and she slept on the footpath

Little Radha is quietly completing her work. Looking at her you would think that all is well in her little world, or at least as well as can be. Yet Radha spent the night on the footpath. The reason: her little home was raised to the ground by the local authorities. The reason again: it was an illegal construction though her family had to pay 400 rs a month and more. And yet it was the only shelter her family had. It was the only protection from the sun or the rains that they had and the place where Radha can keep her brittle bones safe

True that by any standards the so called house was not fit for any consumption but in a city that has forsaken its poor it was the home the little family had carefully crafted. Radha and her family are one of the millions of voiceless, faceless families that come to the big city looking for a better life. The tragic loss of the father made this little family even more vulnerable. The family had spent the last two nights on the footpath. The mother spends the days desperately looking for a room to rent within her tiny budget.

I am not one to defend illegal structures. But I would like someone to help me understand how legality or the lack of it is defined. Most of the so called illegal dwellings of Delhi have postal addresses and their inmates have voter identity cards and ration cards. The most blatant example is that of the Lohars or iron smith gypsies that have been living on the pavement for three generations now! Their homes are destroyed time and again but then rebuild the next day after paying the right bribe. Over the years illegal structures have acquired a covert legality. Then one fine day, because of some upcoming fancy sports extravaganza or some court judgement that took forever to be pronounced the structures become illegal notwithstanding civic documents or empty promises. It is time to raise them all and the authorities do that with impunity.

Not far from where we are there were some more structures raised to the ground. Two of them were small food carts. I guess this was done in accordance to a supreme court order banning food vendors. This is the beginning of the end of a lifeline, one that will spell disaster in a city that is already witnessing a rising crime graph.

A real miracle

Manu is back in class and he is back with his long lost smile. For all of us at pwhy it is a huge miracle. For many months we feared for his life though we kept a brave face. His body had almost given up as he suffered multi organ failure: his liver and kidneys had almost packed up with the potent TB medication and we were at a complete loss.

His frail and emaciated body was devastated but his spirit held on, and held on strong. It refused to give up no matter what. He just lived on and slowly began to heal proving beyond doubt that mind is stronger than the body.

He still cannot walk on his own but when we told him that he could come to class he was thrilled and accepted to be carried down two flight of stairs in spite of the pain. He spent the whole day in class with his long lost friends who were thrilled to see him.

When he felt a little tired he simply lay on Prabin’s lap to rest for a while and then was all set to carry on his activities of the day. It was nothing short of a miracle and I could only watch him with clouded eyes and a huge knot in my throat. What a journey it had been for this saintly soul who had suffered the worst ignominies in his life and yet who accepted it all with dignity and grace. A blessed soul whose life touched each and every child of project why and above all me. I feel humbled and in awe.

Your task is not to seek for love…

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it wrote the Sufi poet Rumi. These words were sent to me in answer of the sponsorship appeal I recently put out on the world wide web!

I sat a long time wondering what the hidden message could be as normally one would have expected people to convey their support and in due course become sponsors. And then slowly it dawned on me. What my friend meant was basically not to give up but to try and find all the obstructions I had within myself that were stopping me from doing what I needed to.

No economic crisis or loss of funders should ever be allowed to come in the way of the future of my 800 kids. I just had find all the obstacles and remove them. What I had in custody was the smiles, hope and morrows of almost a thousand voiceless kids. I did not have the right or luxury to give up. And if I looked hard what I sought was not impossible: a hundred sponsors who would hold my hand and help me achieve what I had set out to do!

an old post revisited

As I sat this morning wondering what today’s post would be in the light of what one is going through, my mind wandered back to an old post I knew I had written some years back when I was desperately trying to pitch and defend my erstwhile and forgotten one-rupee-a-day programme. Today I find myself coming full circle as I try to make a case for our new sponsorship programme. I fished it out of the wood work! It was simply entitled:

One rupee a day and planet India revisited

one-rupee-a-day was an intuitive thought that had come to my mind way back in 1998 when project why was a tiny embryo… it seemed to be such a perfect solution.. was not India rich in mumbers.. and a rupee was something easily spared..

like all intuitive thoughts it got pushed back in the face of raised eyebrows, puzzled looks and amused smiles.. copious advise about the ways of goodBiz was proffered: donations, funding organisations, fund raising extravaganza, charity sales and much else.. and the greenhorn that iI was had no option than to take the well trodden path.. somewhat ill at ease I must admit.. to my mind this did not gel with what I had stood for and certainly not with India..

the one-rupee-day kept coming back with obsessive regularity… but I paid all the dues to the goodBiz world, and did the rounds of all that was suggested, and to be honest many options worked and pushed project why into a comfort zone bringing success, kudos, praise and even recognition..

but the goodBiz had its own hidden rules, one of them being its fleeting nature.. come on ms.B no one does this forever, you must change with times and adapt to the flavour of the day.. now that was not acceptable.. education is life long and not transitory and one does not leave people midway, one empowers them to carry on… and the solutions offered did not work..

reality hit us as we were pushed out of our comfort zone, more than once and each time the one rupee leit motiv sprung back to life. It seemed to have all the answers to problems. If education was perennial then the funding option we sought had to be one that any Indian could participate in and any Indian could steer..

