End of the road for the scourge of polio in India

I was commissioned by Project Concern International (PCI) to document their efforts to eradicate the scourge of polio from some of India’s most high-risk areas, and to produce a coffee table book that to tell the story. This project has been extremely successful, and PCI India and its partners can claim a large part of the credit for the fact that India has not recorded a fresh case of polio since January 2011. Now, only three countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria) are still considered ‘polio endemic’. Another couple of years or so without a new case and the World Health Organization (WHO) will promote India one notch further by declaring her ‘polio free’.

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One of the fun things about telling the story of PCI’s work in Uttar Pradesh is that I got the chance to shoot a lot of images that will help to set the scene, assisting the coffee table book’s readers in understanding how the areas in which PCI has been working look and what makes them tick. Several of these contextual shots are panoramic, like this one of four siblings, dwarfed by the sugarcane growing right by their home. I think it’s fair to describe the countryside around the city of Meerut as India’s sugar bowl, owing to the amount of sugar that’s grown and processed there.

 

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Another of my contextual panoramics is of the Jama Masjid (lit. Friday Mosque) in the city of Moradabad. Many of the places in which I was working were heavily Muslim dominated, and one of the greatest contributors to PCI’s success in eradicating polio has been the support it’s received from imams in spreading its message. This has been crucial, given the prevalence of two myths: that the vaccine contains an ingredient that is haraam, and that it is part of a plot to reduce population growth among Muslims by causing impotence.

 

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Meet Akash from the village of Mundali, near Meerut. He’s 18 years old and is a polio survivor. His right leg is withered thanks to the disease, which he caught when he was just a month old. He told me that he has long been teased for having this deformity, but that he intends to study hard so that he’ll be able to get a good job and thereby rise above such prejudice.

 

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This is Danishta, from the same village, at home with her mother. She’s 13 years old, and is also a polio survivor. She told us about how it is for her to live with the disfigured limb that the disease gave her. One of the things that saddens her the most is not being able to run around with the other children. Sometimes, this makes her cry, as does the way some of the kids make fun of her. Perhaps fittingly, she hopes to become a doctor when she’s older. She’s already taking steps in this direction, as she helps encourage families to take their youngest to be vaccinated when routine immunisation drives come to her village.

 

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Here’s Danishta again. I took this portrait simply because I wanted to gift her the photograph. She’s often teased because of her withered leg, and it seems so wrong that this should define her. She’s truly beautiful, with a soft and radiant smile. I hope she will smile again just as widely when she sees this.

 

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Reenu (left) and Reena (right) are both Community Mobilisation Coordinators (CMCs), working in the village of Asmoli near Moradabad. The CMCs are the initiative’s grass roots workers, and together they work as the engine room of the operation. Each one must know every single household on her beat, identifying where the youngest children live and who has been given the vaccine, persuading ‘resistant’ families to allow their children to be vaccinated, organising mothers’ meetings, teaching health and hygiene to children in schools, etc. Here, Reenu and Reena are pictured planning their door-to-door route.

 

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Reshma is another CMC, working in the town of Budhana near Muzaffarnagar. I accompanied her as she visited mother of five Khurshida to talk with her about certain aspects of child health and hygiene. Khurshida and her family used to say no to giving her children the polio vaccine, but after a great deal of rapport building over time, Reshma ultimately managed to talk them round. She told me that when she started working as a CMC, there were 20 to 25 families who continually resisted the vaccine in her area; today, there are none.

 

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‘Masti ki Kaksha’ (meaning ‘Classes of Fun’) activities are organised by the CMCs in schools, and are designed to help children learn the importance of personal hygiene – particularly hand washing after using the toilet and before meals – in preventing germs from spreading. Here, Neesha and Mushrina are colouring in the pictures in a colouring book designed to teach them about what they can do to protect themselves against diseases, particularly polio. In Masti ki Kaksha sessions, the children enter not as pupils but as ‘Masti ke Doot’. This literally means ‘Angels of Fun’; the idea is that they should serve as agents of change, going back to their homes and passing on their learnings and good habits to their families and the wider community.

 

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Anshu enthusiastically raises her hand to answer a question. The CMCs are encouraged to innovate and make these sessions fun. In fact, they are so fun that most children look forward to them more than they do any other lesson! One nodal teacher told me that he, therefore, encourages his staff to take a leaf out of their CMC’s book when teaching their subjects.

