I have borrowed the title of this blog from Harsh Mander’s hard hitting book: Looking Away. The author himself summarises his book with the following words: it is about the need for people to care for each other, in other words not look away! The cover is stark and disturbing and makes you want to look away before your eyes fall on the bye line: ‘Looking Away, Inequality, Prejudice and Indifference in New India.’ How easily we look away when faced with anything that disturbs our perfectly and carefully constructed life and what a sad reflection on our lives as we know subconsciously that it is as frail as a house of cards that would crumble if we dared open our hearts, so we keep it shut and as for the eyes, well we look away. We look away when we see a child begging at a street light; we look away when we see a child working in a shop or even in a ‘friend’s house, come on our house of cards stands on acceptance and conformity. We cannot say or do anything that would alter that. We look away when faced with a news item about anything abhorrent: women being trashed in public, kangaroo courts ordering rape as retribution; children being beaten to death. Gosh the list is endless. And this Looking Away Syndrome also translates in our refusal to part with a few pennies to help the other side of the fence: those who don’t look away. And to ease our consciences we come up with axioms like: All NGOs are crooks! And having ingrained that thought in whatever has replaced the heart, we set on finding new ways to spend our money. Even Depression is better than Donating!
For the past almost two decades I have born the brunt of this attitude and have had to look for greener pastures across blue seas. In 1998, I began my journey with the naive belief that I would be able to achieve my dreams by simply asking a small amount of people to donate one rupee a day! Biggest joke of eternity that left me shame faced. I then set out to seek people one supposedly knew, all page 3 material thanks to the social circle of the husband to give 100 paltry rupees a month. Some gave just for ONE MONTH! Some even had the cheek to ask the husband to give it to me! Once at a small party where everyone knew everyone and when we were collecting money for a heart surgery, I was stupid enough to ask those present to empty their wallets, in a manner of speech. All looked away. At a fair in my old college when we had a table selling tombola tickets where the first price was meeting a superstar, we sold barely a dozen of 30 rupees tickets whereas our neighbour who was a tarot card reader made a hefty sum. Looking away is now in the DNA of the Indian Rich.
As you know, a few weeks ago the dreaded meltdown hit and this is what I looked like metaphorically of course! Many suggestions were made and I followed them all: rest (haha), yoga, barefoot walking, healthy eating, meditating and I did them all. I also thought that the message from above was to let go and hand over all responsibilities to the team so that they could find their feet. Deflate the armbands in a manner of speech! So a meeting was held to do just that. On my part I was to heal myself and then taken on the role of a mentor. What was left unsaid was that I had to find another cause to fight for. All this of course rested on the premise that we had sufficient funds to allow everyone to find their feet. But my friend the God of Lesser beings had other plans and it was a day or so later that my Financial Director let out that we were dry. This of course is due to the fact that many regular donors backed out or cut their donations and one was not able to find a lasting solution so it had been a hand-to-mouth situation for a while. So all carefully made plans came crashing and I knew that at least for the time being I had to jump in the ring and provide sufficient oxygen. Maybe that was what the doctor ordered in my case and the face in the mirror looked a tad more normal, and the ‘writer’s’ block seemed to vanished.
In the past, I have always tapped my international network as the Looking Away Syndrome was too much to deal with and created more harm than good as it infuriated and riled me to a point that I became unproductive. But this time is a little different thanks to my meeting two wonderful souls (and I hope you recognise yourselves if you read this) who have everything that the Looking Away kind have but have one thing they do not: the heart and courage not to look away. These two blessed souls help us with abundant generosity and with no strings attached. They trust us.
So this time, I decided to make another valiant attempt at reaching out to those who have money with a caveat: I would take the help of these two warriors.
Project why with its 1000+ kids and 45+ staff does not require much to run. It can be divided into 15 modules each costing less than a pair of shoes or a bag at a upmarket mall or a dinner for 4 at a restaurant. Even our most expensive centre is less than what a bunch of young rich paid for drinks according to the article. Imagine now the same amount spent on: providing a safe and secure and happy place to 20 children and young adults with disabilities who are rejected by their families; teaching them a skill that would ‘buy’ them some dignity within their own family; take them out to parks and open spaces a far cry from the holes they live in; provide them medical care and counselling and more for ONE WHOLE MONTH. Does the equation balance? One evening against one month.
So my next task is to make the Project Why Menu where each ‘dish’ will have its price of course and a description of all the ingredients that make it delectable.
I hope it will work because it is not only a matter of project why children but also a way to get people not too look away and see that what they experience in return in far more than the most expensive thing that money can buy: the smile and trust of a child.
So help me God and his 2 Angels!