It’s never too late to do something #GivingTuesday #India

‘The time for action is now. It’s never too late to do something‘ wrote Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Wise words indeed. Words that remind us of forgotten intentions and unfulfilled dreams. This post was written after a visit to the Kalka Temple where getting to the deity means coming face to face with beggar children who’s number seems to grow in quantum leaps. Children begging is a shameful reality of urban India.

Every time one walks the perimeter of a temple or stops at a red light, little hands spring from nowhere and seek your attention. No matter how many years go by, the size of the hands never changes. Child begging is thriving. New children take the place of those now to big to tug at your heart.

One has heard of mafias controlling the panhandling business and ensuring a perfect demand and supply equation. This is unequivocal proof of this sad reality. But it does not end there. Actually parents too use their own children in this sordid business. An enquiry on whether it would be possible to teach this multitude of children was turned down as we were told that parents themselves would not allow this to happen as children were those who got brought in the maximum. Without the kids, the family would not earn a day’s wage. School and education are anathema

Even the laws are against us as in a recent amendment to the child labour laws, children under 14 were allowed to help in the family business. Hence the little beggar girl as king for her chocorate is legit.

The only way to solve the problem is to stop giving money and hence with no demand the supply would diminish. That is what Project Why attempted as its first programme: replace the coin by a biscuit. The idea was to have biscuits in nice boxed that could be ‘refilled’ at petrol pumps and hence everyone would be handing over biscuits and not coins. It did not work even though 50 biscuits were sold at one hundred rupees.

As long as we give, they will beg. As long as we give more to children, parents will not allow them to get educated and break the cycle of mendicity and thus will remain beggars producing more beggars to beg. An infernal spiral!

A child seeking alms is something that should disturb each and everyone and make them soul search for a solution.

The solution is simple: remove the demand, stop giving money, stop giving to children: the supply will vanish the moment the business is no more viable

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It is time we look at our education policy #GivingTuesday #India

The new education policy is in the anvil. The recommendations of the committee set up to look into the issue are ready. Two of the recommendations are close to our hearts. The first is to reinstate detention beyond class V and the other to set up a cadre akin to the administrative cadre for education.
The first recommendation comes as a sigh of relief. Ever since the no fail policy till class VII had been instituted quality of education particularly in state run schools had taken a free fall. Moreover in a country where corruption has permeated education, this policy could result in the aberration of class XII toppers unable to answer questions from subjects they had aced. For one of them political science teaches cooking and the other did not know the link between water and H20! Looked like someone else sat in their place. Retest was ordered for the toppers.
This is no laughing matter as toppers are the ones who get seats in prestigious and affordable state run colleges, something you can miss by a fraction of a mark!
Creating an education cadre is also of paramount importance as often teaching and more so school teaching is not socially acceptable and a last resort when all else has failed. The need to attract the best could be a game changer.
Project Why as been advocating such changes and welcomes them.
At Project Why we believe that primary education should be given its right place in the education journey as this is where foundations are laid. This is also when the mind is receptive to suggestions and thus a sound policy can make all he difference. Content should impart the right social message: tolerance, gender equality, compassion etc. Extra curricular activities need to find adequate space as they are essential to growth.
The two-shift system followed in the majority of state run schools in Delhi should end. All children, be it boys or girls, should attend school in the morning and the afternoon should be for creative and sports activities.
Quality is of the essence but should be imparted in school. The need for ‘shadow education’ or ‘extra tuition’ should end.
Neighbourhood state run quality schools that see a social mix of children is in our opinion the way to meet the constitutional right to education for all children in India.
We hope such issues will be addressed.
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Child abuse casts a shadow the length of a lifetime #GivingTuesday #India


Child abuse casts a shadow the length of a lifetime. Scars heal but the pain never goes away. And yet child abuse is on the rise. Recent studies show that there has been a 50% rise in the crime against children rate. Increased urbanisation seems to be a contributing factor. We are talking of children akin to those who come to Project Why everyday. Rape  of children have become ‘epidemic’ in India’s capital city. Recently a mentally challenged 13 year old was brutally raped and left to die. She battles for her life.

A 8 year old was raped, she escaped death by pretending to be dead. She had seen this happen in a TV serial! One never thought one would give a thumbs up to serial viewing by kids!

Another report states that over 300 000 children across India are drugged, beaten and forced to beg.

The list is endless, each child being one too many, each one making one’s blood go cold.

At Project Why we are aware of this reality.