So if we stand by what we set out to do: establish a model that can reach every child and be steered by its own, then all resources have to come from within. Five years of goodBizMessing had finally taught us that we needed to go all out and make the one-rupee-option a success, beating all odds..

But nothing would have prepared us for what was to ensue: a new discovery of India which no one could have imagined.

We launched a multi-pronged appeal to a wide audience: netizens, people from all walks of life through brochures, personal meetings, telephone calls.. and with the replies and reactions a new map of India came alive.

Indians living away from their mother land, be it students or professionals, reacted with overwhelming spontaneity and unadulterated love for their motherland. Individual responses and collective efforts saw the light and bore fruit at breathtaking speed.. needless to say most of them had never seen project why… There was profuse support from unknwon people across India, more so from the southern and western states… the community and weaker sections of society did come forward with suggestions and contributions..

We started feeling elated… come on India numbered one billion hearts, now finding 4000 should be easy..

But it was not so as we were to realise once again.. the cynics appeared with their unbelievable tales.. India’s capital once again took the lead of this tragic Act of the play.. what amazed us the most was the fact that people who had seen project why did not find it in them to write a cheque for 360 rs.. let alone get us contributions from friends.. everything possible was said to deter us, the trophy going to an upmarket restaurant owner who felt that adding one rupee to a bill may lead him to a litigation ten years hence..

Does one give up… the answer is No.. the cynicism is so deep that it has to be set right… if the goodBiz is in such a mess then why should a child in need of help pay the price… it is for us to reinvent ourselves and wipe out misconceptions..

As I look at this new map of India, where the common denominator is its heart and ability to feel compassion for the other, I see boundaries extending way beyond its geographical entity… and if the little hearts are few within its own land then somewhere someone has gone wrong..

The one-rupee-a-day has to work… to set matters right and the last shred of doubt I had was wiped away this morning as I flipped through a magazine which had an article on the children dying of malnutrition in Maharashtra with a photograph of a baby whose ribs you could count but whose eyes still help hope..

No you do not give up on planet India..

Yes we have come full circle today as we seek 100 sponsors from the world over.

a big blow

I should be jumping with joy. All our class XII students have passed their examinations and this for the 8th year running. But before I could get down and savour the good news a mail dropped in my inbox informing me that one of our main donors would not be able to meet their monthly commitment for they next 4 months.

It was a huge blow and I am completely shattered. How would we manage as without that particular donation there was no way we could survive.

If I were running a business I could have locked the door and lost the key while I licked my wounds in some remote corner. But when you run a show like project why you do not have the luxury to do that. Which door do I lock and who do I send home. The little ones who come every day and spend a few hours reclaiming a lost childhood; the special ones whose only few hours of dignity are those they spend with us. Do I send my primary kids back and live with the guilt of knowing that some of them would drop out of school and become child labour; and what about the secondary kids who have just done me proud! And the foster care kids whose home is project why!

No, I cannot send anyone home or shut any door. Were I to do so, I would never be bale to look at myself in the eye. I will have to snap out of my gloom and muster all the courage I can to reinvent myself . I will need to get out of the comfort zone I had sunk in and retrieve my dusty begging bowl and beg till it hurts.

I had always been weary of big donors. They tend to make you complacent and make you forget the true essence of the work you sought to do. Running an organisation like pwhy is fist and foremost a lesson in humility. And to remain humble you need to remember that your work depends on the compassion and empathy of others. It is a one to one equation. If you forget that you risk losing everything. I wish my one rupee a day programme had worked, or rather that I had given that programme my all.

But it is never too late. We have launched a sponsorship programme that we hoe many will join. It has to be a success; 800 little smiles depend on it! So help me God!

the heat is on

As I climbed up the stairs to my office I peeped into the creche. I was taken aback at the number of kids present. It seemed far more crowded than usual. I waved everyone a cheery hello and moved on. I was a little angry as I had time and again told the staff not to admit too many kids in a class.

Upon reaching my office I called my programme in charge and asked her why there were so many kids in the creche. She simply told me that this was only for the summer months. Apparently the parents of many of our regular creche children had pleaded with us to accept some siblings for the duration of the holidays. The reason: their homes were very hot and the older siblings had nowhere to go. All my anger fizzled out. I knew hat they were talking about: tiny windowless rooms with tin roofs that turned into ovens under the scorching sun. I had nothing left to say, anything was better than that.

The pwhy classroom is not five star. But it is large, has fans and even an inverter that ensures that fans runs even during outages. Their is coll drinking water and often if the kids are dirty or too hot, the staff gives them a cool bath. Many of the homes do not have water in summer.

When the heat is on, life is not easy for anyone but in slums it turns into a nightmare. At least at pwhy, the children can beat the summer, albeit for a few hours!

the grand tour

Our little foster care kids are home for their summer break. I went to fetch them at the boarding school and before we could leave I was given the grand tour!

