A picture is worth a thousand words, but a memory is priceless #ThrowbackThursday

Someone said: “a picture is worth a thousand words, but a memory is priceless.You don’t just take a picture with a camera, you take it with your heart”.
The story of the Project Why Okhla Centre is the story of two women: Sophiya and Pushpa. Sophiya and Pushpa must have worked for less than one year as primary teachers in our Giri Nagar programme when Sophiya came hesitantly to me and told me about the plight of children in the vicinity of her home.

She lived in the tiny tenements that are tucked away between factories in the industrial area of Okhla. In those areas most parents work long hours and children are left to their own devices, becoming targets for lurking predators who find them easy prey to steal and to push drugs.

Needless to say Project Why was on board! The problem was that in such areas there are no empty spaces to rent or use and it was left to the ladies to find space.

The two ladies were back the next day, huge smiles on their faces and the news that they had found a space and even got permission from the local cops and politician. It was a garbage dump close to the railway line.  No problem. We would reclaim it.


Another problem. The local mafia, who could see their resources dwindling, turned heaven and earth to make us leave. Every Sunday the rickety structure was brought down and every Monday our ladies would re-build it again.
We eventually erected a loose brick structure around the school and how proud everyone was! They took it upon themselves to paint the school every year at Diwali, contributed 5 rupees each and provided the labour. The school could turn from bright pink, to blue to green! 


There were a few problems though as sometimes we found our school broken. 
But that did not deter us and classes continued till funds were found to rebuild the school.
The show never stopped. Okhla kids have a lot of fun and have one things in abundance: SMILES
One day the children told us they wanted to learn how to use computers. This was a difficult demand as there was no safety in our fragile structure. However, a young man from the local mafia came forward and offered his protection. Since that day we have had no problems. And the children got their computer!
Last year a kind donor gave us sufficient funds to add a proper ceiling and thus have a roof that could be used as space for teaching and would allow us to have a proper computer centre. The centre took on a new avatar. This is how it looks now
and look at the new computer centre!
Classes are now held both downstairs and on the new roof under the shade of a huge neem tree. 
The sky is the limit. 
Okhla is our biggest success story.  Many of our kids have have now passed their exams and some are pursuing higher education.
But above all, there are many lessons to be learnt, the biggest one being that nothing is impossible if you have the will, the determination and the ability to see with your heart.
It feels good to take a walk down memory lane. One should do it more often.
I feels good to take a walk down memory lane. One should do it more often.
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Spair Grace soup and Lemon Grace Tea #GivingTuesday

Spare Grace, Lemongrace, Red Cabies  and Badycon were the words proudly displayed by the local vegetable shop now catering to the growing expat clientele. To the uninitiated this translates as asparagus, lemongrass, red cabbage and baby corn!

India is a land with a multitude of languages but English has become the administrative language and is quickly becoming a vernacular language as well. Today, even the poorest parents understand the necessity of English for their child to succeed, and as a result signs reading “ENGLISH MEDIUM”  dot the city.

So do all Indians speak good English then? The answer is no.

English medium schools in poorer areas often do not employ teachers who speak English- at least not a form of English a fluent speaker would recognise.

The job market today requires a working knowledge of English and the students at Project Why rely on our resources for their English education. Project Why relies on the resources of our dedicated volunteers and on workshops.

Recently we bid farewell to Eva who taught the Okhla teachers and children for  one year. Her intervention went a long way in building confidence in the teachers. The importance of volunteers able to teach English cannot be stressed enough.

n January 2016, Damyanti held a week-long spoken English workshop under the aegis of the Book Council of Singapore that culminated in a bi-lingual poetry and story reading event. The use of pod casting has helped us continue this venture and we have regular in-house reading events.

Project Why has adopted these measures to help teach our children English. What ideas do YOU have for expanding English literacy?

Do you think English is a skill that spells success?

Do you think children from deprived homes should learn English?

Can YOU come to Project Why to help teach our children?

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Celebrating Project Why What have you celebrated this week #socialgood

Sometimes you do not have to look far to find things to celebrate. You simply have to look with your heart. I sometimes kick myself for not taking time to simply stop and savour things around me, more so because I’m blessed to have Project Why which is a constant source of celebration. This week I did just that by slowly browsing the pictures taken in the last seven days.

