DOMINIC COSTABIR’s first-hand experience, amongst the kids who are part of Project Why, leaves him shaken and stirred…
Kabir Suri, Director Azure Hospitality, speaks emotionally about Project Why, a Delhi-based NGO initiative. His empathic inputs motivate me to visit.
At 0900 hours I land in Delhi. No radio taxis available, the non AC pre-paid queue is long, Sushma my EA has not answered her phone (I don't know my exact schedule), Rani Bhardwaj, Centre Manager, from Project Why, coordinates and en route I'm busy sorting mail and Watsapp.
A hot two-hour ride later and I'm in a Nano with Dharmender Beniwal, Centre Manager, bound for the Okhla training centre. He fills me in on Project Why but I am preoccupied as, besides the inconvenience of today (up since 0430 hrs), I'm battling a few interpersonal and internal challenges. The pressure wears heavy and the day has just begun - besides the visit to Project Why, I have three meets to go.
Like a hot shot in a rush, I step into the centre only to be gob-smacked and humbled. Sitting in the shanty on mats spread out on the mud floor in five close-packed clusters are about 40 village kids. The kids are in the 4-year to 10-year age group. A teacher sits within each cluster. They all stand and sing out ‘Good Morning’ in an uncoordinated medley.
My brisk city, hot shot pace slows to an unconfident walk as I traverse the small room into a smaller section housing computers. Five kids of around 10 years of age are working (in English) on an assortment of tasks/ projects - not playing games - on their computers.
We climb up via a narrow staircase to the roof. The scene here is similar - kids in clusters on the floor, books in hand, except the kids here are older. Rani explains that all these kids go to a government school and come here for tuitions. The centre runs two shifts and upgrades around 300 boys and girls. Kabir has personally financed the construction of the structure which used to be a shed.
It is awe-inspiring to watch… the teachers are totally immersed in their wards. There is total discipline. Attention is rapt. Each cluster is so close to the other and the voices overlap yet neither the kids nor teachers are distracted, not even by our presence.
Still reeling from the experience, we head for the centre at Yamuna Bank. Dharmender continues his briefing about the poverty the kids and their parents battle. I learn about Project Why’s challenges and aspirations in giving them a better life. He is inquisitive about what I plan to do through HTI, along with Project Why and Azure. Yet again I'm pre-occupied…This time, with my own shallowness as compared to the depth of challenges that these kids battle daily in a matter-of-fact way.
The Nano is now doing an off road sojourn at breakneck speed. Bushes scrape the car as it bounces and weaves on the narrow mud path running along the banks of the Yamuna.
I step out shaken and stirred not by the ride but by what I see. Four batches of around 90 kids. Two batches sitting in huts, one facing east and the other west, and two other batches sitting outside the huts under a shelter. The kids’ discipline is unbelievable, the love and involvement from the teachers is palpable.
The parents of these children are farmers who grow vegetables (the kids work with them before and after school) along the Yamuna Banks. There is no regular school for these kids, so they are graded into four levels and attend class as per one of the four levels. Volunteer Viren Bhojwani tells me that thanks to Azure the kids get a midday meal daily. It is an added incentive to come to the school especially for little Priya, who can't stop raving about the food to her parents every day.
I watch as the Nano is unloaded and food piled out. I expect a rush of 85 hungry bellies attached to kids attacking the food. Instead I'm accosted by disciplined kids lining up to wash their hands and rinse their plates while one of them pumps water out of the hand pump.
Back in the car, I feel small – way smaller than the Nano I'm travelling in. Those kids face problems on a daily basis like I would not face in 10 years of my life. Hats off to Project Why, hats off to Azure and now it is time for HTI to offer these kids counselling and professional training in Hospitality.
Come on Team HTI, let's make it happen for kids that have more guts in their little finger to take on life than I have packed in my entire body!