the last day

It is the last day of the year and the decade. Time to take a moment and look back at time gone by as we at pwhy step into our 10th year. Time to allow ourselves a moment to celebrate the achievements and successes of the years gone by and I must admit there is heaps to be joyful about: the little school bags that year after year got filled with new books as children passed to the higher classes, the bright eyed youngsters who held out their Board results with pride, the tiny boarding school stars who topped their respective classes beating every odd in life, the little once broken hearts that now beat with confidence ready to take on life, the very special young adults who have a home to call their own and do not need to wander the streets or live in fear of abuse.

But that is not all as none of this would not have been possible without so many wonderful souls who never gave up seeing with their hearts and made all of it possible. As I look back on the decade gone by I am filled with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude that no words can express, but then for those who see with their hearts are words necessary?

real education for all

An acquaintance dropped by yesterday. He is one of those strange persons who seem to be donning a new hat each time you meet. Last time we met he was involved in defending water rights worldwide and this time he handed me a card with the acronym MDG engraved on it. MDG, I was soon to discover were the lofty Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations and our friend was meant to work on seeing how to involve big businesses, again worldwide, in the game or how to make CSR programmes relevant. Why did I catch myself smiling. I guess because once again I was faced with the bizmess of giving! My mind went back to one of my earlier posts written almost half a decade ago.

Anyway I enjoy teasing this person about his new avatars and we began a gentle banter about his new role. I asked him what the famed goals were and how he planned to involve the so called big businesses in this. We never got further than Goal 2: Achieve Universal Primary Education. Somehow the playful mood that we had begun with turned serious and grave. We were now treading grounds I knew and had strong opinions about. This was no matter to kid about. I asked him how he envisaged involving large business houses and what if anything had he done in India? It seemed not much.

I was surprised at how militant I became. I guess I had found an interlocutor to share my extreme views on the matter with. I launched into a long diatribe about universal primary education. Education for all could only happen if state run schools became centres of excellence and the obvious choice for all – my dream of a common school. And maybe it was time that we in India ended the charade of having 33% as a pass percentage for school examinations as 33% got you nowhere. It was time to end the caste rid society of schools and come up with a school every child could attend.

Education for All targets the poorer strata of society and yet when we look around we realise that it is the poor children who have been let down again and again. In spite of constitutional guarantees, children from weaker sections are not given the enabling environment they need to grow and take their place in the sun. And what is infuriating is that they need so little. We have proved that in our ten years of existence as with very little help our children have sailed through school. And our little boarding schools stars quietly slipped into the top position of their respective classes without much ado. Imagine if all our kids could be given the right environment!

Universal Primary Education can and will only make sense if the adjective quality is added to the goal. If not then it will remain a charade played to satisfy questionable agendas or meet statistical compulsions.

See how they laugh

I had to share this and the pictures below with all of you. They were taken last week on the day when our little boarding school stars were ready to come home for their winter break. It is heartwarming and touching to see the joy and happiness written all over their little faces.

All theses little kids would have been living in despair had not the God of lesser beings decided to intervene. Thank heavens he did.

Lolita.. the true spirit of Xmas

It is Xmas morning and I pondered a long time about what would be the subject of my Xmas post. Silly of me as the answer was evident, it had to be Lolita.

Lolita landed on our little planet some weeks back and from the moment she stepped into our lives and hearts she brought with her the true spirit of Xmas: compassion, generosity and above all huge dollops of love. From the instant she walked everything was imbued with the magic of Xmas as we fell under her spell. Everything that had seemed impossible became incredibly easy and miracles after miracles sprung out of her invisible bag.
Lolita is someone who can only see with her heart and that makes her truly remarkable. You just have to murmur or wish or actually simply think it and it is fulfilled.

As I sit on this blessed morning I am filled with a deep sense of gratitude. I have far too often complained and whined about the puny obstacles that have come in the way of this extraordinary journey called project why and never sat down to think of the wonderful and abundant occurrences that have made this journey possible. Today I realise how fortunate we have been as every little impediment was the door real life Angels took to enter our world. And there have been so many. Lolita is one of them.

From this day on, when Xmas morn dawns on project why, we will always remember the pure unadulterated love that this incredible woman showered on us

To Lolita and to all the Angels that have landed in our lives I say Thank You!

Merry Xmas to all!

will I be safe tomorrow

Will I be safe tomorrow, is the question every little girl in India is asking herself today. The reason are the weak laws that protect them from abuse and ignominy. Almost two decades ago a young 14 year old was molested by a powerful man, someone she looked upon to as he held the key to fulfilling her dreams, that of being a sports star. Twenty years later the molester was handed over a sentence: 1000 rs fine and six months imprisonment. But the story is not that simple: in the twenty years the powerful and heinous support system had tried every trick in the book to protect the perpetrator and ensure that his life goes on unhindered. Young Ruckiha’s family was hounded, she was tormented and persecuted till she took the extreme step, that of ending her young life.