The first programme Project Why launched was aimed at children begging. The idea was if people gave biscuits instead of coins, the supply-demand equation could be turned on its head. Sadly it did not meet with success. However the plight of beggar children is still one of the most disturbing ones, a deafening Why that remains unanswered.

The case of the mentally challenged child who was abused once again brings to mind Planet Why. The first and most important reason for its existence was to provide safe haven to souls just like this little one. That too remained unachieved.

Project Why has always been, remains and always will be child centric. We are aware that these children are always at risk as they live in harsh conditions. Okhla is a drug haven and children are preferred targets. Teachers keep an extra eye on each child for tell tale signs, ready to intervene when needed.

Child abuse is most often perpetrated within the four walls of home, and thus a well-hidden secret tinged in guilt. Project Why staff is conscious of this and keeps a quiet watch, looking for imperceptible evidence.

Moreover, regular workshops are held for staff and children and ‘good touch’ ‘bad touch’ is an intrinsic part of our curriculum.

We have sadly had some cases. They are far and few between but in the case of a child, one is too many!

A child rights activist rightly said that “Stringent punishment provisions are not just enough. The changing social fabric needs to be studied to take appropriate measures to make systemic changes.” This is long haul. Till then we need to keep our children safe.

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To the manor born


Our dearest friend Kabir of Azure Hospitality conjured another miracle. This time an invitation to a ‘posh’ lunch at the new Mamagoto in Connaught Place. For many of us lunch at a restaurant is a mundane affair. This is another story.

Most of the invitees had never been to a restaurant of this kind. Most of them probably never tasted high quality asian cuisine- a far cry from the chow mien or momos now available at every street corner. Many of them had never entered a restaurant of this class.

But the Project Why team team is to the manor born and no one would have guessed that this was a first!

The invitation was for 20 guests so students and teachers from each centre were selected. Every one was beautifully turned out and tasted new foods with enthusiasm. It was a merry party that lunched a the new Mamagoto on that sizzling day.

But all good things come to an end and so did that lunch.

To say that this is a memory that they will carry on their hearts forever is an understatement.

Two of the guests voiced their feelings.
One said this was probably the first and last enjoyable moment of his life.

The other simply said that this lunch was the happiest moment of her existence.

It is touching and humbling to see how an occurrence we take for granted gives such joy to those who rarely experience it.

Thank you Kabir and the Mamagoto team

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They came, the saw, they cared #ThrowbackThursday #India

Today we would like to walk down memory lane and talk of all the visitors we have had over the years. In most cases they return more than once. That is the magic of Project Why: once you walk in you leave a little bit of yourself and take a little bit of us.

We have many kinds of visitors, some who have become die-hard supporters and who make it a point to visit regularly. There are even Project Why tours organised by them! The best way to see how time has passed is to peruse the pictures and look at the children grow.

Some visitors come and share their skills. It could be a magic show, where tables flew and roses appeared, a brass band from France, a  Flamenco class, a wall painted on Xmas night or a song written for Project Why and performed with the children. The time and care is touching.

They are of all ages and come from across the globe. A bunch of Cub Scouts from the American school decide to help their Okhla friends paint their school, a group of girls from the American school in Beirut came visiting too. An octogenarian from Australia came to share Mahatma Gandhi’s message.

They come and spend time with children not shying from dirtying  their  hands. They serve meals to the children at the Yamuna centre and even give pedicures to special kids!

They come bearing gifts or ready to get us what is needed. They respond to our appeals be it for state-of-the-art hearing aids or a roof that needs to be made.

One  of the most touching group of visitors were students with special needs from France who came to meet their Indian friends. That day doors and lanes seemed to have grown large enough to welcome the elaborate wheel chairs. It was a magical moment when no language was needed to convey what was felt. Everyone danced and laughed to their heart’s content. Invitations were made and for an instant, one believed that Project Why’s special kids could maybe visit their French friends till reality struck: given the circumstances our kids would never get a passport. But one can dream and who knows? Dreams do come true.

Over the years, we have been privileged and blessed to have so many people come to Project and leave as friends forever. Those who cannot come back remain in touch and in our hearts forever.

Please do read the links in this post. They are precious memories

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The Numbers Perspective #GivingTuesday #India

écoliers de la special class,enfants handicapés
Secondary Class at Khader

The Numbers Perspective! Sounds like a title of a Robert Ludlum thriller doesn’t it? Come to think of it is is a thriller in its own right: the numbers referred to are the (ill)famed marks that a student secures in her or his class XII examination. They will the chart the child’s entire future.

