Lest you lose faith..

Whenever I have been on the verge of giving up, and God knows I have more than one would imagine only I keep these moments of weakened to myself, the God of Lesser a Beings, that I strongly believe should now be rechristened God of Project Why, sends me an unexpected miracle to bring me back on track. Today it came in the shape of a Facebook picture I was tagged in. It came all the way from a place I did not even know existed Lliria. It is a small town in Spain, close to Valencia and with a name as lyrical as this no wonder it is the musical capital of the region. It also has a large number of immigrants, many from the UK.

That I guess explains the presence of Spainsburys, a British supermarket stacked with all the goodies you can imagine. more so as Xmas is around the corner. You must be wondering what the link of Lliria and Spainsbury and Project Why is. Till this morning I did not know of the existence of either! So imagine my surprise when I opened my Facebook page and saw a picture that warmed the cockles of my heart and took my breath away.

The heading looked all too familiar as it was the homepage of our old website but the content was different. Hold on. What its said was that Spainsburys was organising a raffle for the benefit of Project Why and the draw was rot be held on December 17th! You could win Xmas Goodies, wine, chocolates and much more. Imagine how humbled I feel. In a little town thousands of miles away people are thinking of our children and reaching out to them. And not just humbled but grateful and loved. Tomorrow we will talk about Lliria with our children and tell them of all the wonderful people who will be sharing their Xmas joy with all of us.

This is nothing short of a Xmas miracle and I feel blessed.

Thank you to all who made this possible.

Love you and Merry Xmas

I will just keep you safe in my heart

First picture with Papa Prague 1952

I just realised this morning, whilst rummaging for pictures to put in this post, that the first picture with my father and the last one were both taken in Prague the city where I saw the light of day. Strange that the last picture with him was taken more than three years prior to his demise, but that was before the days of digital photography and smart phones and taking a picture was a pother for two souls who preferred anonymity. In hindsight though, it seems that the Fates were conspiring to ensure that both these snapshots were taken in the place of my birth. Blessed I guess.

It has been 22 years since he left me on a cold Sunday morning, shattered and alone wondering who would knock at the door I just banged. The truth is I never banged a door since. In that instant the child in me died and a lost and shaky woman was born. She would have to pick up the pieces of her past life and build something that he could be proud of. No mean task. More so when you have no one to show you the way and catch you when your steps falter. How much easier it would be to slink into a hole and shut the world around and I did for far too long! But on a hot summer day in the year 2000 another lost soul would show me the way. I wonder if Papa had anything to do with this life changing encounter.

Last picture with papa Prague 1988 

One may wonder how an ungainly beggar can thaw a frozen heart specially in a land where beggars abound and we master the art of making them invisible. But Manu did. Was it his heart rendering cries or was it the fact that he always was there no matter what time of day I passed by, almost as if he knew of my coming and waited with aching patience for the moment when I would finally look at him with my heart. Or was he simply taming me, just like the Little Prince tamed the Fox! I do not know. All I know is that one day I did open the eyes of my heart, eyes I had closed shut on that fateful morning 22 years ago to the day when the one who taught me to see everything with my heart left me forlorn and heartbroken. You could not see with a broken heart. Only Manu would be able to mend that heart and teach it to see again.

And he did. He did in a way that would make up for all those years when I barely existed frozen heart and eyes shut tight. I set out to help Manu, something I first believed would be an easy task: a few phone calls an adequate purse! But that was not to be, as helping Manu would entail setting up project why. I did it with my heart and soul as it meant redeeming myself in Papa’s eyes and accounting for the years I had lived forsaking what he taught me. Today I can say that I think I am on the way to redemption.

I learnt many lessons at papa’s knee; the essence of them all would be that in everything thing you do in life, you must retain the ability to see with your heart. And true to his wisdom, I keep him safe in my heart!

Our brand new website

Welcome to our brand new website. I just uploaded it! It took umpteen hours, breaking back aches, gazing cross eyed at the screen for hours, looking for errors over and over again, making sure there were no broken links till the one moment when you say: enough and upload the files. I know there are many issues but I beg your indulgence and promise to set them right after giving eyes and back a few house break.

This is I think the fourth or fifth edition of our site, and this time I got a little help with the design and the technicalities but all in all the content and feel is mine.

I wanted the site to be a mirror to project why and impart its spirit and essence. It had to reflect the fourteen years we have been in existence and share our journey.

When I think project why I smile! And that is what I hope the new site will urge you to. In spite of all obstacles and challenges, we have always smiled and sought joy in everything we do.

