to school in the morning and girls in the afternoon because the govt school is open for girls in the morning and boys in the afternoon.
  • Pwhy attempts to provide a little more than after school education; they are very careful not to refer to their centres as tuition centres as they try and provide a holistic and not just academic education. They have sponsored various open heart surgeries.
  • Another nice thing about their processes is that it is very open to change. The organization has a constant influx of volunteers – mostly foreign who spend time here in various capacities. They also interact with other NGOs, most recently with Praxis that carried out a SWOT (Strength, Weakness, opportunities, threats) on their employees.

Overall impressions

Project Why is a vibrant, dynamic organization that works with flexibility and love in the community that they serve. Their teachers are passionate and committed. Ithas a flat organizational structure encouraging its teachers to innovate and share their ideas. The strongest fear the teachers have is what happens if Anou passes away. Although Rani and Shamika are the logistical branches of pwhy it’s Anou’s unflagging spirit and fundraising effort that keeps pwhy running. Her energy is the strength of her teachers. Anou recognizes this and is trying to work towards a model where all her centres are community owned and run. This might take a while to be realized given that some parents are so overwhelmed that even the nominal Rs 1/ day is out of their reach or sometimes they are unwilling to be equal partners because they want things for free. Rani and Shamika are being encouraged to participate in fundraisingactivity. So far their small efforts ( selling raffles in the community or at a college fest)have been resource intensive and without good returns. India being the land of judging a
book by its cover has led them to feel under confident in corporate settings. It’s ironic since these two girls are the ones who interact with each child, parent and teacher in pwhy! I’m sure given the right impetus they will soon take a more proactive role in fundraising.

Asha-Seattle currently supports approximately half of pwhy’s budget and I certainly felt our project partner had exceeded their mission statement and our donor money is going towards building a more educated society.

Project Why
Location: New Delhi
Site Visit Report
25th – 3rd Oct 2008