Today a nation is in shock and determined to see that Ruchika’s tormentor is brought to justice and I like everyone else want to see that day dawn. But the story does not end there. Every day, in homes and elsewhere young children are subjected to abuse by powerful predators and no law or kind heart is there to protect them. The powerful wheels of our patriarchal system are set in motion and again and again the perpetrator is protected and shielded while the victim is isolated and more often that not condemned. The child after a few feeble attempts that are met with suspicion and disbelief, locks herself in a abject solitude carrying scars that will and can never heal. Some, like Ruchika take an extreme step and put an end once for all to a life of torment. Others simply carry on nursing scars no one cares to see as protectors have turned predators.

Yes we want justice for Ruchika, but we also want to see all our children safe. We want justice for all those who have no voice, for all those who are thrown into a well of loneliness by an insensitive and feudal society who thrives in protecting misplaced notions like honour and reputation. We want a legal system that understands the damage an apparently innocuous gesture can do to a child and protect that child. But why do I feel that we still have to wait a long time.

for a few moments they dared to dream

Guess what? Father Xmas came to project why yesterday and met all the creche children and the special ed kids. I guess a little bird may have let the secret out as the children spent the morning trimming the tree and making beautiful decorations to welcome him. Every single child made something to hang on the tree. Little hands shapes were carefully cut out and embellished and each proudly bore the name of the child who had decorated crafted it. Once done the trees – yes one in the creche and one in the special section – looked beautiful and unique. They were the project why trees!

Then for while time hung heavy as everyone waited for Santa. Most of these children had never seen Santa albeit in picture books, and I wonder what image they had of him. You could see expectation in every pair of eyes, and perhaps a little apprehension. Kiran was the fist one to see him and ran to tell the others. Santa had come…

Then, believe it or not, time stood still as Santa brought his magic spell. There was nothing else in the building but Santa and the children and for those blessed moments every one dared to dream. It did not matter who you were, where you came from, where you would have to return once the spell was over, it did not matter if you were poor, or could not hear or walk, or whether you had spent long years roaming streets, Santa was there to make you believe that anything and everything was possible, you just had to hold on to your dream. Every child went to Santa and though no words were exchanged, hearts spoke. You see this was a time where everyone saw with their hearts.

Santa spent a long time with the project why children, giving cookies and sweets and above all love. Even Manu, who rarely bonds with anyone, had something special to share with Santa. But then it was time for Santa to leave and the spell would soon be broken. But I know that every child would carry the image of this wonderful Santa who came from far tell the children that dreams did come true. You just had to dare dream and hold on to them.
You too can share this very special day:

This wonderful day was created by Lolita and Lukas. Lukas was a unique Santa who did not play the role, but was Santa for those special moments. Bless you both

shocking and true

It began like any morning. It should have been a quiet Sunday but that was not to be. I sat with my morning cup of tea hoping to catch up on some innocuous reading. I picked up the latest issue of a well known magazine and flicked through its pages when my eye caught a picture that almost looked like the project why creche minus children. The title: Ghost Lullabies and the bye line: Babus milk a national creche scheme for Rs 350 cr on false claims, sent a chill down my spine. Thr story was that of another scam and by now one would think that one has become inured to the words like scam, fraud, swindle living in a land where corruption has almost acquired a respectability or has been accepted as a belief system.

Is that not what I so brazenly stated during the recent conclave on corruption where I was a guest speaker. Then why did my blood boil tis morning as I read about yet another scam? I guess it was because it concerned children, the tiniest ones, the poorest ones, those who had no voice. The Rajiv Gandhi National Creche Scheme was for the children of working women in the unorganised sector, for the little children who are often left unattended and in unsafe conditions, the ones for whom the pwhy creche was started.

I still cannot forget the sight of the little toddler whose mother use to tie him on a charpoy and then placed in front of her home every morning as she left for work. When she returned she would untie him and smother him with kisses. This was probably in the very first few months of our existence and the woman’s home was located in the street where we worked. I was baffled by the contradiction between the act of tying up a child and then later cocooning him with love. Though we were very new in the area and had not yet gained the trust of the people, I could not stop myself from asking the mother why she did that. The answer was irrefutable: she could not take him to work (she cleaned people’s homes) and did not want to leave him alone inside her home. By placing him on a charpoy outside she ensured that he was visible to others and hence protected, and by tying him up she ensured that he remained safe and did not wander away. You see she loved him too much to have anything untoward happen to him. Needless to say the next day we opened a creche in the tiny veranda of our office and he was the first child enrolled.

The Rajiv Gandhi National Creche scheme was set up for such children and to read that 350 crores have been swindled by bureaucrats and others from such a scheme makes my blood boil and run cold at the same time: boil because the money could and should have been spent on innocent children and run cold because is seems that nothing is sacred for racketeers. yes corruption has become a way of life, a socially acceptable belief system.

