Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Of smiles, voices and positivity: the story of my London trip (1)

I just returned from an 8-day trip to London, courtesy Panos London. However, this blog is dedicated to the beefy immigration officer at Heathrow airport who told me - "pardon me, but I am not aware of who or what Panos London is. So, could you tell me a bit about them?" I had never heard a voice so full of honey and sugar! So, here's to you, Mr Immigration Politeness!

LSJ - a very 'Savvy' project 

This board at the office of Panos London really says it all. Right now, they are illuminating, among others,  the voice of Mary Madiga - a Dalit woman from India whose stories I have been chronicling

Panos London, the people who make development media matter, had been running a project called 'Linking Southern Journalists' (LSJ) for three years. During these three years, they helped get, and hold your breathe, 36 journalists publish over 200 stories in 4 countries across the EU. It happened like this: Panos editors, sitting in London, would contact journalists in their respective cities, get their story ideas, take them to the media houses for approval. Once approved, they would ask the journalists to send the stories (mostly features) which they would then, with the help of another team of veteran journalists, edit and translate before handing over to the media houses. What the media houses got was stories absolutely read for publication. What journalists - including yours truly - got was the opportunity to be published in languages they didn't even speak and regions they had no contacts whatsoever, and get paid fairly well! 

To quote captain Jack Sparrow (whom I watched for a millionth time on the flight),  this is absolutely "Savvy!"

The smiling folks!

I met the team Panos in their office at the White Lion street of North London on the 20th . Now, it was the first time I walked into a media/charity office where everyone smiled, instead of looking grumpy and terribly important, even on a Monday morning! My immediate reaction was: "either they are just faking it, or something is terribly wrong with them". However, by the end of the week, they were still smiling and so I was convinced that they were not very normal people - a fact that really made me feel at home!

With Lilly Peel , Features Editor at Panos London. Lilly, who has an Indian connection - she worked at the Statesman newspaper for two years - also has this amazing skill  to make one feel at ease and think creative all the time. Oh and, take note cat lovers,  she also distributes kittens!

It's one world!
The project, which I mentioned earlier, is now coming to an end and it was time to share our views, experiences and learning from the project, as well as get tips from the Panos team that could further help us journalists get more space in the EU media. In the course of our discussions, one point that became clear was that cutting across countries and publications, editors were more interested in solution oriented and positive stories. Nobody wanted a mere 'sob story' anymore.

Suddenly I was taken back 6 years, when, as a fledgling TV reporter, I was arguing with my then boss over the attraction of positive stories.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Move over IPL, here come the Maasai Cricket Warriors

In action: Maasai Cricket Warriors. Photo courtesy: Maasai cricket warriors.
Imagine a cricketer who is a semi-nomad cowherd living among the wild animals of Africa. Imagine him who wears layers of beads; who sets fire on the field with his bright red clothes and  flying braided hair; he who gives war cries while throwing or hitting a ball and is actually a crusader for peace. Imagine him - a Masai tribesman - playing a T-20 league. Unbelievable? Then you ought to meet the Maasai Cricket Warriors (in photos).

Monday, March 12, 2012

Occupy UNEP: The new online campaign

Everyone is talking about  the video on Joseph Kony going viral these days. A few weeks ago, almost everyone also talked of Occupy Wall Street campaign. And now, here is another viral campaign that appears to be a weird combination of Kony and occupy campaigns and it can be called: Occupy UNEP Facebook Page, run by activists of 'Stop Lynas, save Malaysia' campaign.
The post  shows 27 comments. None of them has anything to say about strengthening of rural women though.
To understand what I mean, you have to visit the UNEP page once

Friday, March 09, 2012

Joseph Kony: 7 facts the video doesn't tell you

The first time I was sent the Joseph Kony video, I ignored it. It was International Women’s Day and Holi – the spring festival of colors. I wasn't in a mood to watch anything that looked suspiciously disturbing.