There was much to celebrate, from the birthday party of a young girl who has chosen to mark her special day year after year by giving a special treat to the students of our special section.

A treat indeed as the differently-abled children are taken to Dilli Haat and given the lunch of their choice not to forget the birthday cake. And there are return gifts, too. It is fun time when all differences are forgotten and it is just a bunch of old friends having fun together.

Let us shift gears and peek at the little ones. Silence please, kids at work. Some are creating,

while others are busy learning so that they can have a better future.
At the women centre, a bunch of ladies are busy learning how to operate computers.
These are women who would never have got this opportunity were it not for Project Why. They know this, and that’s why there is absolute concentration and application. They’re making up for lost time.  In another space young girls are busy studying as they too know that it is a matter of taking destiny in their own hands.
At the Okhla centre it is farewell and welcome time. We say goodbye to Eva, a volunteer from Germany who has been teaching spoken English to the staff and children of the centre and who was loved by one and all.

and welcome back to Alyssa, a volunteer from the US who has come back to Project Why to share her knowledge with our children. Thank you ladies. 
I feel overwhelmed with gratitude and blessed. Life is a celebration provided you are willing to look with your heart.



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Do Indian Children have the right to dream? #GivingTuesday #India

Child labour is cheap. A child is submissive, and can be made to work under poorly lit and poorly ventilated spaces.
A child can be used for stitching, embroidering, weaving rugs and carpets, making matchsticks and firecrackers, and rolling beedis in backbreaking conditions.

The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 is being amended and is now in Parliament. According to Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi, two of these amendments may defeat the very purpose of the Act. 


The first is the one allows children below 14 to work in family enterprises.

Helping out after school is acceptable when it is truly a family business, but what stops anyone from exploiting this law? Anyone can claim a child as ‘family’ in the Indian poor classes, and even if a child is truly family, it is hard to ensure he or she will be sent to school once this amendment comes into force. Most of the children that land up in big cities are often brought by ‘uncles’ from the village who turn out to be middle men and traffickers. When Project Why opened our Yamuna centre we were faced with parents coming during class and asking for the child as she/he was needed to pluck vegetables. It took us a long time to get make the parents understand.

Another amendment is even more detrimental to child rights.  At present, Child Labour law prohibits employment of a child in 18 occupations and 65 processes. The proposed new amendment reduces the prohibited occupations to three: Mines, Inflammable substances and Explosives. So the children under 15 working in ‘family-run’ businesses like domestic work, bead-making, carpet-weaving will be legal.

The question that needs to be asked is whether the child making beedis in his family business will be able to go to school? The only caveat one can think of is to define ‘family’ and limit it to parents and legal guardians, but in India, where the record of implementation is very low, that seems impossible.  Children can help their families and even learn their skills but this should not come in the way of their health, education and leisure time. But these options aren’t available to the poorest of the poor.

Sanjay, a  Project Why alumni, a gypsy ironsmith’s son, and a Project Why teacher, today walks the ramp in the world’s fashion capital, Paris. That was possible because his family allowed him to study and work in a trade other than theirs. Sanjay made his dream come true.

Project Why is a place where children are given the RIGHT TO DREAM.

Do you think that  every child has the right to dream, and dream BIG? In a country like India, should children under 14 be allowed to help in family enterprises? Should any child, under or above 14 be allowed to work in factories making matchsticks or firecrackers or as domestic help?

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Have You Heard about This Extraordinary Boy Named Utpal? #socialgood

There is so much to celebrate at Project Why each and every day, but this week was a very special celebration: Utpal’s 14th! To the uninitiated it would have looked like any birthday with cakes and candles and singing and cheering. However, Utpal is a very special child.

He came into my life 13 years ago when he was barely one year old. His first birthday was nothing short of a nightmare: he accidentally fell into a boiling wok and sustained third-degree burns.
He was given up for dead but there is a God of lesser beings, who had a plan to change the destiny of this child born in a dysfunctional family to an alcoholic mother. A moribund bundle landed in my heart via my arms and two lives changed: mine, and his.

