Forty five years ago in Rajasthan, a young Indian Government officer, Devendra Raj Mehta, suffered a near-fatal car crash. Among other injuries, his left leg had been broken in 43 places - and it was only the skill of his surgeons that saved it from being amputated. As he recovered, his gratitude made him think about the many people who aren't as fortunate - and he vowed to someday help them. Just five years later, he founded the BMVSS, to give artificial limbs free of charge to anyone who needs one, and to help restore dignity and self-esteem to people who would otherwise be forgotten by society. So far, it's helped to transform the lives of over a million amputees all over the world.
The BMVSS stands for Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti, but its headquarters in Rajasthan are also known as the Jaipur Foot Centre – and it's a place where miracles happen.
People come here from all over India to get new limbs - anyone can just turn up, without an appointment. Everyone is seen straight away and is treated with dignity and respect. After being fitted with a new leg - which, incredibly, can be done in just a few hours - most people can walk out and go home the same day. Many of the people who come here are extremely poor, but they don't have to pay for anything: everything is free, including lunch, and, if necessary, a bed for the night. They're even given their bus or train fares back home.
In Stepping Forward from Jaipur we'll see how the inspirational combination of using simple, low-cost technology (a Jaipur limb costs about £25) and readily available materials, such as standard industrial pipe, together with a speedy, efficient system and a humane attitude to the patients themselves, can achieve the same result as expensive high-tech solutions that cost a hundred times as much, enabling dignity and self-esteem to be restored to millions of people - people who, in many cases, had lost all hope - and allow them to regain their livelihoods and once again become productive members of society. In the film, we'll meet some of these people and see and hear how their lives have been transformed.
The Jaipur Foot and Me
When I first saw people being fitted with the Jaipur Foot, I was incredulous. That someone’s life could be transformed so completely, yet so quickly and easily and by such a simple piece of kit, seemed like a miracle. I wanted to tell the whole world about it.
Then I found out that, even in India, people only hear about it through word of mouth. This is because the BMVSS doesn't advertise - all its funds go directly towards making limbs, not on publicity. I was more determined than ever to spread the word. Back in England, I began by writing some articles, but I knew I had to make a film. I wanted people to see for themselves what I had seen. And I thought that, if I made a film, I could use it not only to show people what the BMVSS is doing, but also to raise much-needed funds for them.
I started my mission in Jaipur, where, every morning, streams of people arrive at the Centre, many having made long and arduous journeys. The lucky ones arrive on crutches, others on little carts like skateboards. Some, like Sandhya, are simply carried. No one can afford a wheelchair. They come by any means they can, because they've heard this is where they'll get free new legs.
Mr. Mehta is a Jain - a religion based on compassion and kindness for all - so he named his organisation after one of its most revered saints, Lord Mahaveer, but he was clear from the start that it should be open to everyone, regardless of religion or caste.
I met Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Sikhs; farmers, students and rickshaw wallahs; girls and boys, men and women. They told me their stories. Some had lost limbs from cancer or diabetes, many from gangrene caused by inadequate medical facilities. But by far the most had met with traffic or train accidents. What they all had in common was their love for Mr. Mehta - many people spoke of him as a god - and their happiness at being given a new lease of life. Getting a new leg for free can indeed feel like a miracle.
It was in Jaipur that I met lovely, courageous Sandhya. Although her family is poor, she was determined to study hard to help lift them out of poverty - and was doing well at school when, aged just 16, both her legs were amputated after a bus accident. Her family was devastated. Her father left home, her devoted brother gave up his studies and her mother had to do menial work for a daily wage. Sandhya thought her life was over. Four bleak years passed before she learned about the BMVSS - and travelled two thousand miles by bus and train from her village in Tamil Nadu all the way to Jaipur.
Straight away, I was captivated by her determination and optimism, and she very kindly let me follow her around for a whole week with my camera and film the entire process of being measured for and fitted with her new legs, which included getting a 'Stanford Knee'- a revolutionary new knee joint so called because it was developed in collaboration with Stanford University in the USA (and was named in 2009 by Time magazine as One of the 50 Best Inventions of the Year). It had never before been given to a double amputee - but brave Sandhya was determined to try it. Seeing her happy face as she started to walk again was unforgettable.