The dreaded results are out and once again we are caught in the dilemma of whether to celebrate or not. The topper this year got a whopping 99.04 % with 100% in two subjects.  Just like Project Why children, she is from Delhi but that is where the comparison ends. According to her dad the reason behind her success is that she did not miss a single class and has not taken a single holiday for TWO YEARS not to forget intensive coaching and a supportive family. And that is not all, the candidate she beat by 0.1 % candidly admitted on TV that she had learned every line of every school book by heart!
Project Why children too have cleared their Boards with success, with the top percentage being Kapil with his whopping 92%!  That is a real feat when you live in a tiny hovel, have a drunk parent who disrupts your studying, a TV blaring around you, only 2 short hours at Project Why in the name of coaching and illiterate parents who rather than supporting your efforts tend to undermine them. In these circumstances the 92 % beats the highest  of marks. So we at Project Why are celebrating big time!
Nevertheless we cannot ignore the reality that stares at us. With 99.04% as the benchmark, the cut off marks for admission in State run and thus affordable universities will hit the sky and children from Project Why will not make the cut. Though there are some seats reserved for sports and creative pursuits, once again our children miss the opportunity as their schools and families cannot help them excel. Private universities are unaffordable and so the options are few: evening classes or distance learning. In most cases they need to work to pay for their studies. Two of our old students teach at Project Why so that they can continue their studies.
This was not always the case. One upon a time, and yes it does sound like a fairy tale now, toppers were in the sixty percentile. What that meant was that the difference between the topper and the  student with the lowest marks would be about 30+%. Today the pass percentage of 33% remains unchanged so the difference becomes a whopping 66%. There is something terribly wrong.
Exams earlier had questions that demanded reasoning and thinking like the dreaded precis in English and numerous essay type questions in other subjects. Getting 100% was quasi impossible. Over the years the evaluation yardstick changed and the result was that children belonging to underprivileged homes quietly dropped out of the net of higher education.
This is a worrying situation as many students who are thus denied the opportunity to study could have accessed avenues now closed to them and  excelled. It is time decision makers looked at this problem seriously otherwise education for all becomes devoid of meaning.
To put things in a different perspective the topper of the prestigious IAS (Indian Administrative Service) was declared last week. The topper 52.49 %.
Need we say more.
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The dentist comes calling #ProjectWhy #India


The dentist comes calling

It was dental checkup time for children from the special section, the creche and the primary section. This was the first dental check up at Project Why and was made possible thanks to our friend Neena Gulabani from the Anubhav Learning Centre. Two young dentists Rinku and Shweta spent the morning peering into small and not so small mouths. The children as always behaved perfectly though one or two of the tiny ones got a bit frightened. The doctors gave the children toothpaste and told them to brush TWICE a day. Some need dental care and we are working towards a solution.

The star of the day however was Ganga. She decided to express her gratitude and ours too by performing a lovely dance for the visiting doctors. It was such a special moment and we invite you to share it with us. What makes this so poignant is that little Ganga has a terrible skin condition that may be life threatening.

Sometimes God’s ways are difficult to understand for us mere mortals!

From Germany with Love #ThrowbackThursday # India

Project Why’s relationship with Germany began way back in 2007 when Hans Emde, a rather forbidding person with a heart of gold, visited Project Why and decided to set up Project Why Deutschland e v in Köln. From that moment the doors flew open and Project Why’s discovery of Germany began.
Volunteers and visitors brought their own special German touch, a far cry from the image many carry of Germans, especially in India.
We were treated to big German lads like Lukas and Enrico who most surprisingly chose to work with the tiniest of kids and who even more surprisingly wept like babies when it was time to leave. Needless to say, Lukas came back many times and Enrico sent his little brother Dario  this spring.
Then we had the ladies who walked into our hearts: Julia, Claudia, Sabine, Myla, Carla and many others. Each displayed incredible warmth and generosity and craftedbonds lasting a life time. Needless to say ALL have become staunch supporters and donors.
Project Why Deutschland walked that extra mile by making the exchange mutual when they invited Rani and Shamika to Koln in February 2009. Germany is the first country that Rani has visited, making the leap from a tiny India slum to a buzzing German city, creating memories she will carry for a life time.
That is not all. The Project Why Deutschland helped us in many more ways. They were the ones who gave to three young hearing impaired girls state-of-the-art hearing aids, allowing them to hear their first sound.
One of the qualities Germans have in abundance is meticulous organisation, a non-existent one in India! We are grateful for all those who have shared this quality with us. Eva taught English to the Okhla kids and staff, braving all odds,  Ayse brought a healing touch to the special kids and Arthur is at present painfully pouring over statistics and figures to help us document our work in a professional manner. The fact that the temperature is a scorching 45 C is proof of the extent of commitment Germans have!
Today, at a time when Project Why is in need of a long due makeover, Carla our elected mentor, is holding our hand and gently leading us into the world of reports, organigrams, budgets, projections and more; we would be lost without her. What is truly touching is that she is ever present and always smiling.
We are grateful to Hans to have opened up a new world to us. We are grateful to Julia and Claudia who are always there for us and jump on a plane to see us when needed. We were particularly touched when Claudia made a trip to Project Why, leaving her toddler behind. That is what love is all about.