This is my classroom said one, while the other tugged at my shirt with a come to my classroom. We went to each classroom and collected every one’s summer home work. Then I was taken to the hostel and everyone showed their little bed. The bigger boys who share a room even showed us how they slept! The excitement was palpable, the smiles larger than life and you could see that all the kids loved their school. The ride back home was replete with stories. What was high on the agenda was the picnic at the amusement park and the water rides and the yummy ice cream.

I listened to my little slumpups and took in every word they said. It was intoxicating as it vindicated everything one had faced and fought for. Looking at them and listening to their happy babble made me realise that we were truly on track.

migrant woes

The three children in this picture are siblings. They have just joined our crèche. They all hail from Nepal and have recently come to Delhi. When I fist saw them I asked why the elder ones had been admitted to the early education programme. They seemed far too old for it and should have been enrolled in a proper school.

The answer was simple and poignant. The children did not speak or understand Hindi. They only spoke Nepali. There was no way they could attend any school. What my staff proposed was to slowly teach them Hindi and then perhaps a year or two down the lone get them admitted to a proper school in class II. They felt that in the crèche, even though they were bigger than the rest of the kids, they would be able to slowly grasp and learn a new language. I simply agreed.

The plight of children who migrate from other parts of India or as is the case here from another country altogether, is often tragic. The parents often flee their homes for economic reasons – a flood, a dry spell, a natural disaster – and come to a strange city. The father does manage to get a job and the rest of the family has to learn to cope in new surroundings. Older children are the ones who suffer the most as they cannot integrate any school and are often left to their own devices. They are rarely accepted by other children and often become the butt of ridicule. They thus grow up lonely and rejected. No one really cares about their future.

The three kids in the picture may be able to break free and integrate a school, make new friends and build their tomorrows, but what about the thousands and more who will never get a proper chance and will have to learn to survive on their own. Some will join the ranks of child labour and be seen washing dishes at a tea shop or cleaning other people’s homes. Others may fall prey to predators. Such is the plight of children who migrate with their families to big cities.

poll games

I have been watching with amused horror tinged with extreme sadness the poll games being played with alacrity over the past few days. These are being reported by all media channels for all to see. It is an almost foregone conclusion that no one party will emerge as a winner in election 2009. It is also a sure thing that the government will be a coalition of many parties.

The poll games I refer to are the permutations and combinations that are being worked out even before the first vote is out of the ballot box. For the past few days we have been witnessing umpteen debates and discussions by the top brains of the media and political pundits about the probable possibilities. The games go like this: if XYZ gets so many votes then it could ally with ABC and so on. What is alarming is that there seems to be no importance attached to values of any kind. Left can ally with right, secular with communal, friend with foe. It does not matter. What matters is who will sit on the coveted chair. The games get subtler as everyone wants his or her pound of flesh. If XYZ helps me bring the state government down, then I will support them, or they can have my support if they give me a coveted post.

Ideologies do not matter. There is no room for loyalty. Anyone can become friend or foe in the span of a second. Manifestos are forgotten and so are promises. No one cares about the fact that millions are without water, or schools, or health care or food. All is forgotten when playing poll games. The cat will be out of the bag in a few hours and we can expect furious rounds of poll games till the dust settles and rather till the moment the coveted chair is finally conquered.

sponsor a child

Sponsoring a child is quite a favourite with NGOs the world over. Large ads in all shades of media soliciting you to become a sponsor are more than abundant. For a few pennies, you are told, you can change the life of a child. I do not know why but I never warmed up to the idea. In days when I was myself a donor, I never sponsored a child. I preferred giving to organisations that I felt were doing good work. I cannot say why, but sponsoring a child was almost anathema.

Years went by and I found myself on the other side of the fence. I was the one needing donors. My bête noire remained and we never went the sponsorship way. I was even vindicated when I visited an orphanage and saw sponsored kids with their Superhero school bags almost ostracised by their peers who only had dull cloth bags. Whenever anyone suggested we go the sponsorship way, I resisted vehemently proffering a litany of reasons against the very thought.

Never say never is a maxim that is always proved true and is not necessity the mother of all inventions? And above all are not the morrows of my children far more important than any quirk of mine? When our little foster care kids were left high and dry by a potential benefactor, the only road we could walk was the sponsorship one. And then when we were recently faced with a huge hole in our budget and had to face the aftermath of recession, the sponsorship issue came up again. Many felt that this was an option that would endure all economic mishaps.

After much deliberations and thought we decided to launch a sponsorship programme, whereby we requested donors to sponsor not one specific child, but children within a group. For a fixed amount of money you would sponsor one special child, or two crèche children or 4 school going children. We at pwhy, would have a blog that would keep the sponsor abreast with everything that was going on. The programme was launched recently and we are still waiting to see whether it would bring the fruits expected. I pray it does.

For me personally it has been another milestone. I look at it as yet another test thrown my way by the God of Lesser Beings to see how far I would go to protect the smiles I hold in custody.