Features Saturday, March 21, 2015 - 05:30
Madhavi Pothukuchi| The News Minute| November 8, 2014| 11.00 am IST It was in 2009 that Alex Masi, an Italian photographer based out of the UK, decided to look into the water pollution problems that still plague Bhopal. Masi, whose work focuses on issues of development and child labour, was looking for new projects when he came across the 25th anniversary of the Bhopal Tragedy in 2009. While photographing the issue in the rural areas of Bhopal, he took a photograph of a small girl, sitting in the rain. That photograph went on to win him an award with the Photographers Giving Back association. Along with the award, USD 5,000 was given to the girl and her family. Poonam, the then 7-year-old girl who became the focus of Masi’s project never imagined that Masi would come as such a blessing for her family and herself. Her father is a farmer who earns money by selling fruits and corn, while her mother contributes by selling homemade papads.  A family cursed with poverty and the misfortune of having been affected by the Gas Tragedy, were living hand to mouth when Masi first found them. Masi then set up a fund to raise money for the education of Poonam and two of her siblings, Jyoti and Ravi. The campaign, called “Poonam’s Tale of Hope”, has so far raised USD 4,300. A lot of work remains to be done to reach the USD 125,000 goal. Masi says he is still looking for local NGOs to partner with and build traction for the campaign. “To raise money, for now I am trying to publish the story in various countries and languages, online and in print, while offering many rewards to those donating” said Masi in an email interview. He partnered with Lens, a New York Times photo blog that periodically updates Poonam’s story and Masi’s efforts and also publishes his photographs.  Masi’s campaign has many layers, for example, a part of the fund will go towards Poonam and Jyoti’s higher education in a boarding school outside Bhopal; while another part will go towards the education of the local children in Poonam’s locality. He also intends to set up a mentorship program in India next year, if he has raised enough money. He is currently in India, visiting Poonam and her family while working on a project surrounding the 30th anniversary of the tragedy. He says that the now 11-year-old Poonam and her siblings are doing well in school and that she plans to become a teacher in the future. The money raised so far has helped her family afford a gas stove and a working toilet. Masi plans to release a book about Poonam and her campaign in the future. To donate to Poonam’s Tale of Hope, visit link. This December will mark the 30-year anniversary of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. The gas leak that affected 500,000 people and caused the deaths of close to 25,000 people is considered one of the worst industrial disasters of the world. The aftereffects of the disaster are still felt in Bhopal and its surroundings. To read updates on Poonam and Masi’s efforts, visit this link. 
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