But his ordeal was not over. It took three more years of living in a violent and turbulent environment before Project Why stepped in once and for all. At age 4 he went to boarding school. When he turned 7, I became his legal guardian.
Utpal, or Popples as I fondly call him, is a survivor and a braveheart. At an age when children are pampered, this boy had to deal with the trauma of his mom going awol. But he bounced back, and is all set to enter class IX.
Utpal is now your regular teenager. I guess years of living with his Maam’ji – the name he has given me – and being spoilt, have taken their toll! He has tantrums and demands but it is all part of the game. On the other hand, he is extremely kind to others and has a way with smaller children. He is also a born leader and very clever with his hands. He loves tinkering, is a serious student and has a great sense of humour.
So it was wonderful to see him with his pals happy as a lark but also the perfect host. Every one was given cake, including the guards. That’s Utpal for you.
As for me I feel grateful, humbled and blessed.
What was your week like? What were you grateful for? Would you like to support Utpal and other children like him? To do so, get in touch here.




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The women of Project Why #PledgeforParity #GivingTuesday

The project Why Women

Project Why is primarily a children’s organization yet right from the beginning, we instinctively reached out to women, the true game changers. No wonder then that it was a woman who helped me seed Project Why.

Mataji, the formidable local healer and Rani’s mom, whom I had gone to meet to ‘cure’ an everlasting depression post my parent’s demise did so with a few words: Do something your parents would be proud of. With those words, depression and accompanying backache flew out of the window and Project Why was born and so were the women of Project Why.

A slightly diffident and shy Rani  jumped at the chance of working for Project Why and stayed on: a sterling leader of Porject Why. Today she runs a large part of the Project. When we needed teachers, we first looked at the women around us. We found many who had several years of schooling but had dropped out because of an early marriage.

It is sad but true that the parents in underprivileged homes in India want their daughters to marry, above all. After marriage, very few can continue with their education. Project Why gave many such women a second chance at education, and more than that, at employment– something they’d never dared dream of.

Some of these incredible ladies grabbed the opportunity with both hands and went on to complete their schooling and study further. Many obtained graduation degrees. Today, 30 women form part of our team. Some have been with us since day one.

Project Why believes that women should be financially independent, so vocational courses were started at the Women’s Centre in 2006. Today over 120 women attend our six-month course on beauty and tailoring. Several hundreds have benefited and are today gainfully employed either as small entrepreneurs or employed in factories and beauty parlors. We organize regular meetings with the women where we share our thoughts on social issues like child beating, gender equality, early marriage, nutrition, women’s rights etc.

adult literacy class

We hold compulsory adult literacy classes for all women who register for our vocational courses. No one receives a certification unless they clear the adult literacy course. The literate women are given spoken-English classes.

Over the years, Project Why has reached out to women in a variety of ways. Nutrition for pregnant women and lactating mothers. Care for a woman who had contracted bone TB and would have become paraplegic unless she spent six months on a bed– today she works in a beauty parlour. Support for omen who suffered injuries and needed care, women undergoing rehab who needed a place to heal.

The women of Project Why come with different stories, but they have one thing in common: an indomitable spirit. Project Why encourages this spirit: women are given all the support they need in order to flourish in New Delhi, and this is our #PledgeforParity this year.

Would you consider helping these underprivileged women? Even a small amount goes a long way towards helping these women find a new life.

To donate follow this link!

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What have you been grateful for this week? #socialgood




I am thankful to Damyanti for having  introduced me to Lexa’s blog Celebrate the Small Things. 

For the past sixteen years I have been ‘celebrating’ the small and big joys of life. I run Project Why, an organization based in New Delhi, India, that reaches out to over 1000 slum children. It has been a joyful journey and one that has kept me busy being grateful.



Come March 1, Delhi gets into school exam mode. In privileged homes, there is silence, hovering parents, treats and motivation when needed. For Project Why kids, it is a different story. Homes for most project Why kids, are crowded and tiny, with small but blaring TVs and often abuses from a drunken father. No coffee for these students, no treats. 

Project Why takes on the role of parents during exams. We give all the support and encouragement we ca.

Watching them study and poring over textbooks, watching girls concentrate on their notebooks, and knowing that with our support all of them would not only clear their examinations but also do well and get a better shot at life ,makes the effort of the Project Why team worthwhile.

My gratitude to all Project Why teachers for their selfless and unstinting effort to make dreams come true.

Best of luck to my students for exams in 2016!


What have you been grateful for this week? What are exams like for children where you’re at? 