 

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As Priti helpfully pours water, Shusheel, Sangeeta, Saiba and Khushnuma (from left to right) line up to practise the five-step hand washing technique they’ve been taught at their school in Asmoli.

 

polio pci india uttar pradesh children village rally photo essay 25003 End of the road for the scourge of polio in India

This final image shows another way in which children are able to act as agents of change. The CMCs organise regular rallies through the communities in which they live to raise awareness of the necessity of immunisation against polio and other diseases, and the importance of adopting cleaner and more hygienic practices. The children get really fired up for these rallies, and can be heard shouting enthusiastically from quite a distance!

Photography mentoring service for budding visual storytellers

“The time has come”, the Walrus said, “to talk of many things”. Not of shoes and ships and sealing wax in my case, nor even of cabbages and kings. Rather, it’s time to tell you about my new eMentoring service. If you’re a budding photographer and you’d like to develop and hone your visual storytelling skills, now’s the time to get in touch with me.

visual storytelling training Photography mentoring service for budding visual storytellers

Are you keen to develop your visual storytelling skills?

I first wrote about my intention to offer this service back in December, and the intention was for Robin Wyatt Vision’s Facebook page to act as the conduit. I had wanted to launch at the point where the page crossed 1,000 fans, but if truth be known, I wasn’t ready at that time. In the past month, however, I’ve been delighted to see a rise in my Facebook fan base of more than 50%, and clicking through to the ‘About’ sections of these new fans’ personal pages shows that many are amateur photographers and aspiring professionals. So it’s really time to get cracking with this, I feel.

Who’s this for? How do I register interest?

To begin with, I’m opening this service up to just a handful of people from the countries of the Global South (today’s supposedly politically correct term for the ‘Developing World’, though the most up-to-date term for this seems to change more frequently than I change the lens on my camera). I’m particularly interested in hearing from people who use their camera (or would like to) to help small non-profits in their home countries to communicate visually. As the first stage will be pretty experimental, I’ll be offering it for FREE.

If you’re interested, the first criteria is that you need to be a fan of the Robin Wyatt Vision Facebook page. Clicking this link will set you along the way. After that, you need to drop me a message via the messaging section on the page. Simply tell me that you’re interested in eMentoring, and give me some insight into who you are, where you’re currently at with your photography and how you would like to develop it.

Are we a good fit?

As I mentioned, I’ll start by offering this to just a few people. It won’t be on a ‘first come, first served’ basis. Rather, I’m keen to select those of you for whom I see a ‘good fit’ with what I do and what I stand for in photography. If you know something about me, you’ll know what this means! If you don’t then you can start by reading the ‘About‘ section of this website and some of my journal posts to see whether what I’m about makes sense to you.

The other very important thing to note is that the emphasis in our eMentoring sessions will be more on developing your storytelling skills and less on the technical side of photography. There’s so much already out there on the latter, and with more being added to YouTube etc. every day, you don’t even need to take formal classes or guidance from an individual photographer. Of course, we’ll delve into such matters where they come up, but what I’m most interested in doing is guiding you in developing your vision and your ability to move people with your images without resorting to exorbitantly priced equipment.

So if this sounds like it could be for you, get in touch.

Trials and tribulations of image backup

Today, I thought I’d share some of my experiences with image backup. It’s not been an easy journey, I can tell you!

Vault Trials and tribulations of image backup

Safely backing up one’s images seems like common sense, right?

As many of us know from bitter experience, mishaps happen. Internal hard drives get fried, laptops get stolen (or left on the bus!) and external hard drives fail. Quite apart from the fact that it would be devastating for me personally to lose all my images – years of work and an almighty investment of love as well as money – I need to be able to assure my clients that what they’ve commissioned is safe in my hands.

I frequently shoot over a thousand images in an assignment, and every single one is typically around 30 Mb in size as I shoot in RAW format. No laptop’s hard drive can hold this much data, so I store my original images on 1 Tb and 1.5 Tb external hard drives. Every image is copied to a similar external drive for safekeeping. I’m globally mobile, however, so simply keeping a copy of everything on an external hard drive is not enough. If I’m carrying the external drive holding my original images in one bag and the external drive holding my backups in another, there is still the possibility that I might get mugged and lose the lot.