While designing the site, I realised that project why is replete with stories of hope and fortitude that need to be told. This was the needed push to get me to continue writing the project why story that I had begun some time back but somewhat set aside. I intend resuming writing it instantly.

Enjoy our new site!

Off with their heads

Two wonderful souls decided to celebrate their 60th birthday by bringing smiles to less privileged children thousands miles away. In the country where these children live, another birthday is being celebrated. It is the 75th birthday of a politician. He decided to celebrate his birthday by riding a buggy imported from the land the two souls belong to. I wonder if the two birthday wishes crossed in the sky! But that is not all. The man will also cut a 75 feet long cake. Hubris! What else. There seems to be an abundance of it in our land. I wonder what was the need of importing a buggy all the way from England. And if the buggy, why not the horses, or are local horses good enough. Where will the hubris end.

I often wonder whether politicians and their acolytes are of a different mettle as they seem to have the capacity to be totally oblivious and impervious to everything that happens around them. I guess their eyes cannot see the pain in that of another. They cannot hear the deafening cries of the hungry child or the bereaved mother. They cannot feel the anguish of the very people who put them where they are and believed in the promises they made to get their vote. They seem to suffer from post election amnesia that lasts five year when once again promises are resuscitated for a short spell. You have to cultivate a hell of a toughened skin to be able to ride in a buggy and be blind to what lies around you. Or is power such an intoxicant that it makes you forget the very reason of your being.

Those in power should hang their head in shame as long as there is one beggar child in their fiefdom or as long as one person has to go to sleep hungry. How can anyone think of a 75 feet cake when 5000 children die everyday of malnutrition. A 75th birthday should be a day where you take stock of years gone by and pray for enough time to set things right. But who does that. Certainly not your politician. They seem to live in an impervious rosy bubble where you behave live the proverbial Queen of Hearts and  spout your share of ”off with their heads”!

Politicians more than anyone else should have the ability to see with their hearts. But I guess that happens in only in Wonderland!

Happy birthday to us

What do you normally do for your birthday? Have a party, treat yourself to a day at the spa or to a dinner in a costly restaurant. And if it is a special birthday like you 50th or 60th then you mate go overboard, particularly in India. But when you are a person who see with his or her heart then you do something quite different. This morning when I opened my mailbox a very special mail awaited me. It simply said:  Andy and I are on the brink of our 60th birthdays, Andy next week and me the week after. We thought about what would make us happy on these BIG birthdays, and the nicest thing we could think of was contributing to the smiles at Project Why, so via Jenny you’ll be receiving an extra 120 GBP, a pound for each year of our lovely, happy lives.

You may wonder who Andy and Irene are? Two lovely beings who came to project why on the first day of 2008 and spent the day rebuilding the Okhla Centre floor with the help of the children and the staff. Though we met ever so briefly, I think we walked into each others heart as Irene and Andy have been a huge support particularly when things were hard and I needed a pat on my back. Irene never misses a blog and often leaves a note that warms my heart.

For the past years they have been staunch supporter of project why.They have run marathons and organised garage sales and never forgotten to share what they have with the children of project why.

Andy and Irene are the kind of souls that make the world a better place and help us carry on our work with a smile. God bless them!

Happy birthday!

Loos loos everywhere but not one that I can use

This is the state of one of the numerous toilet block built over the years in our capital city. I have very graphic pictures that I chose not to use as they are revolting to say the least. The reason I write this blog is subsequent to yet another speech of our Prime Minister where he urged NRIs ( non resident Indians) to build loos in their place of origin. He has also exhorted big business to make loos their CSR mantra. Whereas I am all for loos, I cannot but shudder at the thought of what they may all become if the programme does not have an in built sustainability component, in other words adequate funds to pay staff, buy cleaning material, maintain the building on a regular basis and that ad infinitum. Hence the loos should be able to ‘raise’ funds in some way of the other.

A few months back an NRI had shown interest in building toilets and asked my humble opinion. That is when my staff and I went on a loo visit in the slums were we work and this had been an eye opener. I had shared my views about the matter in this blog. What we found out was that most of the toilet blocks we visited were in a sorry state not because of the fault in design or even quality but because no one had given adequate thought to how they would be maintained. The poop story needs to be heard.

