Invest in the Human Soul

“It’s nice to see your smiling face,” says Manisha as I walk into the office of the Abhyudaya School. Prior to Manisha, I had never been told how nice it is to see my smiling face – sure I’ve had the usual “It’s nice to see you” or “I’m so happy you’re here,” but interactions like these always seem to lack a certain kind of sincerity. Manisha’s genuine happiness about seeing me smile was as refreshing as the air conditioning just starting to cool my overheated body, and only reinforced what I had been feeling all day: I was in the right place.

 

On Tuesday, we started the documentaries we will be working on during our final weeks in India. My group was paired with the Abhyudaya School, which provides underprivileged children with an education, and a chance at a better life. With education as their platform, the Abhyudaya School guides young boys and girls in a holistic journey of self-discovery and growth. Beginning in 7th standard, ages 11-15, Abhyudaya supports these boys and girls until the completion of their education, which means until the children decide they want to stop, even if that means supporting them through graduate school. The children that attend Abhyudaya are referred to as “sitaras,” which means star in hindi. These little stars are selected from the schools around the area, and then begin taking classes at Abhyudaya on the weekends, and are paired with a mentor. Abhyudaya is unique in that it is not a full time school. The sitars attend their regular government funded schools where they learn all the necessary subjects, and then on Saturday (after their regular school day is over), and Sunday they study supplemental subjects like english or drawing. Each sitara is paired with a mentor, who is a graduate student at S P Jain College of Management and Research. The mentors visit their mentees at least 24 times an academic school year where they work on building the sitara’s confidence, and helping him or her find their full potential.

 

I am amazed every day that I visit the school at the beauty, grace, and intellect of every sitara. I ma thankful to Abhyudaya for opening it’s doors to me, and allowing me to learn along with the sitaras.

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Being responsible

Lungi Dance is still lingering in my mind, but we’ve started our second project from the beginning of week two. The project aims to film a documentary of local NGO in India, so we’ve been divided into three groups shooting different NGOs or topics. Documentary is my favorite genre of media, so I’m thrilled to film an aspect of reality in other country. India is well-known for competitive education environment, but not all of Indian children are being educated because of poverty. The poverty is one of major social issues in India, and there is a strong correlation between lack of education and poverty. Poor people aren’t usually educated because they can’t afford studying, so they are less likely to get hired and again they don’t make much money. Therefore, poverty is passed to next generation and it is being continuous. In order to solve this big problem, SP Jain Institute of Management & Research, Mumbai (SPJIMR) has a unique social intervention program called Abyudaya. Students from SPJIMR are required to mentor one child each from Municipal Schools in the vicinity. Recognizing Abyudaya‘s effort to encourage children’s talents and dreams, I’ve chosen Abyudaya among other NGOs for the documentary project. After gathering into groups and having a discussion, our team has decided to film about the impact of Abyudaya on children’s lives in general.

The shooting began with the interviews of mentors and mentees on Thursday, and I was in charge of sound design. It was my first time dealing with audio, and I thought it would be easy. Turn on the recorder and hold the boom mike. That’s it. However, as the shooting started, I realized that I’d looked on sound design. No matter how I pose to hold the mike, the muscle pain penetrated  my shoulder quickly. Moreover, a natural feature of documentary, uncontrolled environment, made the shooting harder. Since documentary is non-fiction and based on originality, we tried to shoot the place as it was. Unfortunately, the noises of car, airplane, bird, wind and construction hindered recording the clear and loud voice of interviewers. Therefore, we closed all the windows and turned off the fans in the classroom to block off the noise. Standing to hold the boom mike for more than four hours in the classroom of hot temperature, I was sweating from head to toe and get like burning. After the shooting, I suffered from muscle pains and heat exhaustion. Also, the recorder didn’t last more than one hour, so I was worried about it running out of battery. Hence, I couldn’t relax any moment during the shooting.

Despite the harsh condition of shooting, I enjoyed the filming because there were ‘sitaras’ who are students in Abyudaya. We interviewed sitaras of Vandana and Manisha who waited half a day for their turns but never complained. They were rather smiling and even willing to help us during the shooting. Although they don’t live in affluence, they study hard and they’ve been selected as the mentees of Abyudaya. The stories of their interviewers were mostly heartbreaking, and I’ve realized how much I’d been privileged. After spending a day with these sitaras, I felt responsible for producing this documentary for sitaras who live in hope and dream.

 

 

LTOMD (Living the Life of My Dreams)

“Just remember what Christen said— How would you feel if someone came to your house and cried?”*

75% of my volunteer work has something to do with children and education. About 50% of that work is specifically focused on educating girls around the world.

In 2012, after about a year of work, I helped to bring an organization called She’s the First back to Syracuse University’s campus. My closest friend, Makaela Newsome and I worked to do two things with this organization: 1) educate our peers about the importance of girl’s education and, 2) raise money to send our sponsor Mbithe Pius to school in Kenya. Although I am not as involved with She’s the First as I have been in the past, I do work to promote the organization’s events and sometimes volunteer at She’s the First HQ in New York City.

Mumbai, India— In one of my previous blogposts I spoke a little bit about my desire to work with an NGO that focuses on girls’ education specifically. Mark, sadly broke all of my hopes and dreams by informing me that there was an organization like that, but we wouldn’t be working with them. However, Mark then introduced me to Abhyudaya, the NGO that I am now working to produce a documentary about.

In high school, one of my dreams was to become a documentary filmmaker that works work NGOs. This was dually the product of my work in Model UN and my desire to change the world through media. Working on this project is literally me living one of my many dreams.

Every documentary film that I’ve completed, to-date, has been an explorative film— with the exception of one. In this, I mean that I never want to leave my audience thinking one way. I simply open the doors to a topic for them, explore as many sides of the topic as possible, and leave the audience with their own conclusions. Since I have been doing documentary work since 10th grade, I do believe that I’ve grown in trying to achieve this effect. This film on Abhyudaya will be different.

The angle that we are taking in our film, focuses on the girl child. In many developing nations, girls come second because their parents prefer to educate the boy child first. Having a 50%+ participation of girl children as Sitaras, is a goal of Abhyudaya, as was described to us in the first meeting that we had with the NGO. Towards the end of the film we will tie in how the program empowers these girls to become greater than the traditional notion that girl children should not go to school.

Our project first started with a meeting with the students, their mentors, and faculty on Tuesday morning. On Wednesday we divided up into two groups. On Thursday we filmed most of our interviews and some b-roll. Sadly, on Friday I was feeling very unwell and was not able to make it to the school with my team.

I’ll be very honest when I say that this project has been difficult. There are too many modes of communication going on at once. In this, there have been communications problems and there has been a disconnect between us filmmakers and the NGO about the vision and purpose of our film. However, we are working through it and are confident that our film will be great.

On Saturday, Karoline and Erika will go to Abhyudaya’s graduation and get some more b-roll. In the afternoon we will wrap shooting with a visit to the slum areas where our two girl subjects live.

 

*Advice from my best friend on our visit to the slums on Saturday.

From Film Student to Filmed Student

The twelve of us seem to attract a lot of attention from the locals. Everybody stares. Because this happens so often it is best to embrace it. When it happens to me I either stare right back at them until they feel awkward and look away, or I smile and wave. The attention is something to get used to. That is part of what made the music video shoot tough. They took a dozen film kids who are used to being behind the scenes and stuck them on stage. It’s kind of unnerving having to perform in front of a crew.

Once that shoot was over and we moved onto our documentary project I figured we could go back to the roles we were most comfortable with. That is not the case. I was in line for the veg lunch today at Whistling Woods today when the student behind me decided to introduce himself. This is not unusual. Indians are very polite and will start us a conversation with you without being provoked to do so. I was expecting the ol’ “how do you like India?” again. Instead after he introduced himself he calls over a couple of his friends and asks if they can make a documentary on out Bombay experience on the 12 of us. I heard later on that this is a class assignment they got. The only problem with this is that we have been in India for what seems like forever. We are used to the heat and the poverty and the rickshaws. They missed the culture shock shots they could have gotten a while ago. I am just as bad an actor as I am a dancer, so I won’t be doing any dramatizations of our first few days here.

I’m not complaining about this at all. I just do not like being on camera. Worst case situation we’ll have a behind-the-scenes feature of our documentaries and a couple of people on hand to help us translate.

Onto our documentary. Ours is on the street dogs of Bombay. Today marked our second day of shooting. So far we have gotten some pretty interesting shots. For example today we saw a couple of monkeys, a handful of goats, five cows, over twenty chickens/chicks, some roosters, and around 100 dogs. We have done so much, but there is always more to do.

Rope of dreams

Week number two (no pun intended) has been a completely different experience than the first in this fabulously hot and sticky city of Mumbai. We’ve separated into three different groups to make mini-documentaries on Stray Dogs, girls’ education, and mentor/mentee relations in the Abhyudaya program. My team is taking on the mentor/mentee relations.

Abhyudaya is a program that takes ‘sitaras’ or shining, star students from Mumbai’s slums and helps them to achieve their academic and life goals and dreams. Whitney, Losa, and I entered the project with a very loose plan, which has been stressful but nonetheless rewarding, raw, and real. We got to know some great kids and young adults that held dreams ranging from being a professional Tae Kwon Do practitioner, working in robotics, and inventing new things in science. Like their mentors, I became extremely inspired by these ‘sitaras’ hopes for the future. These kids are growing up in slums that are shocking to the urban eye, but hold a sense of community unspoken in developed areas.

When we first stepped into the slum, I was adjusting my white balance and seldom looking up from the sleek technology at my fingertips. Instantly, I could feel the city walls and sidewalk close in and stare at my fellow teammates and me. A motorcycle honk woke me up from the technology and brought me to the color of the slums. There was color reflecting in my eyes, nose, and ears. The uneven street leaned in and out with mud, mango peels, and puddles splashing through the cobblestones. On either side, stores shouted sales, kids played with sugar cane, mothers hid behind hanging clothes, goats toddled along finding shade, and flies filled up half the constricting air.

Snapping behind the mentor and mentee who led us through the slum, I was pulled towards my right. We entered the neighborhood of sitara, Affan. It was cool and dark and full of curious children and adults. To get to Affan’s home, we climbed up a steep ladder with a rope to hold our weight from the top of the home. Welcomed to smiling faces and bright blue walls, we saw the happiness of the family. Initially, I felt awkward because I didn’t want to be an intruder to their home. With time and questions, we all felt more comfortable and the relationship between Affan and his family and his mentor were more evident. They really love each other and see the worth and possibility that each member have for the future. They don’t see their little one-room flat with piled appliances in one corner, a stove in the other, and a newly hand-constructed loft 9 feet above the floor, as a restriction; they see the positives of life and of dreams. Dreams are what we live for and unconditional love is how we survive.

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The DOGumentary

In the past couple of days, we’ve been working on filming a mini documentary about the stray dogs in Mumbai in order to help an NGO called “The Welfare of Stray Dogs”. Stray dogs in Mumbai are copious, and you can see them roaming the streets everywhere you look. A lot of documentaries that look at India seem to focus on it’s poverty, which composes about 11.8% of people living below the poverty line, so I think that, what we are doing, will be an important contribution to shedding light into other issues in India, specifically doggie issues. So far, it’s been an amazing and exhausting experience. We’ve gotten to explore so much of Mumbai by just walking around and looking for good things to shoot (with a camera).

Yesterday, I got pooped on by a flock of pigeons, which I interpreted as a good omen so I’m pretty happy about it.

Today, we went to Versova Village, a fishing village by the coast that was, surprisingly, very beautiful and engaging, even with all the trash and questionable smells.

I’m looking forward to seeing much more of Mumbai and understanding how WSD helps the stray dogs of Mumbai.

Dog in Versova

Dog in Versova

Dogs. Dogs. Dogs. Dogs. Dogs.

This post is about dogs!

This past week, we put our lungis down and danced our way over to documentary town.  The #SUBollywood crew broke up into three groups to each create a documentary for a specific NGO.  Aaron, Tyler, Veronica, Nate, and I chose to work for WSD India, the Welfare for Stray Dogs with the assistance of our mentor, Mark. 

After getting an overview of documentary filmmaking from the faculty of Whistling Woods on Monday, we journeyed to Town on Tuesday to meet with the owner of WSD and form a greater understanding of the organization’s goals and expectations for the film.  We quickly learned on our commute to the office space that the trains in Mumbai do not stop for anyone, but luckily the animal instincts in Veronica, Mark, and me kicked in and we made the train. 

We began shooting in the streets by our hotel on Thursday and got a very solid amount of dogs panting and sleeping under cars.  Later, we went to Versova and were able to get more dynamic shots and snag a quick interview from the owner of the Tribal Route Store about his four adopted street dogs. 

Today, we started off the day with a relaxing yoga session at Whistling Woods and then ric’d over to Versova village where there were many a dog and many a smell and many a human.  It was a beautiful experience mastering the art of communicating without speaking with the village people and being invited into their village with smiles and waves. 

Here are a few of the frames from the past two days of shooting, enjoi!

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