Enjoy some German moments at Project Why.

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He who opens a school door, closes a prison #GivingTuesday #India

He who opens a school door, closes a prison.
Victor Hugo
The little beds in this picture take us back to a childhood fairy tale where a little girl ‘dared’ to  sleep on a bed only to be chased away by a family of bears. The Project Why fairy tale is a little different. These little beds are in a boarding school dorm and invite children to make these their own should they aspire to quality education.

All children aspire to quality education; it is also their constitutional right. Sadly for many the aspiration remains a dream rarely fulfilled. In India  for too many children quality education remains inaccessible. What they get is a wasted array of options all falling short, particularly for those born on the wrong side of the divide.

At Project Why we attempt to better the education imparted in State run schools to the best of our ability. We do somewhat succeed but are aware of the reality that so much more needs to be done to provide the enabling environment a child needs to bloom.

Amidst all our programmes there is a tiny one that ticks all the boxes. Seven children are being quietly educated in a boarding school on the outskirts of Delhi.

Many have been skeptical and even critical of this programme that sounds elitist and out of sync with the approach Project Why believes in. That is not quite the case.

Project Why is a firm believer in the neighbourhood state run school attended by children from diverse social strata. That was true once but over the years the advent and mushrooming of private schools that profess to teach English has seen the migration of many children till what is left in state run schools are the poorest of the poor. State run schools are no more level playing fields.

Yet the belief that children from the poorest homes can excel if given the right environment is something that Project Why believes in. When unforeseen and perilous circumstances arose and a child was in need of a safe environment, it was time to put theories to test and begin our boarding school programme, the best option to secure a enabling environment for a underprivileged child. Six others would follow.

The other question often posed, one that is ethical, was how was the selection of children made and why one and not the other. The answer to this question is that it was circumstances that led to the choice: two third degree burn survivors with dysfunctional homes; a young girl whose heart surgery was sponsored by Project Why and who instead of being in school was found working; a child who was adopted then abandoned. All were children who were at the risk of being exploited and abused.

This may not be a satisfying answer as there are millions of children in the same situation.

The only answer that can be given is that these kids were chosen by someone we like calling the God of  Lesser Beings and we were His instrument.

When you see the pictures below, you will realise that some of these kids have been with us for many years, since when they were tiny. Their destiny was linked to that of Project Why. Once we held their hands there was no going back.

Sadafulee so that Project Why children bloom

Her name is Kashmira. She lives in the US and though she has never visited Project Why in person, she had been one of its staunchest supporters. She has walked into Project Why’s heart through a screen! Over the years she has supported our work financially, but more than that, her words of encouragement and love are sent before we ask for them, as if she knew intuitively that they were needed.  The precious time she devotes to our children makes her so special.

A few years back she informed us about  a jewelry crafting initiative,that she named Sadafulee – ever blooming – that she set for helping our kids. With every pearl she threaded and every knot Kashmira tied she wove dreams for little children she had never met. As she put it so well: “This venture comes from my passion for art and for helping underprivileged children. I plan to donate most of the proceeds from this store to a charity working with slum children in India. I am hoping the universe will help me grow this store to help the children to “always bloom”!

Recently when funds were needed to help Manisha get an artificial arm she was the first to take on the challenge and managed to raise much more than what was needed.

When funds were needed to help a desperate kid she decided to revive Sadafulee. Her absolutely stunning pieces are available through her Facebook Page.

We have no words to express our gratitude and love to Kashmira. The only way we can do it is by continuing the work we do with renewed commitment and energy

Thank you for being there for us, Kashmira

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