The students at the NGO called Project Why in New Delhi never fail to amaze, enthral and astound those who come from all corners of the world to volunteer. All students live in the slums of southern Delhi, in small huts with little or no amenities, and attend the state run schools, Project Why gives them an extra bit of education. State schools in Delhi are little more than factories to churn out poorly educated citizens to take up the many low-paid, unskilled and lowly jobs it seems the government is happy for them to fulfil, keeping those of lower caste in their place and thus keeping a cheap and compliant workforce. Classes of 120+ are normality; mostly the low-paid and uninterested teachers seem neither to try nor care to make sure everyone is educated properly. Pupils only attend school for half days, boys one half, girls the other so they don’t even get a full day’s poor education and also only get subsidised schooling between the ages of 6 and 14. Not all pass their exams at the end of their school life and few achieve good marks, however those students who get supplementary education and support at Project Why do better than the rest, recently some students achieved highest marks in class and in one case the highest marks in the school. A great endorsement and happy reward for the hard working people who run the charity and teach there, a success story happening right now.
This is good news for the able-bodied slum-kids but for those differently –abled youngsters of the slums there is little or no state provision for education or support so it is unusual for any disabled children from the slums to attend school. Fortunately for them Project Why also provides day long care and education for the differently-abled at its Special Section in Govind Puri, South Delhi. So at least a few students will be competent in maths, written and spoken English and written Hindi too, as well as learning life skills they would otherwise not be given in their slum homes. One such student is Preeti, a victim of Polio at an early age she can only walk on her haunches by moving her feet with her hands, nevertheless she rarely accepts any help and is quite clever too, with an ability and a willingness to learn that is quite extraordinary. There is a possibility she might be able to pass the school leaving exam and so have the certificate she would need to get a job otherwise she would stand no chance of employment at all. To do this she needs to learn a great amount not least to be able to know her way round a computer, something totally unavailable to her living where she does amongst the slum huts, no family there can afford a computer and certainly there would be no internet connection. One skill very useful to her would be being able to type proficiently, at speed and accurately, an added asset if she were to apply for employment and also enhance any time she spent on the computer while at the Project Why class.
So a pet project has begun to teach Preeti to touch type and also for this one-finger typist to learn along with her. Finding and downloading free software was the initial task as we cannot afford to buy expensive programmes at the charity, the first attempt ended on lesson three as the supposed ‘freeware’ ended there with popups to buy any further use but the second attempt, with Typefast, is proving much better and really is free. Preeti took to learning touch-typing quickly and vastly outpaced her tutor, who has been left in her wake, such is her ability to learn, her dedication and her concentration. Her pace of learning is astonishing and she usually has only to be shown something once to have learnt it and remember it days later.
Not long after her lesson today there was one of the many and common power cuts leaving the class without a fan cooler for the whole afternoon. Not so much of a problem except it was the hottest day of the year so far at 48 degrees Celsius or 118 degrees Fahrenheit, in old money, not helped by the humidity going up to over 30% and the classroom being at the top of a four story block, whose flat roof is baked by the sun to higher temperatures. Five minutes outside in direct sunlight is enough to melt anybody into a jelly. Relief comes to Preeti’s tutor at home with aircon and cool, clean, clear water on tap but one can only wonder how she and the rest of the slum families cope in their little one room, tin-roofed homes with only water collected from the communal tap in plastic jerry cans, if it is working, otherwise waiting for a tanker to deliver and fight for a ration. But cope they do with little complaint. The next day Preeti is back at Project Why, fresh as a daisy, eager to carry on her typing lesson.