Sunday, September 30, 2012

Daraja Academy

“I want to be an independent lady” ----That one sentence means a lot if one pauses and reflects on who says it.

I happened to watch a short movie of 14 minutes and to tell you frankly I was smiling throughout the movie.

It was about Daraja Academy, a revolutionary idea - a secondary school where remarkable Kenyan girls, otherwise forgotten due to the lack of school fees, are given the one thing they desire most... a chance to succeed, because Daraja and its supporters believe educated girls can transcend poverty and change the world.

Girls from 18 of Kenya’s 42 tribes live and learn together in peace at Daraja.

The principal says, “The World, the west, the north, whatever you want to call it, will learn much much more from these girls than what this school can teach these girls”

It is not only academic education, but sustainable environmental practices are also a priority.

Daraja means “Bridge” and there are four pillars that the Daraja school works on and live by. They are:

Pillar #1
Be accountable for the role that you play at Daraja, neither neglecting nor abusing it.
Pillar # 2
Maintain open communication. Speak honestly and listen respectfully.
Pillar # 3
Embrace differences. Treat all with dignity and respect.
Pillar # 4
Each day, leave it better than you found it…

(that is Gideon, Winnie, Pamela and Joy in the art class)

The girls say ASANTE SANA. .  . . . . . .”Thank you very much”.

I thank Barbara Rick who has produced and directed this movie. It is simply marvellous and rich both in the content and the quality of the movie.
For those who want to see the movie, click here.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Stamping out corruption in Kabul

Some countries are faced with a deluge of problems. It may be plagued by religious fanatics, terrorism, corruption or political upheaval. Even under  such dire situations ,there are a few who stand up for what is right and try to improve the situation of the country.
One such person is Colonel Abdul Fatah who runs the busiest passport office in Kabul.  He has earned a reputation  of being upright and honest. Known for being incorruptible and discharging his duties efficiently, he has received  commendations and awards from leaders and organizations. But for him, it's not about awards, it's about getting the job done. His office issues  roughly  250 to 300  passports a day , efficiently . Despite the limitations and some security weaknesses in the passport system, Col Fatah is happy to facilitate the travel of Afghans.
In his own words…… “if we don’t finish our work today, it becomes a burden tomorrow” He came into the lime light when one of the high ranking officials waiting in line for his passport renewal overheard Col Abdul Fatah lecturing his subordinates that corruption would not be tolerated.
According to him, “Society is like a family. If a member of the family is corrupt, then the others try to make him a good person”
He says that there are larger problems that plague the passport office, like the lack of a computer base. This makes it easy for Afghans to have multiple passports with the same name. He understands the situation and does not blame the offender alone. “The problem is political”, he says.  “If a person has an Indian Visa, then Pakistan will not give a visa, and vica-versa”

He sounds practical when he says “Every Afghan should travel  to foreign countries. There has been a lot of war in this country and they should go and see other cultures. See the way others work and live”.
Here is one guy who is really dedicated to improve the situation in his country. If there were more dedicated and honest people like him, I am sure the problems plaguing the country will vanish.
A short movie on the way he works - click here to see it yourself.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Peter George and the church organ

About two months ago I read a small article in the papers about a man who had been playing the church organ for the last fifty years.
For some this may not be a great feat, as there are musicians who continue playing their musical instruments for many decades. But here is one gentleman (Peter George) who has been playing the same organ sitting on the same bench in the same church for the last fifty years. I consider his devotion and dedication to music as extraordinary.  
I decided to meet this organist and it was not a difficult task as he was from Pune and had been playing the organ at St Paul’s church.

This church itself was worth mentioning as it was erected in 1867 on the lines of the St Chapelle church in Paris.  I liked this small little “door” on the side from where one could see the organ. (I wonder what was the purpose of this small door from which just one person could pass through)

Peter George shifted from Tamil Nadu to Pune when he was 11 years old. He comes from a family who were musically inclined and his father used to play the violin. At the age of 12 he started learning the piano from Ms Lalita Savarkar who taught him church music. Later in 1962 (when he was 20) he started playing the organ in St Peter’s church.
There was a special service held in the church on  30th of June on the occasion of his completing 50 years as an organist. I decided to attend the service and it was a solemn moment for me.
The quaint little church had its own charm and the music from the fingertips of George reverberated through the church.
I liked the small little brochure that was prepared for the occasion and liked the picture on the last page.

I managed to capture some of the moments and made a short movie of it which is attached at the end of this post.
While clicking I was taken in by the books that he referred to. These weather beaten books has seen better days but it was still used by George with reverence and love.

The organ itself was worth having a closer look and I could see that some of the push pull knobs were still in tact, and so were the foot pedals. India once had over 200 pipe organs, now it stands at approximately 80.

In George’s own words “Whatever talent has been given to me by God, should be used to serve Him”  He has not set any deadline and wishes to continue playing the organ as long as he can.  I wish him many more years of romancing the keys.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Girl Child Education

It may come as a surprise to many that in India half of the girls get married before they are 18.

The burden of poverty and the low status that girls have in society pushes them out of school and into labour.
If a family cannot educate the children, the girls would be pulled out of the school first. Then they are encouraged to take up menial jobs to supplement the household income.
To add to these woes we have the female infanticide incidents. If you look a little deeper the problem lies in the thinking cycle of an average Indian.
The minute a girl child is born, the parents think of it as a “paraya dhan” (somebody else’s property) who is going to grow up into a tree and bear fruit for somebody else’s family.  And then the feeling sets in that all money invested in that girl child is going to be a waste. And this includes the money spend on education.

