Manu precipitated the most deafeningly loud "why?". Anuradha rented a hovel and began to care for him. Manu being washed, cared for and loved became a curious novelty. Soon other parents brought their handicapped wards. Coming everyday with Shamika to Giri Nagar taught Anuradha ways to do things without complaining, agonising or imagining enemies. A wealthy friend --who refuses to be named-- bought her a shanty for Rs.70,000 and the Sri Ram Goburdhun Trust had a permanent home. Anuradha's inheritance too began to flow through her work.
Coming back to our enquiry, *why* do Manus happen? Anuradha began to get some answers. They happen because poor adults are without hope and their children will forever remain out of the 'good' jobs loop. Because schooling for the poor, where it does exist, begins with the presumption that they can never be taught the core skills that good jobs need. Shamika's experience, terrible though it was, at least did not include corporal punishment and mockery to which the poor are subject. Anuradha saw Shamika blossoming when once she was filled with responsibility, purpose and optimism. Why then, won't the poor?
Project Why began offering real education to the merely school-going. Available to all is the immensely popular English speaking course. Then with machines donated by friends, a computer centre started at which children clamour for their turn. Today there are over 500 children taught by 35 teachers. Children going to the afternoon schools come to Project Why in the mornings and the morning schoolers come in the afternoon. Attendance is near 100% and enthusiasm for learning bubbles through. Beneficiaries are toddlers to Plus-2 students. Teachers are almost entirely slum raised folks; they need to have passed Class-8 at a minimum, but many are graduates and there is even a Masters. There are about fifteen children with various handicaps, who are ferried in Project Why's three wheeler, washed and fed and taught. The monthly budget of Rs.85,000 goes mostly as handsome teacher salaries --between Rs.1500 and Rs.3000-- and rentals for the five or so shacks that are rented. So Project Why is creating a cadre of slum based teachers, trained to be creative and human.
"We don't realise how much a dysfunctional school system contributes to social discord," says Anuradha. "The formal schools in fact end up convincing children that learning is beyond them. Add to that the abuse, mockery and caning and you have the perfect recipe for future outlaws." She was puzzled in the early days, that students would proffer their text books and ask her to *underline* passages. Then she realised that this was the standard teaching method in their schools: a teacher would underline and her students would memorise those lines. There was no other effort to teach. Even the pathetic pass mark of 33% was a difficult hurdle. Children discovered they had 'failed' as early as age-10. They accepted a life away from the mainstream.