Project Why: Bard
Project Why: Bard is an initiative supported by the Trustee Leader Scholar program (TLS) at Bard College. The TLS program helps passionate undergraduate students develop and implement civically minded projects of their own design and interest. Project Why: Bard is inspired by the organization Project Why, a school for over a thousand slum children in the devastatingly complex city of New Delhi, India. We will be traveling annually to Project Why during the winter intersession. Our mission is to augment the curriculum through working with full time teachers in subjects with which they are less familiar. This includes spoken English, the arts, technology, and life skills such as first aid. We also run teacher trainings which improve spoken English facility and equip teachers with pedagogical skills. Project Why: Bard is young and small; as we grow we hope to establish connections with the communities surrounding Bard, bringing the two locations a little closer to together- in spirit if nothing else.
Project Why's Story
Project Why's story begins in 2000 with a woman named Anouradha Bakshi. Following the death of her parents Anou sought a way to find the India in the stories her parents had always told her. Project Why's first undertaking was spoken English classes for children and young women but it was not long before the first challenge came along. A young class VII student asked for help with her school work as she had a forthcoming exam; Anou quickly realized that the student had been taught nothing but memorization by the government schools. Anou set up shop teaching English and established a mission of stemming drop out rates. From the forty original students Project Why has expanded to over 1,000 students in primary, secondary, creche, and special education classes in five locations throughout New Delhi.
In the first years of Project Why classes were taught in tiny jhuggis and lanes, parks were cleaned and classes were held, tents put up, unused pavements cleared, any place would do, but no child was ever sent away for lack of space. The children came from far flung places and every one was accepted, even if it meant tightening our belts and squeezing ourselves. The Project Why family had come to stay!
From the very outset Project Why drew all resources from within the community, believing that education can only have a true meaning if it is independent of extraneous factors. Every single staff member comes from the community where the centers are located. Though the staff may not at first seem qualified in a conventional manner, they have proven to be Project Why's greatest asset. The teachers are an extremely motivated group as they got the recognition they had never had before. But more importantly, belonging to the same social background as their students, they are able to understand the problems faced by the children. Moreover, because they are totally different from the 'image' of the teacher the children have, they are able to gain their confidence. Project Why has created over fifty new jobs in their community; some of the teachers and administrators were once Project Why students!
The true success of Project Why lies in its ability to empower the community and to take on the responsibility of fixing the problems plaguing the children and the community. Project Why realized very early that invisible barriers existed - whether of caste or creed - and the first venture was to break those barriers and make Project Why a true reflection of an ideal India. Project Why strives to make the children better citizens and run a host of extra curricular activities to raise awareness about environmental issues and social responsibility. Recent workshops include gender equality, how to be more eco-friendly in a polluted city like Delhi, and how to utilize creative outlets such as photography and music.
Anou, the administrators, the teachers, students, funders, and volunteers all share an unshakable bond. Together they ride the highs and lows, sharing in their anguish and pain as well as the moments of boundless joy. Project Why is a true family who opens their arms to every new person, problem, and solution.