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All Education NGO Organization Schools Social

Is this the best use of INR 40 lakh ever? Incredible story of what Saleem did!

Indus Action commissioned me to make a story on this amazing 40 lakh grant that they have to offer to anyone with relevant experience who can commit to work for 3 years for getting underprivileged children to schools. I asked them if there was someone who had already received the grant? They said yes. I suggested we tell that person’s story. They agreed. This is that story. This is Saleem’s story. What exactly did Saleem do with 40 lakh rupees? How do you get underprivileged children to schools? Watch it spread the good word about the grant! Thanks!

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All Education Organization Schools Social

This is how India is moving away from rote learning! Awesome!

FSG India recently commissioned me to make a video-story on one of their amazing programs that is enabling a nation-wide sustainable transformation of affordable private schools (the lower rung schools in cities where low-income households send their children to). I travelled to Bangalore, Chennai and Mumbai for this story, where I interviewed school owners and principals, children (who study in such schools) and their parents and several private players in the early childhood education sector, who for some reason or other, had hitherto never considered selling their innovative teaching modules to such schools, but are doing so now!

India truly needs such initiatives. I am excited that I get to witness such efforts first hand. If you liked this one, you should also watch the story that I created for The Education Alliance earlier – about a similar transformation, but applicable for Municipal schools of Delhi.

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Africa Green energy Organization Personal life

Grannies of Kenya

I was commissioned by Greenlight Planet to travel to Kenya and shoot some stories on how their solar lamps (Sun King) have been transforming lives in rural Africa. This is one of the stories that I created. I have kept it more about the subjects and less about the ‘product’. Hope you like it! The video shows you a glimpse of the life of grannies living in coastal parts of rural Kenya. They travel long distances to buy fish every day, then prepare cooked fish and sell it in the evening for some money. Their problem (among many others)? No light during the evening to conduct business. But with access to solar energy, that has now been taken care of, and things are gradually changing for the rural populace!

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All Health & Wellness Inspiring NGO Organization Rural India Social

It’s fascinating what it takes to save lives of the poorest!

Over 150 of 1,000 infants and over 300 of 1,000 under five children were dying in the remote tribal villages of Kalahandi district in Orissa (India) when Dr. Aquinas started Swasthya Swaraj in 2013. To put the above numbers in context, the infant mortality rate is in single digit for most developed countries and the average for India is around 30 deaths per 1000 children. Four years of work by Swasthya Swaraj has brought down the rate to around 100 in the villages (where it serves). This is the story of how that happened – what does it take to save lives of the poorest?

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Education Initiative Inspiring NGO Organization Social Woman-power

And you thought free schools for slum kids was enough!


Many slum children who manage to go to schools, don’t enjoy their school life. The environment outside school does not encourage them to do anything productive and most just waste away their time. Some pick up bad habits, other pick up fights. Kamya solves this problem. This is her story.

My Perch is a space that I run in the Barola slum in Noida. Children come over, generally after school hours and spend as much time as they feel like, just being themselves and doing whatever they feel like doing, without the fear of being judged”, Kamya had said.

I was on my way to the place, expecting to find a dilapidated space in the middle of a filthy slum surrounded by broken houses next to unpaved roads.

The location was none of that. ‘My Perch’ was essentially the basement of a typical NCR building, right on a main road. I would discover soon that the slum from where most kids came over to this space, was not far behind the main road.

 

Let me tell you what typically does not happen in most schools and definitely not in the types where most underprivileged children manage to go.

Nobody asks them “so what would you like to learn”? Few months ago, when the children were asked this question at ‘My Perch’ – some said they wanted to know how to cook healthy food. Just reading about the dangers of the kind of food that they ate outside was not enough for them. So, cooking materials were put together and soon, with the help of Youtube, the children started learning and cooking, teaching each other in the process, and even selling the ‘healthy’ cooked food for nominal prices to those who wished to eat it.

 

I was commissioned by India Fellow to make this 3MS on Kamya and other fellows, who are bringing in a change in society in their own ways. India Fellow is a 13 month long social leadership program where young Indians can apply, and if chosen, get to experience what working on ground for various non-profits and social enterprises across India is. Visit their website to know more about the fellowship and to apply.

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All Initiative Organization Rural India Social

What two brothers in Punjab are doing for farmers is way better than charity!

Charity can never solve the huge issues that farmers of our country face. So what are the some of the better ways to improve their lives? This is what this video-story is about. By the way, this is the first 3MS that I shot but did not edit. 🙂 It was edited by a different team sitting in Amsterdam – a team at Zoomin.TV. I stumbled upon a story on the brothers online and pitched the idea to Zoomin – a dutch media house curating stories from across the globe on various topics; “local heroes” being one of them. The story got a go ahead, I contacted the brothers and soon travelled to Kapurthala to meet them.