It is no wonder that the maintenance is so poor. We met the man in ‘charge’. A tired looking thin man who seemed to carry the burden of the world on his frail shoulders. In seems that the blocks are built on a supposedly and ludicrous sustainable model as the in charge only gets to keep the money collected from usage 1 to 2 rupees. In that he has not only to feed hid family but keep the loos clean. He is given nothing: no broom, no pail, no disinfectant, no floor cleaner, no soap- nothing! Normally it is a jet of water, if water there is, that is meant to do the job. No only that, not all people pay. Some get so violent that the poor man has been beaten more than once. A woman goon even slaps him every night as he refused to pay her a 20 rs a day commission. On a good day he makes 150 rupees. Such a model is doomed to fail.

My fear is having loos doting the country that will find the same outcome. I do hope that someone will think about this before it is too late a nd millions and millions of rupees have gone to waste.

What we need is not only to build loos but raise awareness about the dangers of open defecation and above all have communities take ownership of the toilets that are built. Unless we do that, the loo sag may well become a tragedy.

Where Angels do not fear to tread

Angels exist. Believe me! In times of despair, they have descended upon us without fail. They are not the winged creatures that fairy tales are made of. They look just like you or me. We had one descend on us yesterday to save the dreams and morrows of our little ones and ensure that they remain safe. Every morning, 35 children from the most deprived homes wait for our three wheeler to arrive and ferry them to project why. They remain there till 4 pm when they are ferried back to their homes. For a few hours they regain their right to be children. They laugh, sing, learn, play. They do what children are meant to do. Sometimes they even to to a park or for an outing as they did some time back when another Angel dropped by and took the out for a treat.

In the time they spend with us in our creche, sometimes 2 to 3 years, they prepare for school and learn their alphabet, their numbers, their rhymes and songs. They learn to hold a pencil, to sit a a desk and to share with others. It is always a delight to stop by and spend some time with them. It lifts you out of the darkest mood without fail.

A few months back we are informed that a large chunk of our monthly donation would be cut, force majeure of course, and we were at our wits end to figure out how we would carry on. As always, it is the weakest who faces the axe, and it was decided that, if the need arose, then we would have to close the creche. Post that decision, I found myself avoiding the creche as I could not face the little eyes that always look at me with the deepest trust.

So I did what I do best and what has always worked. I took to my pen (or rather my keyboard) and poured my heart out. I also turned to the God of Lesser beings, begging for a miracle. The days passed. Then one fine day Angel no 1 appeared and told me that things would work out. She set to task and ferreted Angel no 2 who came with his invisible magic wand and showered invisible dust. My babies were safe.

I think I need to tell you what the plight of children like these is. They come from extremely poor families, often of migrant labour where the father earns a daily wage and the mother struggles to survive. Sometimes she would turn to brewing hooch to bring a little relief tot her loved ones. The father is often a drunk and thus the situation is precarious not to mention the violence that accompanies the bottle. The house, if one can call it that, is actually a damp hole often surrounded by factories that spew smoke and vile discharges that flow in the drain next to the house. The home is so small that children are pushed out and condemned to play in the filthy and insalubrious surroundings, or the busy road where car and track  fumes abound. Far too often the drains are blocked and what goes for a playground is covered in drain water. Yet children play there all the time. Is this what India’s capital city has on offer for its tiniest inhabitants?

I sometimes or rather too often wish that I had sufficient resources to reach out to every child in need, but alas even protecting my 35 is sometimes a challenge.

Today is children’s day. Maybe we should remember the children who have been let down by all of us.

Super Girls

Once again my super girls have done me proud. I just got a call informing me that Babli, Meher and Manisha, the three project why girls who study in boarding school had got prizes for their academic performance. They were felicitated at their Annual day which is still underway and where all three are performing. My thoughts go back to the day when I decided to send them to boarding school in spite of all the criticism, mostly from the rich and privileged who could not accept the fact that children from the most deprived homes should be given such an opportunity. But I stood my ground and sent them anyway. Some of you may know their stories but for those who do not I think they should be revealed again.

Babli came to us way many years ago. The child could barely breathe as she had a hole in her hearts and her family was too poor to come up with the money needed for her surgery. In spite of her poor medical condition, Babli was a spirited child with big dreams: she wanted to be a policewoman. We raised the money for her surgery and she was back on her feet. She came back to project why for some time and then stopped coming. To our horror we discovered that she was managing her father’s cart while he played cards. It was time to take out the big guns and we did. When the opportunity arose and with the help of some kind hearted supporters we were able to send her to boarding school. She has never looked back and is now in class VII. I know her future is bright and she will fulfil her dreams.

When we first saw Meher, she was rummaging for food in a garbage dump. She had been severely burnt she she was a few months old and was  badly scarred. But more than that her fingers had fused and she had lost the use of her hands. Thanks to the determination of a volunteer who moved heaven and earth, funds were raised for a series of reconstructive surgery that gave her back the use of her hands and took care of the worst scars. But what she needed to break the cycle of poverty in which she was born was an education and she was admitted to the same boarding school. A true imp, she excels in all activities and is set to conquer many heights.

