Hit and Run #GivingTuesday#India

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A young girl was victim of the ubiquitous hit and run syndrome that is a familiar occurrence in cities. Most get reported. Some make front page if a ‘celebrity’ or ‘privileged’ is driving a ‘swanky’ car!

There are some hit and run cases that never make any page. Most often only those close to the victim are the sole witnesses of the ghastly act. Last week a young girl was hit by a car as she crossed the road after finishing class. She was a student of the pilot project run by Project Why for the children of beggars at the Kalkaji Temple. Little S was in many ways the one who by her sheer tenacity compelled us to begin classes. She is alive but her leg has been crushed badly. She is in hospital and has been operated upon.

Her mother A delivered a child just six days before the accident happened yet she was the one who had to ferry the child in an auto to the trauma centre. The only ‘proof’ of the accident is the car number hurriedly copied by a kind stall owner. A is also the one who has been banging on the doors of justice but has not been heard. The police are not interested in a young beggar child and her beggar family. The father remains at the little girl’s side keeping silent vigil. The mother looks after the newborn and the other children and before any brow lifts in despair, A had her tubes tied at a camp. The baby came after the surgery.

At present A lives in the women shelter where she delivered the baby. Habitually the family lives on the ‘street’. Most beggars sleep where they beg.

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If you look at the picture above carefully you will see bags and bundles. These are  the packed up homes of the very beggars you see. After working hours, they set up house. If you were to pass by early morning you would see them brushing their teeth and sending kids off to school.

This is A and S’s home. This is where S would come back to recover from surgery. Most probably she will be taken to the women’s night shelter but then kept away from her father, the one who sat with her throughout the hospital ordeal. When will she be able to return to school is a question we all ask. We will fight day and night to ensure she returns to school as early as possible.

Come to think of it, in the given circumstances, a maimed child is likely to earn more ‘begging’. And is it not the ‘family’ business; so all within the new child labour laws.

S is just one of umpteen children who beg. In some cases like Arati’s or many of the women in the night shelter, they did not chose to beg but were driven to it by a series of unfortunate circumstances. In some cases they lost their homes as metro stations or malls needed space. Not having all the documents required they were not ‘eligible’ for any alternative scheme so found whatever alternative they could and began their descent to hell. Begging was the last resort. In some cases women are abandoned by husbands and left to seek shelter and beg for survival. That was the story of many of the women in the shelter some having just had babies. They eat at the numerous religious feedings. On days when there is no free food, they beg just enough to buy a meal. Their future seems hopeless.

And yet amidst all this squalor you meet R. R is an imposing and confident woman who is ‘in charge’ of the women’s shelter. She is literate and runs a small tea stall just outside the shelter. She recounts how she too was a beggar many years ago and would have remained one had she not been helped by an organisation that sent her to a residential school where she got educated. She came back and married another vendor and has one son she is determined to educate. She has never looked back.

Listening to her story gives hope, hope for these children who study for a few hours with us. Maybe some of them will follow R’s steps.

We at Project Why will walk the extra mile to ensure that.

S was the victim of a hit and run. We do hope to trace the driver and ensure that the family is helped.

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This is Arati with one of her kids!

Why not for education… #GivingTuesday#India

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Government to enlist gurus for organ donation campaign is a recent headline. The article goes on to say: “The health ministry plans to rope in spiritual gurus to help dispel myths about organ donation“.

This is undoubtedly a good move. Organ donation is a noble cause but so are education, child marriage, gender equality, child abuse and far too many more.

One often wonders why spiritual leaders of all faiths do not raise social issues as theirs is a voice that is always heard. In today’s disturbed world they hold the power to change things.

This is a statement made with responsibility as it is based on experience. Over the years we at Project Why have witnessed time and again the power of religious percepts. Nothing takes precedence over the rituals and religious traditions not even the child’s medical need let alone the school fee.

The importance of religious customs is deeply embedded in the lives of slum dwellers who spend enormous amount of money on ensuring that every one is respected even if money has to be borrowed at mind boggling rates.

In villages in Bihar it is, we are told, customary to ‘feed’ the whole village for three days after the demise of a close relative. We were horrified to learn that a parent who had barely enough money to survive had put up a feeding stall in the slum cluster and was ‘feeding’ everyone. Needless to say he had taken huge loans. When asked later why did he do this, he replied that it was a matter of honour and if he did not comply he would be ostracized.

Over the years we have rarely succeeded in getting people to alter deeply rooted traditions. All logic and even threat fails. So people give huge dowries, marry their girls early and so on. However if a religious leader said the same, things might be different.

At Project Why we hope that the support of such spiritual leaders will be sought for the social change that is paramount to a better world.

 

Celebrating Independence Day #GivingTuesday #India

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Project Why children celebrated Independence Day! There was the flag hoisting in all centres, the regulatory speeches, the patriotic songs and of course a lot of Bollywood dancing. The children enjoyed themselves and the celebrations ended with the ubiquitous all time favourite: the samosa!