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Pawiter and Harjap are cousin brothers and belong to well-to-do farming families. They don’t have money issues themselves but they have seen first hand how smaller farmers don’t have it easy. Although most farmers in India operate in a high risk setup, the return is not high enough. Small farmers have a poor negotiating advantage when it comes to selling their produce; the mandi guys dictate the price and the farmer doesn’t have much option (can’t store, can’t take back the produce and has very little knowledge of where else he can sell). The middlemen at the mandi easily sell the same stuff for 75% to 100% higher rates to the end buyers. And the brothers see this as an issue.

Harjap did farming himself for a while and hated this lack of control that farmers had (on deciding the price). Farmerfriend, their website and app addresses this problem. They have been putting together buyers and farmers on one platform (for free) so that farmers don’t have to depend totally on the middlemen – and can directly strike deals with bulk or retails buyers in nearby urban areas. Using this site, they can now sell for higher price and at the same time, for the buyer, the overall cost is lesser (compared to procuring from middlemen). The journey for these brothers has just begun. They will have to raise a lot of money if they want to spread this across India (a lot of groundwork is required to go meet and convince the farmers). But they are confident they will figure out a way to scale this up. Farmers across India, need such platforms. Like, right away!

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All Organization Sports

Why Indian football players generally suck and what is being done about it!

This is the story of two sportsmen in Bangalore who are trying to build an Indian football team competent enough to face international leagues. And there is a reason why it’s not an easy task. Watch the story to understand that.

It is interesting the way I got to make this story. Sometime last year, an international media agency was looking for Indian film-makers to find and shoot football and cricket related inspiring stories. I tried to pitch in and put up a Facebook post asking friends to connect me to anyone who was doing something for these sports. The post got shared here and there and that’s how Sharath found out about me. He told me about what he had been upto and one day I flew to Bangalore to shoot this. By then the international agency’s deal had been shelved, but I was cool with doing this on my own anyway. It was great to meet Sharath and Abhishek at Abhishek’s training centre. Unfortunately nothing could be scheduled for me to shoot in a football ground while I was in Bangalore so it took me a while to finish this story (Sharath eventually shot and shared some football ground footage to me – which you see in this video-story). I hope you liked this story. If you know of people / organizations whose story should be brought out – do let me know. amrit@3minutestories.com

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All Innovation Organization Startups

How does one use drones to help India grow faster?

Last year I travelled to Bangalore to meet Mughilan and Mrinal, the co-founders of Skylark drone. This is their story – and how they are able to use drones to contribute to India’s growth. Pretty interesting!

drones in india skylark story
Mughilan and Mrinal show me the garage where they started up. Bangalore, 2016.

This is a commissioned assignment (meaning I got paid to create this 3MS). Generally when startups approach me, they just care about a ‘video’ that can show others, what they ‘do‘. ‘We do this and we do that and we also do this and we also do that’ is what I ususally hear. Unfortunately, unless what someone does is mind-blowingly never seen before cool, the world doesn’t much care (at least not enough to watch a video). So how does one make the world care about what you do anyway? By telling a story. And that’s what I do. A story is always more about what one ‘wants‘ and why one wants whatever one wants. And only then does a story move to what one ‘does’ to get what (s)he wants.

Thankfully, I could spend few days in Bangalore with these guys (as I shot another story in the same premise where they were based at, at that point of time). And that helped me understand their journey and thus appreciate what they were truly doing. Hope you like it!

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All Disability Initiative Inspiring NGO Organization Travel

Stunning aerial shots from Ladakh and a super powerful cycling story

You need a certain level of fitness to cycle from Manali to Khardungla, a distance exceeding 500 Kms over one of the highest altitude roads in the world, but every year, hundreds of cyclists do it anyway. When Divyanhsu wanted to try this though, everyone told him it was impossible. This story tells you why.

It also shows what cycling in the Himalayas is all about and why it’s worth it, especially for someone like Divyanshu.

SPOILER ALERT: Read on further only AFTER you have seen the 3MinuteStory.

[highlight]If you want to use the video in you site(s), please do follow the Video Credit Policy.[/highlight]

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Your phone sounds like a Mickey Mouse.

I told Divyanshu within the first 15 minutes of meeting him in person in Manali. Below is a short audio clip of how his phone sounds like.

‘This Mickey Mouse keeps me independent’, he smiled and explained. It made sense for him to listen to the audio narration of his iphone at as high a speed as possible, to be most efficient in using it (yes, that’s how he uses his phone, some app narrates everything that’s on screen).

Divyanshu at Tso Kar, Ladakh, 2016. Photograph by Amrit Vatsa.
Divyanshu at Tso Kar, Ladakh, 2016. Photograph by Amrit Vatsa.