Enter online backup

To begin with, I used Carbonite to back up everything on my laptop’s hard drive to the company’s state-of-the-art data centres that are guarded 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The programme would operate silently in the background, detecting any small change to my files and ensuring that it was reflected in the backup. If I suffered a loss of any kind, I could retrieve my files any time via download.

That was great… until I became a photographer! With all those RAW files, I outgrew my laptop’s internal hard drive in no time at all. At the time, only Mozy offered to back up external hard drives, but they charged a fortune for it (I just checked again: they still do). Then, late in 2011, I discovered Backblaze. For around US$ 50/year, they will back up everything. Yes, including external hard drives. And they’ll even courier very large recoveries for a small fee (unlike Carbonite). What a relief!

Or so I thought. I was not allowing for the fact that I would frequently be travelling in places where my Internet speed would be slower than a snail’s pace. Sadly, even today, there are places where one must endure upload at half of the speed (sometimes less) of what we were getting via dialup connections in the UK back in 1995. In fact, I seem to be in such places most of the time! So here I am, nine moths after first installing Backblaze, and my initial backup is only just nearing completion. Every time I’m somewhere where I get fast Internet access, I leave my machine on 24 hours a day to let the backup process continue. In fact, I even select places to stay on the basis of the Internet speed available to me. None of this is Backblaze’s fault, of course. They do not throttle uploads (though one can choose to do so oneself via the programme’s preferences panel).

Telephone support

So, on the face of it, it would seem that Backblaze is an excellent solution for photographers living anywhere where there they can be sure of a fast upload speed. Well… not necessarily. There have been times when things have gone wrong, and I’ve found Backblaze maddening to say the least. The biggest headache is the fact that they offer only e-mail support from their offices that work according to US Pacific time. If I’m in India, that’s when I’m asleep, meaning that an e-mail sent one day will get a reply only once I’ve gone to bed. So a troubleshooting session that involves five of my e-mails and five of theirs in the thread takes two working weeks!

One issue I’ve experienced more than once is that after unplugging my external drive, Backblaze does not always ‘see’ its contents again after the drive is plugged back in. It typically takes some time for this to happen anyway, and the company says that the data remains stored with them for up to 30 days, even if it doesn’t show up in the Backblaze panel on one’s computer. But I have experienced instances of the programme not seeing the data again at all. This leads to a troubleshooting session over e-mail (with admittedly very nice people) that takes literally weeks to complete. When I’ve had this particular problem, I’ve twice spent around two weeks in e-mail exchanges and troubleshooting procedures that take up to an hour of my time to work on each day until the problem gets rectified.

I’ve asked to speak to the troubleshooting team on the phone, but each time I’ve been told that “As we provide a completely unlimited online backup service for just $50/year, we do all of our customer support via email, not phone. We also find that email is a better tool for most issues since we can send links, screenshots, email addresses, etc”. The fact that this is standard text that gets repeated verbatim each time I make the suggestion implies that I’m not the only customer who wants it! I have suggested that they could introduce an option of costlier unlimited backup with telephone support, but this has unfortunately fallen on deaf ears.

So now what?!

Continuing to think it through, I wondered whether I might be able to return to Carbonite, since they now offer external drive backups in their unlimited plans. I had experience of their phone support previously, and found it excellent. If need be, the operator could give me a small programme to install that would enable him to take remote control of my computer for that session only in order to do whatever’s necessary. It really was hassle-free, and the US$ 50 over and above what Backblaze charges seemed worth it for this support alone. However, when I checked again just now (as I’ve been scrapping with Backblaze again for the the past couple of weeks), I found that external hard drive backups are not available to Mac users. Which, like most creative professionals, I am. Dammit.

At the end of all this, I’m afraid I can’t really suggest fellow photographers a definitive solution (beyond lobbying Backblaze to offer telephone support, or Carbonite to facilitate external drive backups for Mac users!). I’ll update this post if I hear of one. For now, I’m glad that I at least have about 90% of my images backed up at my friend’s office… though I can’t say that it’s a ‘state-of-the-art data centre that’s guarded 24 hours a day, seven days a week’.