Manisha comes from an extremely poor family. Her mother is a rag picker and her father barely works. A bright child she was doomed to a life of poverty and would have most probably been condemned to child labour. Today she is studying hard to be able to change her destiny.

To all my detractors I would like to say that every child deserves a bright future and the fact that they are denied this, is because we have forsaken them.

I have never regretted sending these girls to the best school and they never stop doing me proud.

Well done little ones. I love you.

Clean India

I rarely visit swanky buildings that house corporate offices but yesterday I needed to meet someone whose office is located in one such building. The building bears the lofty name of International Trade Tower and is located near my home. I had gone with Rani and as we alighted from the scooter, our eyes fell on a pile of rubbish. Now rubbish, dirt, filth and all the synonyms possible are the flavour of the day post our new PM’s Clean India Mission. We at project why have been thinking about how to approach the issue and many debates have ensued. My take is that what is important is not to rush with a broom and ‘sweep’ the surroundings but look at the problem differently. It is quite useless to clean areas if one does not go to the root cause: where does the filth originate from. I have asked my staff to take this up with the students beginning with a simple exercise. Each child should be asked to make a list of the rubbish he/she sees on the way home and identify its origin. It is obvious that 99% of the garbage comes from us in the form of wrappers of all kinds and things that we simply throw without a thought. To Clean India one has to find ways of education and sensitising people into not throwing, spitting etc. How does one do that is a million dollar question. I think, like was suggested by a participant in a recent debate that one should get schools involved and work ones way up.

But let us come back to the building. After our meeting Rani and I decided to walk down the six flight of stairs as I do not like elevators and as we walked down we find these two cups of unfinished tea on two steps with of course no one in sight. Proves my point does it not? We have got used to chucking our garbage just anywhere. No one is in the habit of looking for dustbins or garbage cans.

Where does it all stem from? It is anyone guess. Is it because of the ingrained division of labour that  makes us believe that someone else will come and clean after us and makes cleaning below ones station in life unless you are born in the cleaning clan? Is it because many of us, particularly boys that have grown into men have never done an iota of house work always having mom or sis to clean up after them? Funnily the person who litters with alacrity and impunity in India will never do so in another country. Is it because laws are stringent in those lands. Maybe we should have a law like in Singapore where you are fined 1000$ the first time, 5000 the next and the third time have to wear a lovely sign, which states, “I am a litter lout”. Will the name and shame work in India? I do not know but I know that laws do not work. We have had a law banning plastic bags for years now with no avail. Seems like laws are on paper or better than that: you can always pay your way out. Even laws for your own safety like wearing a helmet are violated. Maybe we just do not like laws.

I could not end this post without talking of yesterday’s gem. As Clean India is the flavour of the day everyone is cleaning but some do it with for photo ops and tone politically correct. A bunch of politicians decided to pick the broom and clean a road. However the road in question was perhaps one of the cleanest in Delhi and thus dirt had to be bought and dumped on the clean road for our well dressed politicians to pick a broom and sweep. I have nothing else to say!

Incredible Nirvi – the new kid on the block –

Meet Nirvi. She is all of eight months old and is the new admission to our creche. Everyone, her mom and gran most of all, thought she would cry and make a fuss but our little Nirvi took her new class better than a fish takes to water. Far from crying the little imp had an array of tricks up her sleeve to charm one and all. Like a true pro she handed back the toy given to her by one of her classmates to show that she knew all about the game of give and take. She played with all the toys given to her by the over solicitous teacher who like all else believed that this eight month old would need special handling. In no time Miss Nirvi had established that she new the rules of the creche and needed no special care.

But that is not all. Our little fiend to took the show one step further. She decided to ‘charm’ the volunteers and particularly one young man out of his wits. She fluttered her eye lashes and doled out sweet smiles and in no time had walked into the unsuspecting man’s heart. Wonder who will shed tears when parting times come.

The one thing she does not do is cry. Crying is for babies. It is certainly not fore eight months old like our Nirvi. She spends the whole morning in the class playing with her mates and entertaining the likes of me. Two days back after a long I spent some time at the creche with, your guessed right, Nirvi! We played a host of games and laughed a lot but more than anything, the moments spent with her showed me how important our creche was in the lives of little souls, more so those who are deprived of everything a child needs and should get.

Thank you Nirvi. I needed this lesson.