 

Divyanshu lost his eyesight from Glaucoma when he was nineteen (he is in his forties now). After going through a short low period, he jumped back to life and took things in his stride. He wanted to learn computers. No one would teach him computers. So he learnt it on his own, thanks to internet. He worked in the IT sector for six years and then shifted to clinical psychology and cognitive neuroscience (in the year 2000). At present, he runs a company called Yellow Brick Road that offers corporate training in behavioral facilitation. He also runs a not for profit called Adventures Beyond Barriers Foundation (ABBF).

Those eight days in the hills and how I went about shooting it all

I traveled with the team throughout the journey. ABBF was kind enough to take care of my return flight from Goa (where I live). They also took care of the entire stretch of travel and accommodation. Other than Divyanshu and Gagan, the team included Herman – Divyanshu’s friend from Mumbai, Tanya – who works for ABBF and the youngest of all – Rahul – our local guide (from Manali) who drove the support vehicle (his 4-Wheel Scorpio Getaway) like a boss.

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The team. Herman, Tanya, Gagan, myself, Divyanshu and Rahul.

 

Those of us not cycling, travelled mostly in the support vehicle. At times, I would ask Rahul to cross the cyclists and stop the vehicle some distance ahead where I would then wait for them to approach the frame as I filmed (mostly handheld) . At other times, I would stand on the Scorpios’ rear luggage holder while Rahul kept driving his SUV, at slow speeds, just ahead of the cyclists, and I would film tracking shots. On several days, I also ran on the road (though only for few minutes at a time), that being the only way to get close-up moving shots as they cycled. The quadcopter (my 3rd one; purchased just a day before the trip started) was flown for the aerial shots obviously, whenever the landscape called for it (and the batteries had juice in them). I was clear I did not want to overdo the aerial bit and definitely wanted to avoid the cliched time-lapse and hyper-lapse and super slow-motion shots. Vimeo and internet is full of them already and lately they have become the biggest excuse for not telling what matters most – a good genuine story (IMHO). Enough ‘music videos’ already!

I did not want the video to be about my cinematographic abilities and over-exploit the beauty of the landscape. I wanted the video to tell the story of Divyanshu’s journey. And why it’s important.

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I wait for the cyclists to arrive. Photography by Tanya or Herman.
I wait for the cyclists to arrive. Photograph by Tanya or Herman.

When I finally put together the first cut, I had a one hour movie (yet to work on the longer version). There is so much that this short story doesn’t show. In the opening shot of this 3MinuteStory, you see Rahul trying to fix the loosened crank (which by the way never got properly fixed till the end; these guys managed to cycle nevertheless). Dealing with a loose crank was only one of the struggles. One day, the chain broke. The same day they realized that the backup cycle was impossible to ride because the shafts were way out of sync. On another day, Divyanshu felt feverish (but thankfully recovered soon). On yet another day, Gagan suffered from a mild high altitude sickness and the team had to help him with Oxygen. There were times when I felt dizzy too. But nothing devastating enough to stop the ride, ever happened. We all held up fine one way or other and at the end of eight days, the expedition was successfully over.

The bottom-line

From that first Micky Mouse conversation to the many more that I had with Divyanshu (some on record, many off the record), I bonded really well with him. During the course of the expedition, it was obvious to me that this story was not about ‘blindness’ at all. That is not to say that any of us ever forgot that Divyanshu was blind. We did not. But that’s similar to how the rest of them never forgot that I had beard and held camera in my hands for most part. Or that we all never forgot that Tanya was a woman. And so on. We all were different people and that was that. There was nothing more to it. And that’s pretty much the bottom-line. When able bodied people like me hang out and do things together with folks with a disability like Divyanshu, we are able to move over the stereotypical notions that we have and this makes life so much better because we become more accepting. We see each other as different individuals (with different abilities and disabilities) but that never becomes the basis to draw conclusions about what one can and cannot do.

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Divyanshu and I contemplate about life and other such things. Sarchu, Ladakh, 2016. Photograph by Tanya.

Now that Divyanshu has shown that tandem cycling on the Himalayas is pretty much doable for a blind person, his not for profit Adventures Beyond Barriers Foundation (ABBF) plans to organize expeditions for more cyclists every year. ABBF already organizes marathons for blind (a sighted runner holds hands of a visually impaired person and they run together). And I am sure, Divyanshu and team will keep coming up with more ways to bring together the two communities. The world needs this.

If you want to use the video in you site(s), please do follow the Video Credit Policy.

Categories
All Education NGO Organization Schools Social

It’s unbelievable how some Govt. schools in India have transformed!

This is the story of how a non-profit is transforming government schools in India to as good as private schools. I was commissioned to do this story last month. It is heartening to see an organization working towards improvement of government schools because if what they are doing can be scaled up, it will have a huge impact on the quality of learning that the majority of children in India have access to. I wish them all the best.