Dowry and marriage expenses are some of the things that haunt a family (especially in the lower echelons of society)
 I think there is some truth when they say "educate a girl and a complete family gets educated"

Shakira the “waka waka” girl, came down to India (as the UNICEF goodwill ambassador) with the intention of promoting girl child education. She cites some good examples on why it is a good deal for the state to invest in the girl child education.
I think she is doing a good job in highlighting such issues and taking it to a higher level of exposure.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Snowflakes in the forest

As a kid I used to always wonder how they made the animals act in movies. I mean the exact moves, the coy look, the dash across the field, how could they make the dogs understand the script and ask them to act accordingly. 

 It was only later on I realised that it was not done that way. 

They just did the shooting of the dog in whatever movement he/she made throughout the day (maybe with his master or trainer standing close by but out of the camera frame). They later added it at the right places as per the script.
Whenever I shoot some event with my camera, there is already some idea developing in my mind as to how it will look after the final editing.  Joining the strips together, giving it a smooth flow of the events is an art and some are very skilled at it.
Making movies is easy if one has an idea to build up on. That is what Andy Parker did.
During the early winter of 2011 it snowed heavily in England. Andy decided to make the most of it. Taking the dog for a walk was what he had in mind but he also took his small tripod and his Canon 5D Mark II and his 50 mm lens.

He had the advantage of a pack of Huskies joining in. This gave him more “characters” to add to his 2 minute film.  He documented the day, completed the editing in the afternoon and uploaded the movie by evening. I am sure dog lovers are going to love this.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

La Ferme Cheese

When wifey told me that she wanted to stop over at a cheese making factory I pictured it as some great factory with lots of machinery and many employees working in it.
My imagination worked overtime and transported me to the world of  Tom and Jerry my favorite  cartoon movie series. I imagined those slices of cheese with huge holes in it and Tom chasing Jerry who was trying to get away with a huge piece. I pictured myself waving back at Jerry when he would look at me cheekily through one of those holes and wink. (Sigh!)

But all these were just my imagination.
The La Ferme Cheese factory at Pondicherry was a simple little place. It is not far from Auroville Ashram and is  run by Mr Benny who was kind enough to  show us around, despite being held up for his lunch. Benny hails from Netherlands and stays with his family in Auroville.
I was impressed by the simple sign board at the entrance.  A slice of wood on which the name was painted in white paint. No fancy stuff.

Outside I saw these huge black structures, which was the Bio gas plant. He told us that the gas that was used in the kitchen were from these Bio gas plants.

As for the Tom & Jerry affair, he told us that they were the Swiss cheese with ‘eyes’ The larger the eyes, the more pronounced its flavour will be.
There are so many types of cheese, like the Provolone cheese, the Govda cheese, Farm cheese, Blue cheese, Cheddar cheese.

Among the hard cheese are the Parmesan, Gruyere, Romano.

All these sounded Greek to me, and talking about Greek, the Feta cheese is cheese actually from Greece. It is made with a combination of Goat and sheep milk.
(that is cheese with goat milk)

I was impressed by the way Benny kept his place neat and clean. He gave us a tour of the place which included sections where the milk was collected in huge containers ,the  processing of cheese , testing of samples and the storage of the finished product was done.

He went to great details about the shelf life of each variety and  gave us samples to taste. 
carving out a slice for tasting

Though most of the cheese were made with cow’s milk, they also  made goat cheese. Despite having their own cattle , the milk for the cheese was also sourced from the nearby farms , to meet the demands of their ever increasing clientele .
The cheese  products are available to customers in the local markets and also in Auroville outlets. Though they do not sell the Cheese at La Farme, Benny was kind enough to make an exception for us ........ as  my wife  was so keen to buy the Parmesan cheese, that she kept  persistently requesting him.

(some of the tools for cutting the hard cheese)

I saw these colourful soldiers all lined up on a shelf and was wondering what they were doing up there. When I picked up one to examine it, I realised that they were the number stamps used to mark the cheese.

While we were there , a prospective client dropped by to meet Benny  to discuss  an order that he wanted to place. This was my cue to move on as I could see that Benny was going to be even more late for his lunch.

He was happy that I was taking photos of his place. When I told him that I will be writing a blog on La Ferme Cheese, his eyes brightened up and said with a smile “do send me the link”  

PS: After we send the link to Benny, this was his reply:

Hello Marie and Joe,
Sure I remember your visit, but what a nice surprise to see and read the article. Great pictures and a very nice story.
Thanks! This really more than makes up for a late lunch ;-) and looking at the pics I don't think I was so hungry anyway :-)
Best Regards,

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Extra Time

Most of us have taken part in some form of sports activity when we were young and some of us take it to the next level as we grow up. Some even end up being a professional player.
This is the story of one such guy named Bernie who was a football player on a professional level, But as he grew up he had to leave it due to age related problems. He is caught up in his daily family activities, but deep down he is not happy doing these daily chores. To add to it his wife is always around to say that he is not doing a good job.

One day while tinkering with his lawn-mover a red ball flies over the thick fence and lands next to his feet. The sight of the ball brings back old memories. He knows that the rubber ball has come from the next house where the kids were playing football. He picks it up and gives it a clean kick sending it sailing over the fence and he can almost hear the adulation of the audience like the “good old days” This turns out to be his daily activity, interacting with the children and returning the ball without actually meeting the kids. Then one day the family along with the kids from the neighbourhood move out. He once again goes into a depression as the only link he had with a football is abruptly stopped.

All this is not lost on his wife and one fine day she decides to present him with a ball. The change in his expression is worth watching.
The 7 minute short movie made by Amy Hill and John Rosy is humorous and heart tugging.  
In his own words “creating characters and exploring the ways in which they interact with each other is a huge passion of mine”
You can see for yourself – click here. (it may take a few seconds for the movie to start playing)