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Will You Help these Children Go to School? #GivingTuesday #Nonprofit

I came across this bunch of happy kids right in front of our Okhla centre at Project Why. They were shy at first, but then it took no time for them to smile and perform for the camera. They made faces and giggled, just being kids!

Street children break my heart: the happier they look the more downcast I feel. It is the sight of such children that inspired the setting up of Project Why 16 years ago. Children have a right to their own space and Project Why is just that: a space where children can be children.

You might wonder why these kids are not part of the Project Why family. The answer is simple: our classes are full to capacity though I couldn’t resist asking whether these few kids could be adjusted in our Govindpuri crèche, the only crèche we run.

But what about the others, the ones who are not seen in this picture?

Slum kids live in environments where everything is a danger: from the rabid street dog to the speeding vehicles, from the filthy water discharged by the factory next door into the drain that runs in front of their homes, to the lurking predators in search of little hands to steal, or push drugs. This is one of the reasons we set up the Project Why Okhla centre.

Malnutrition cannot be reversed passed age 5; you cannot enter a school after a certain age; social and other skills are best learnt in the formative years. The list is endless. The child today cannot wait for tomorrow. This is why we at Project Why try and squeeze as many kids as possible, doing away with frills like desks and chairs and opting for the mats where it is easy to pack in a few more.

It takes only 100 Dollars or 7000 Rupees to support a child at Project Why for an entire year.

Would you consider donating 100 Dollars or 7000 Rupees each year to help build these futures? 

Could you give us a Like on the Project Why Facebook Page to help raise the numbers for our future Crowdfunding campaigns?

Or, if you stay in New Delhi, would you consider volunteering at Project Why to teach these kids anything from art, to English or Maths, or any other skill that you can share?

Will you help these kids claim their childhood back?

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Should Street-kids go to Boarding School? #GivingTuesday #India

Is it possible for a child from the slums to shine at an exclusive boarding school?

It sounds like a rude question, but wait till you’ve heard about the Project Why Power Girls.
Meet Meher, Manisha and Babli.

Meher

Meher, who topped her class is a third degree burn survivor born into a very poor family. The fingers in both her hands were fused as a result of her accident, which led to her being abandoned on the streets at the age of three. Project Why found her scavenging in discarded plates strewn next to the local sweetshop. Everyone fell in love with this bright, determined and impish child and her near-say-die attitude. A volunteer present at that time had contacts with doctors and access to funds, and was able to help with reconstructive surgery on Meher’s hands. Once she healed and got back the use of her hands, off she went to boarding school.

Babli

Babli came to Project Why we realised she needed reconstructive cardiac surgery to mend a hole in her heart. A little woman of substance who dreamt big despite being barely able to breathe: Babli wanted to be a ‘police’! A magical network of volunteers and donors helped her to surgery. Upon recovery, she was put to work by her parents, a problem to which Project Why could find the one solution again, like Meher. The boarding school.

Manisha

Manisha was a student of our crèche. She came from a very poor parents. Ragpicking and alcoholism meant they couldn’t give Manisha a good upbringing. One of our donors, having heard about our boarding school programme at the time, wanted to sponsor a little girl. Everyone at Project Why believed Manisha should be the one.

Project Why’s Boarding School Programme symbolises everything Project Why stands for and believes in: every child’s right to quality education in an enabling environment. A proponent of the neighbourhood common school, Project Why believes that children form different social and economic backgrounds should study together, each one learning from the other.

Sending these girls to boarding school ensured just that.

Last week at their school’s Annual Day, Meher, Babli and Manisha, our Power Girls stood 1st, 2nd and 3rd in their respective classes.

For us, it was a dual celebration.

We saw the usual luminaries and guests, the speeches, the cultural programme and everything that happens on such occasions, but also two very special moments: the prize distribution and the dinner.
During these, a bunch of proud parents belonging to the poorest strata of society not only shared the space with the high and mighty but were the parents of three incredible, prize-winning girls.
For that instant, all barriers fell, all lines were obliterated and it did not matter who you were or where you came from. It was magical.

Do you think education should be equal for all children? What would you say to Meher, Babli and Manisha? Would you like to sponsor a child to go to boarding school?


Meher Manisha Babli

To know more about these girls:
Life on a planet is born of woman
A tiny woman of substance
A perfect day
My never fail feel good shot
Huge eyes in a scarred face
The key to her morrows
I am here to stay



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