The question I ask today is when will it all stop? The question I ask today is how will it all stop? What is even more shocking is the answer given by one of the persons responsible for the programme: “I agree that mistakes may have taken place at some point, but the fact is, we’re human beings. None of the mistakes were malafide and intentional.” I am left speechless. How can falsified documents, fake audits and balance sheets can be bonafide and unintentional. No Sir, you are not just human beings, you are worst than the most dangerous predator!

incredible but true

This is our very own little Meher, the one who not even two years ago walked into my life and my heart. What an incredible journey it has been from that day onwards. Her look at me , I exist, was perhaps the loudest of all!

Today after several difficult and often painful surgeries, Meher boasts of a hairstyle that strangely resembles mine and is all set to to take the first steps to change her destiny. Next month she will sit for her entrance exam to the same boarding school her favourite pal Utpal goes to. And then in April will pack her bags and go!

Looking at her smile in this picture is overwhelming. It makes me wonder at the ways in which my friend Godji sometimes work. Do innocent and beautiful kids like Utpal and Meher have to suffer incredible pain before seeing light and joy? Maybe. I am not the one to challenge that. I simply feel blessed and grateful when I see them laugh and play and reclaim their lost childhood. Never mind the occasional tantrums or the unreasonable demands, they have acquired the right to be children at great cost and are just making up for lost time.

some kodak moments

I wish there were 240 hours in a day and I wish I had the gift of ubiquity! Wishful thinking but if that were the case I would have spent most of my time with the children of project why in each of our 11 centres. Sadly that is not possible and my visits to the project centres are often virtual, via the pictures I receive at the end of the day. Yesterday I got a camera full of pictures from the women centre and spent a long time browsing through them. And as I did, I experienced a range of emotions: from excitement, to bewilderment, to pride and even a tinge of sadness at having stayed away for so long.

Seeing little Meher dance and prance and even try her hand at computer surfing was incredible. And that is not all, her new pixie hairstyle, a little like my own, made me realise how time flies. It seemed just like yesterday when I first lay my eyes on her scalded scalp and wondered what her morrows would hold. In a few weeks she will sit for her admission test and in April pack her little bags and joining our incredible five at boarding school! Who says miracles do not happen.

Then there were umpteen pictures of children studying. Children of different ages, all very serious and motivated notwithstanding the difficult conditions or lack of resources. The creche however looked stunning with its new pink and white harlequin look! Then there were pictures of the Xmas party organised by members of a young church group. They were carols and cookies and loads of fun and the number of children was staggering. Thank God the roof was solid! My mind went back with nostalgia the first party organised at the women centre, a Xmas party for predominantly Muslim kids. But then as Usha Uthup says in her delightful song entitled Eid, be it Eid, Xmas or Diwali we wear new clothes, we eat good food, we visit relatives!

Then there were pictures of the sewing circle of Khader, the one we had begun with so much hope almost exactly two years ago. Today over 50 ladies has graduated with certificates and 50 more were in the midst of completing their course. As I looked closer I realised that some of them were stitching cloth bags, the ones that we make on order for one of our funders and hence these women had taken the first step towards financial independence. True there was a long way to go but I knew we would get there.

The last few pictures were of the monthly parents meeting. It was heartwarming to see that here too the numbers were staggering. And to say that not so long ago there were never more than a handful of parents at such meetings.

What an incredible journey it had been, one that had begun hesitantly barely two years ago. Share some of these Kodak moments with us.

the great divide

I got a message on Facebook this morning. It was from one of the innumerable friends I have and came as answer to a series of pictures of my grandchild I had posted. It said: I always remember you in final stages of pregnancy taking classes sometime between 1979-82. You were inspirational and lively. I was always five point someone (Chetan Bhagat) type of a student (one of the hindi belt one) but you were never prejudice and sometimes more considerate. That was encouraging. Till this moment I had not realised that this friend was one of my students from my JNU days. She was referring to 1981 when I was expecting my second daughter and teaching French in the Centre for French Studies.

I read and reread her short message. Was there a hidden message? Was it the sign I was looking for? The bottom line was that even after almost three decades nothing had really changed. Invisible and impregnable walls still divided our society one of them being the one that separated those who spoke English and those who did not, the former having a head start in any race they ran. Never mind how intelligent or smart you were, how good your marks were, how motivated and serious you were, if you had not mastered the lingo of those who had ruled our land for a few centuries, you were doomed to be left behind. Was not teach my child English, the first request formulated by parents when we began our work. Even the most illiterate parent knows that, and even the most illiterate person will try his hand at English!

It is unfortunate that though we began with spoken English classes we somehow lost our way. Maybe it was because we all felt that keeping children in school was far more important and spoken English took a back seat. Our children passed their school exams year after year and many passed out of school. And though they cleared their English exams, they sadly never mastered the language and thus could never break the glass ceiling.

It is time to help them do so. And as I wrote in an earlier post it is time to mutate. We at project why must look at quality and not quantity and ensure that no child feels he or she is a five point someone type!