Watching the children with their innocent faces and trusting eyes was moving and bittersweet; even if one spoke of education and its importance in accessing a better future one could not help noticing the stark difference between these children and their more privileged peers. But that morning, be it on the roof of a temporary structure erected on a garbage dump amidst factories spewing toxic smokes, or on yet another roof in a crowded slum or on the banks of the Yamuna surrounded by vegetables fields, for those magic moments every dream was possible.

It was later, after the children had gone back home with memories to share and the adults had returned to their everyday life, that reality struck.

Project Why has been committed from its very inception to doing every thing in its power and more to help these children break all glass ceilings, but it would be naive to think that this will be possible for all as there are too many obstacles in this race. And yet to reassure us and make sure we carry on, miracles happen when one child breaks out of the cycle of poverty in which s/he was born and succeeds.

We remain aware that Project Why is a drop in the ocean and that there are too many children that may just drown.

And this is a reality we must accept in the land we live in. Over 1 lakh schools in India have just 1 teacher was a recent headline that made one shudder. It means that 100000 schools function with just one person who, as the article said, doubles up as administrator, clerk, caretaker, midday meal servers, nurse and sundry crisis manager. Such souls need to be saluted as they are wonder persons!

 

It simply does not know how to fall upwards #Giving Tuesday

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The rains have created havoc in the city for the past days and yet nothing unpredictable as it is monsoon time and a good monsoon is what everyone hopes for. Vladimir Nabokov said: “Do not be angry with the rain; it simply does not know how to fall upwards.” And fall it does, transforming the world as we know it in a jiffy.

The picture above is our Okhla classroom. Sure the roof was temporarily patched and is holding, but water is seeping through the cracks in the wall and even from outside as here too the word ‘drainage’ is not part of any lexicon.

On rainy days children and staff spend most of the time clearing the water away as best they can. No one asks for a day off. What is needed is a a dry spot to lay out the mats and begin class.

This is but a tiny example of how just one heavy spell of rain can alter one’s day.

The reason is poor construction and absence of planning. Even the best of us forget to plan for the proverbial ‘rainy day’.

Last week’s rain saw the city come to a halt as roads got inundated and one could only wait for the water to recede.

But life goes on and people brave all odds to ensure that it does. Our kids live in homes that bear the brunt of the rain’s fury. Their homes being low lying means they get flooded. School uniforms do not dry and thus they miss school, not to speak of the soaked bedding that means sleeping on the hard floor. But it is all part of the game of life.

Do we ever give a thought of how many challenges are met by those we often take for granted to ensure that our lives do not get affected by the rains?

Do give a thought to those who make our life better, whether the lady who comes to help in our homes or the man who cleans our clogged drain or even the electrician who repairs the lights blown because of the rains.

As for Project Why teachers, they too brave all odds to come and teach the children.

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The caveat that defeats the purpose #GivingTuesday #India

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The Upper House of the India Parliament passed a Bill to Amend the Child Labour Act 1986. The amendment prohibits the engagement of children below the age of 14 in all occupations and processes so that they are able to enjoy their fundamental right to education. It should be a cause of celebration for the likes of us at Project Why. Child labour in any form is abhorrent and reprehensible.

The celebration is short lived when one sees the caveat that defeats the intent. Although it abolishes child labour in any form it introduces a proviso that allows children under 14 to work in family enterprises. Nothing alarming you would say keeping thinking of your own child and your family enterprise but this means that children can help families after and before school, our kids do help with home chores don’t they?

But what if your family business is rolling beedis or agarbattis, making bangles, packing and sticking labels or any of the umpteen of labour sub-contracted to families on a per piece basis. So the more you make the more you earn and hence the tiniest hands are usefully productive. Many parents of Project Why children engage in such work, the easiest to access.

Often children who ‘help’ in such work spend hours before or after school helping the families. In the early days of the Project Why’s Yamuna centre parents would happily come to class and ask for their child as (s)he was ‘needed’  to help pick vegetables. It took us some time to convince them to stop. Mercifully they have.

At that time we thought law was on our side but today it is not. True there is the before or after school but is making a child work acceptable, that is the question we must ask.

Attending school in itself is sufficient ‘work’ for any child. A child who has spent some hours rolling beedis or making bangles is already tired and will not be able to concentrate in school and hence will perform poorly. The time when (s)he drops out will not be far as the choice between work and school is a foregone decision.

This approach seems to imply that the best for a child is to carry on its family’s profession and maintain status quo.

But every child has a right to dream and dream BIG. That is what we believe at Project Why and strive to achieve.

The best example is our very own Sanjay who was born on the street to a family of gypsy ironmongers, who was a Project Why student, then teacher and then doors opened and he is now an International Ramp Model. That is because his family allowed him to get an education and work in another profession. Once the gates open, the sky is the limit so why shut the door on India’s children dreams.

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