Today however, with the colors of Holi safely washed off, I watched the video. Instead of horror (courtesy my roots in North east India,  war, guns and atrocities don’t shock me so quickly). my reaction to Kony video was a bunch of questions. Unfortunately, the video doesn’t answer them. So, I went searching for the answers and I thought that maybe I should write them; maybe there are other doubting Thomas on the net like me

So, my first question is, Joseph Kony abducts and turns children into soldiers with guns. WHY THE HELL DOES HE DO THAT? 

Here is the answer: Joseph Kony belongs to a tribe called Acholi. He is fighting to create a sovereign state for the Acholi people in Uganda. His aim: to run an Acholiland, on the basis of the Biblical 10 commandments. He uses his (child soldier) army to kill his enemies who are mostly soldiers and civilians supporting the Ugandan president Museveni. Sounds pretty much a fanatic Christian version of the Taliban to me!

Question 2: How does Kony rule over his army? What is the opium he feeds them?
Answer: Apart from the dream of an Acholi nation, Joseph Kony tells his young warriors that the Holy Spirit can shield them in battle if the proper belief, the proper application of Holy Oil, signs of the cross, and the proper recitation of prayer songs etc. Also, he also tells them that if they die, they would have eternal life in heaven. Now, haven’t we heard something like that from Islamic Jihadis?

Question 3: If Kony has been running his child abduction and child torturing business for 30  holi s**t long years, it obviously means he has support. So, where does it come from?

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

IWD: An ode to the women in my life

Its International Women's Day and I am here to salute the women who have touched my life in more than one way, shaping and reshaping, until I became who I am today: a person who believes in God, good and the just.
I salute my mother  Renuka who first gave birth to me and then, when, at 12 month's age I was sick and my relatives said there was no point in saving a girl child, my mother ran wild, found an old doctor with good skills but little resources. He performed a crude surgery on me that defeated death. And thus, she gave me my life twice. 

Ma gave me more. She taught me about mother earth, the need of nature conservation and how to nurture plants. She told me two things: 1) "never, ever give up your economic independence" and, 2)"all humans are same, respect them irrespective of their caste or religion." Thank you Ma, for teaching me to be a human.

Lullaby to the unborn girl child, by Ramachandran
I salute my best friend Amruthavalli who lost her father at an early age and was enslaved by her own uncle. Starting there, she is today a senior journalist with the ETV media group.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

This Holi, Color Me Nature

Holi - undoubtedly one of the most beautiful festivals on earth- celebrates spring, youth, joy and new life through splashes of riotous colors. But often, hidden in the colors are scary chemicals that leave you with allergic rashes and red, ugly spots. So, how about celebrating this Holi (March 8) with the goodies of mother nature? Interested? Then come with me to Tosham - a village 239 km from Hyderabad - where Holi is all about being one with the nature.

Adilabad district of Andhra Pradesh is usually in news for all the wrong reasons like a death sentence given to a police informer by a Maoist-held Kangaroo court, or a sacrifice of a child by superstitious parents. But on the eve of Holi, this is a place where people do all the right things and one of them is celebrating Holi with natural colors, made of flowers including the bright, fresh and beautiful Palash (Butea frondosa).

Use of natural colors, I am told, has been an old tradition and it has survived the pressure of changing time and availability of cheaper, chemical-based powdered colors.

The preparations for the festival of colors begin a week before.
People - and this includes both the young and the old - get busy with making natural colors from plants and flowers that are available locally.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Reviving a dying forest? Yes, we can!

Last December,  I was in Durban, South Africa for the UN Climate change summit when for half a day, we went on a tour of the city, visiting a hill where a forest regenerating initiative has been taken by the local government. The hill, on the outskirts of the city, was cleared by local farmers decades ago for growing sugarcane. But now the government is encouraging them to give up sugarcane farming and instead, turn 'treepreneurs', meaning becoming partners in a community-owned, profit-making re-forestation project. It was a roaring success, I was told. And since then, I had been hunting for a similar 'project of hope' in my own country. 

And now I have one, right in our North east, right in our Assam!
The name's Bhairabkunda reserve forest, located along the Indo-Bhutan border. Spread across six villages, a huge part of this forest  - 5 sq km to be exact - has been regenerated, thanks to a robust partnership between local communities and the forest department. 

Here is a glimpse into the project to help you get an idea: