Environment, Sports, story, Travel

I went rafting in Uganda for fun. But I found a not so funny story.

The dying falls of Uganda

Earlier this month, I traveled to Uganda for a documentary movie work. Mahesh, a photographer friend of mine joined in too. Our work was in Kampala (the capital city) but we took few days off to go to a nearby place called Jinja. The white Nile starts from lake Victoria in Jinja. There used to be several waterfalls in the river, leading to some great rapids, amazing for white water rafting (and kayaking). Rafting in the Nile is one of the only unique tourist attractions that Uganda has. Uganda competes with neighbouring countries in East Africa for tourism – mainly Kenya and Rwanda. Kenya has everything that a tourist needs from a jungle safari and Rwanda attracts tourists for Gorilla sighting.

Gorillas are there in Uganda too but Rwanda has a time saving advantage (you can do a day trip from the nearest airport; a Gorilla trip in Uganda will need a minimum of 2 days on the other hand). So water sports is what Uganda has. But only a handful of rapids remain now in the country. Without good rapids, rafting / kayaking will not be attractive. Continuous construction of dams in Uganda to meet it electricity requirement has been eating up the rapids. As tourist inflow declines, it will have a huge impact on many businesses (a report estimated inflow of almost 500 million USD annually to Ugandan economy from tourism).

Rafting in the Nile is one of the only unique tourist attractions that Uganda has.

We did rafting on a set of one such rapids that still exists, via Nile River Explorers. None of these rapids might remain after few years.

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A kayaker rescues me after my raft flipped in one of the rapids.
A kayaker rescues me after my raft flipped in one of the rapids.

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Ugandans, like most other folks from the east African countries are known for running marathons. Rafting and kayaking are the only few other sports where they have also started to show their talent. Juma, or Yo as he calls himself, is one such sportsperson. I interviewed him for the documentary. He was also our rafting guide. In spite of being poor and all that, the reason Yo could learn kayaking was because international kayakers came to Uganda for its rapids. Once the rapids are gone, the new generation of Ugandans will most likely never pick up the sport. Thus, the impact of these dams goes beyond just putting tourism to rest.

Juma aka Yo - our rafting guide [the one without shirt]. He represented Africa (yes, the entire continent) in a freestyle kayaking demo during the 2012 London Olympics.

Juma aka Yo – our rafting guide [the one without shirt]. He represented Africa (yes, the entire continent) in a freestyle kayaking demo during the 2012 London Olympics.

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Jeff, who leads a “Save Adventure Tourism in Uganda” campaign has listed down on his website, some of the things that the international community can do, to help save the rapids in Uganda. Isimba is an ongoing dam project. Apparently, some of the great rapids can be saved, even if Isimba dam is constructed, only if the least-height option is selected from amongst the three options that were considered before the Project started.

As of now, the max-height option is being executed and that will submerge most good rapids. Jeff argues that though like any developing country, Uganda needs electricity, a balance between saving the natural resources and development needs to be achieved.

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Uganda needs electricity, but a balance between saving the natural resources and development needs to be achieved?

It was interesting for me to travel to Uganda to make a documentary, and during the course of my stay there, stumble upon a totally new story. I would like to thank Eliot, the Irish guesthouse owner (Source of the Smile) at Jinja for introducing me to Jeff. I would like to thank Jeff for his time and insights and for introducing me to Yo (Juma). And most of all I would like to thank Yo for candidly sharing with me, on camera, what he felt about the whole issue. Yo is a very interesting character and I am sure this documentary would not have come out the way it has, had he not been our rafting guide that day. I hope you like this story. Feel free to share.

Education, Initiative, story

This Indian village is more hi-tech than you can possibly imagine!

Akodara

This 3 minute story shows you how the typical notion of an Indian village is changing. You are bound to feel good (and may be a bit proud) after watching this short documentary. The next time someone asks you how much modern can an Indian village really get, you should show them this!

Akodara 3 minute story

The village in question is Akodara (Gujarat). It’s a few hours drive from Ahmedabad. I visited it for a day last week. I am certain that it might take several years for even a fraction of overall Indian villages to come anywhere close to Akodara. But it feels good to see that a modernization journey has at least started. That there is a ‘model village’ to aspire to afterall, and that is not merely on papers.

Akodara 3 minute story Akodara 3 minute story

A typical line of debate that ensues when something like this is shared is – how about taking care of farmer suicides first, or access to healthcare first or providing teachers in schools in those villages where they don’t even exist! But the thing is, different groups (be it a government organization or an NGO or a corporate) are already working towards solving different problems every single day. The real question is, is it necessary that unless ‘all other important’ issues are solved, the so called ‘not so important’ be not worked towards? Doing something new, showing the villagers a life that they might not have otherwise imagined, brings it’s own positive influence and gives a vision to work towards. And this can, and should, happen in parallel, while other problems are addressed.

A typical line of debate that ensues when something like this is shared is – how about taking care of farmer suicides first, or access to healthcare first or providing teachers in schools in those villages where they don’t even exist!

Akodara 3 minute story

I was invited by ICICI Bank (that has funded a lot of initiatives in this village), along with journalists from main-stream media (both print and TV), to witness the transformation that Akodara has undergone in a short span of time. This article from Samrat (who works for the Hindu) from the same trip, also makes for an interesting read!

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PS: Those who are curious to know more about the projector like equipment being used in the classrooms of this village, can read more about it here.

Education, Innovation, story

What this IITian has been doing for 30+ years, MUST be shared!

Uncover

In three minutes, you will be fascinated with how one person who could have easily taken up a good job after graduating from IIT in 1975, decided to do something extremely innovating for the education of poor kids. For him, education is not about ‘covering’ syllabus but to ‘uncover’ the mysteries of this world. After watching this story, most of you would agree that his approach towards education doesn’t just apply to poor kids, but to almost every school child in this world, where education has essentially been reduced to the art of mugging and scoring in exams.

I met Arvind Gupta via Soumeet. Soumeet had launched the makersofthings campaign last year. He asked me if I wanted to make 3 minute documentaries on some of the real life story leads that he had received. His video on how India innovates had gone viral and he was flooded with stories of innovation.

For various reasons I could not get myself to collaborate with him on a full fledged scale, but I agreed to shoot one movie. I was in Uttarakhand, working on Mamta’s story when Soumeet and I spoke about a story around Arvind Gupta. Some time later, last year itself, I traveled to Pune and wrapped up the interview and shooting. But unfortunately, I was able to finish making the movie only after about eight months (i.e. now)! Hope you like it and hope you genuinely feel a story like this needs to be shared with every school, not only in India but across the world.

After seeing this 3MS (3 min story), some of you might want to check out Arvind Gupta’s website or his Youtube Channel or even his Ted talk (which became very popular and from which, I have used a small portion in my 3MS).

If you liked this story, you can view all my short-documentaries under the ‘Education’ theme.

If you do / have done something interesting or inspiring or have started something interesting or inspiring (say an initiative or a company or an NGO) or know of others who have, and would like me to make a short documentary about it, CONTACT ME.

PS: If you want to embed this video on your site, you can write to me at amrit.vatsa@gmail.com – I will add your site to the embed white-list (without which the video will NOT play on your site). You would need to add the following line of credit below the video (along with the hyperlink): “Video by Amrit, a wedding photographer and a documentary film-maker based in India.”

Inspiring, Personal life, Relationships, story

This 5 min video is for every ‘over-protective’ parent to watch!

HeartShaped


This story is about a mother who was forced to make a choice. Sometimes, choices are made from the heart. Sometimes, for the heart. And sometimes, in both ways. HeartShaped tells you how.

Katie saw one of my short documentaries online (last year) and shared her story with me over mail. Which was not really a story but a slice of an important part of her life. A delicate part of her life. I decided to meet her soon.

When I first met her in a cafe in Delhi and we had our little chat, I did not know what kind of a short documentary I could make for her. Though what she had shared with me was delicate, it did not fall under the standard template of what constitutes a story. But I could sense something. Something worth making. Something worth sharing with the rest of the world. I returned to Goa and gave it some more thought and when I visited Delhi next, I kind of knew what I wanted to show. HeartShaped is the result. All of it was shot over two visits to Delhi last year early winter (2014).

Acknowledgements:

  • Katie for sharing the story and inviting me to make the documentary
  • Habibi Restaurant, Saket, New Delhi – for letting me shoot Katie perform (the opening shot in the film)
  • Delhi Rock Studio – for providing space to shoot a dance sequence (the last one in the film)
  • Vishnupriya – for helping me finalize the name HeartShaped (after we discussed and rejected about a million other names that I could have given to this short-documentary)
  • All my friends on Facebook who agreed to have a look at the first cut of the movie and provided valuable feedback (some of which I took care of)

For those who would like to read more about Tetralogy of Fallot, can do so.

PS: If you would like to embed the video on your site, you can write to me (amrit.vatsa@gmail.com) and I will add your site to the white-list (without which it will not play on your site). Below the video, you shall have to copy-paste the following (along with the hyper-link): Video courtesy Amrit, a documentary film-maker and wedding photographer based in India.

Initiative, Inspiring, Social, story

A 10 min story on humanity & good karma that’ll touch your soul

Good Deeds Come Back

This is a story from the mountains of Uttarakhand. Uttarakhand witnessed grave tragedy in 2013 when continuous cloud-bursts lead to heavy floods, killing many and washing away several houses. And from the tragedy, emerged two stories that I have tried to document. Both the stories intersect at one point and though there are a lot of underlying themes, one of the bigger themes that emerges is: ‘Good Deeds Come Back.’ Obviously, you should not just be good and / or do good because one day, your good karma will come back to you! Karma can take its own sweet time sometimes, as we all know. But then once in a while you do get rewarded for your good act in the same lifetime, (even when you did the things that you did just because you wanted to and not in the hope of any reward some day). And this is pretty much what this short-documentary (about 10 minutes) is about!

I came to know about this story from Anusha, a journalist and a mountaineer, who also started this thing called Summiting4Hope with her mountaineer friend Guneet. Summiting4Hope executes expeditions (presently in Uttarakhand), thus creating small employment for local villagers in the mountains and then uses any extra money generated to fund local projects in the village.

I had met Anusha in Jabalpur last year. I was in Jabalpur to shoot a short documentary about tree plantation, for Vodafone. She was there to write about the same. And soon, I visited Uttarkashi and a village nearby to shoot this (October 2014). Yes, it took me a while to finish making this, but better late than never! :)

Those who like the story and would like to contact these awesome women, can email them at subanusha@gmail.com or guneet223@gmail.com

Credits for Archival video:
1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xv-7KrBWdoM
2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4QW6Ebl5z4w

Education, Innovation, Organization, story

Here’s how one company is solving a big problem that most young parents face!

The Flintobox Story

Children today are glued to TV, tablets, computers, phones and what not. And parents are busier than they ever were. So what can they really do to keep their children away from prolonged influence of TV and other electronic gadgets that constantly surround them? By providing them with useful toys may be? But how often do you find toys that are not just entertaining (like a small car or a small gun or a doll) but are also designed to help children develop different skills and gain useful knowledge? Rarely, you say? Well, you are not the only one! This is the problem that most parents of young kids, especially between 3 to 8 year old, face! And this short documentary is a beautiful story of a company that is solving exactly this problem.

I am Amrit, a wedding photographer and and independent documentary film-maker and I would like to thank Arun and Vijay, Co-founders of Flinto for sharing their story with me and for sending Flintoboxes – their awesome product, to couple of my friends in Goa – who are also parents of 5 year olds. I would also like to thank Neeru and her cute son Shaurya for sharing their experience with the box, both visually and in words.

If you know of other folks / organizations that are doing something interesting which can be shot and a story could be created from their work, do let me know. I would love to work with them to create such short documentaries. I can be reached at amrit.vatsa@gmail.com

And if you are a parent of 3 to 8 year old, you must check out the various subscription options available at Flintobox.com. Do share this story if you found it interesting! :)

Initiative, Innovation, Social, story

We criticize Police all the time. Few IITians decided to help them instead! Worth sharing?

Pukar

Aditya is a computer science graduate from IIT Delhi. He worked as a consultant for few years. But he soon quit his corporate life to start an NGO – People for Parity (PfP). As described in it’s website, PfP “works to curb gender- based violence in India, via engaging youth to create deep understanding and action on gender violence in their lives and communities and engaging institutions like the police, school and university authorities, and others for effective prevention of gender-based violence“.

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Can’t understand Hindi?

In the video above, you can click on this icon  cc-grey –>  cc-blue (turning it on to blue will activate English Subtitles; look for this CC icon in the bottom right area of the video player above).

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While working on various ways to make our society equally safe for all genders, PfP came up with the idea of a smart-phone based app that could help police rescue the citizens, by dynamically tracking their locations (when in danger).

To rope in police was anything but an easy task! Shashank Yaduvanshi & Ravikant Bhargava, also from IITD, added on to Aditya’s idea and developed the app within few months (called Pukar). But thereafter, the PfP team had to struggle for one full year before getting their first breakthrough with any police department. Credit for their first breakthrough goes to Arushi Mittal, another IIT batchmate of Aditya, who is also his colleague at PfP at present.

By the time they had their app ready, a lot of other distress apps had already been launched, especially after the infamous Nirbhaya bus gang-rape in Delhi. But most of them only helped in sending out distress SMSes to one’s friends / relatives. Almost no one considered bringing police in the loop. And very few considered live tracking of the sender’s whereabouts using the existing GPS feature of the smartphones. The few that did, were not free!

This short documentary is the story of Aditya and his friends from IIT Delhi; how they almost gave up on Police but how they finally did achieve their goal of convincing the Police about the value that such an app brings, not only to them, but also to the citizens in general. Pukar’s journey has just begun and let us wish them all the very best in their noble mission.

Do download the app and share this video-story with your family and friends. Let’s help these guys in their mission of making India safe for its citizens; for men, women and everyone, equally.

Education, Innovation, Organization, story

These IITians are solving a problem that every school faces! Worth sharing!

Book Lovers’ Program for Schools

Amrutash, my batch mate from IIT Madras, left his lucrative job to start a library business which failed to get the desired readership. Naresh, also my batch-mate (we shared the same hostel and wing even) joined theater after IIT, but realized he could not make enough money from that.

It is amazing to see how today, both Amrutash & Naresh have joined hands to create a successful business that is solving a problem almost every school faces.

This 3MS is their story and what they do and how schools are loving them.

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I am Amrit – a wedding photographer / cinematographer (www.shaadigrapher.com) and a documentary film-maker (3minutestories.com) based in India. If you want to embed this video on your site, you will need my help to change privacy settings so that it plays on your site – so just drop me a mail to amrit.vatsa@gmail.com and I would gladly help you!

Education, Innovation, Organization, Social, story

A bunch of school students have found a unique way to empower rural women

Seema

When you start watching this short documentary, you might not notice much beyond a bunch of girls trying to make something in a hobby class. But the impact of what they are doing, on their lives, will bring a broad smile to your face.

When Malaika wrote to me about some of the interesting and inspiring things students like herself were doing at Mahindra United World College (MUWC) of India, I had imagined a bunch of college students trying to change the world they lived in. It was only when I finally visited the campus last month in Paud, Pune, that I realized that these students (though indeed trying the change the world and all of that) were actually school students! MUWC is an equivalent of XI-XII standard school and the most interesting aspect that I noticed about it was that it had students from all over the world! Wow – I would have died to study in a school like after my tenth! I didn’t even know not for profit schools like these existed, when I was in school! :(

Anyway, so let me not write here what this latest short documentary of mine is about. You should see it for yourself. And if you like what these school kids are doing for the rural women folk (living near their campus), do show support in whichever way you can! You can share this documentary online or just drop a mail to them (seemacircle@gmail.com) acknowledging the their honest effort! If you know of other such inspiring stories that I should make documentaries on, do write to me at amrit.vatsa@gmail.com

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PS: If you feel like embedding this video on your website, you can use the following intro text (and link) to give credit to me:

Amrit is a wedding photographer / cinematographer (www.shaadigrapher.com) and a documentary film-maker (3minutestories.com) based in India.