And I didn't forget. I returned to India a year later to see how she was getting on. Once more, she graciously allowed me to follow her around for a week. But this time I was filming her in her new life: in Chennai, back at school, living away from home for the first time, learning to be independent on her new legs - and being extremely popular with her fellow students . After passing her exams with flying colours, she is now at college, training to be an accountant - an incredible achievement in itself for a village girl from a poor family, but even more so for one who had thought her life was over.
Sandhya’s story will be the thread throughout the film, but we will also see and hear from other people, including Roshni and Vinod, who also appear in the video above.
Vinod Rawat lost his leg when he was six years old and spent many years as a boy living on the streets and even in prison. In the film, he speaks eloquently about his troubled past life and how it has been completely transformed. Indeed, we'll also see footage shot by Vinod himself on a motorbike journey from Mumbai to Ladakh which he organised to raise funds for another charity. He undertook the arduous trip with other disabled riders - and then helped build houses when he got there! You can read an interview with Vinod here: http://jaipurfoot.org/media/feature_stories/vinod_rawat.html#.U_z3FEjZvUo
We will see the foot itself being made and the the technicians in the workshops, in both Jaipur and Mumbai, making and fitting limbs. Some of them know first hand how life-changing their work is, as they are amputees themselves - and they also tell us their stories.
Other elements in the film will include the temporary workshop camps that are set up in the countryside for just a few days, to make limbs and calipers for people who can't get to the cities, and we'll meet the famous dancer and actress, Sudha Chandran, who became the first person to continue to dance professionally using a Jaipur limb.
Throughout it all, there is Mr.D.R.Mehta himself. This visionary and compassionate man is no figurehead. Far from it. For almost 40 years, he has completely devoted his life to the BMVSS. He is at the Centre every day, except Sundays, meeting and listening to every single person who comes for help. And he doesn't just give them mobility: he wants everyone to have the dignity of financial independence, so he provides items such as sewing machines and snack-stall kits, enabling people to earn a living. A kind and humble man, he's not grand in any way: his philosophy of frugality (espoused in his favourite book, The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid ) extends to his own life - he eats simple food and drives a Tata Nano, the cheapest car in the world. As he told me, "If I don't live for others, what is a life for?"
WHY I AM MAKING THIS FILM
- I want to show how D.R. Mehta's unique approach of using simple technology, easily available, local (often re-cycled) materials and a speedy, low-managerial system can change the lives of millions, without waste and at low cost. And ask if we in the West can learn from this.
- I want people to be inspired by the determination and optimism of Sandhya and others like her, who have overcome unbelievable setbacks and emerged smiling. I want people to see what can be achieved with vision, compassion and determination.
- I want to show people in India what the BMVSS is doing - and intend to make a Hindi version that can be shown directly to the people who need help.
- I want to use the film to help raise money for the BMVSS's work. Although they already help thousands of amputees every year, there are many more who need help - and the number is increasing all the time. In India, this is partly due to the rising number of traffic and train accidents in the ever-more crowded cities. As it is, over half of all amputations in India are caused by train accidents alone - and the average age of an amputee is just 26. And the BMVSS doesn't only help people in India. As well as sending emergency teams to war zones, such as Iraq, and to places that have suffered natural disasters, like the earthquake in Pakistan and the tsunami in Sri Lanka, they also regularly set up temporary fitment camps in other countries, especially in Africa and Asia, and train local people to continue the work after they've left. Earlier this year, Mr.Mehta and a team of twenty-five technicians spent several weeks in Afghanistan, where they helped over two thousand people - including many children maimed by IEDs - and they have just returned from a camp in Mauritius. Other countries in Africa are desperately in need - but these camps can't take place without funding. Ultimately, Mr.Mehta's aim is to have more permanent camps all over the world, with technicians trained by the BMVSS.
WHAT I WILL DO WITH THE FILM
- Enter it into international film festivals
- Organise fund-raising screenings throughout the UK and India and, funds permitting, the USA, Australia and Africa
- Give it to the BMVSS
- Offer it to international fund-raising organisations
- Get a distributor
- Aim to get it broadcast. (One international TV channel has already expressed an interest in transmitting it once it is finished)
- Make it available to NGOs to help spread the word
- Put it on the world wide web
After three years of filming, I've almost completed my mission and I'm now at the final hurdle. The film has already been shot and I have some great footage. Now I just need to edit it to bring it all together and tell the story. I have a brilliant editor lined up and we are all set to go. All I need is the money to do it. Raising enough funds to pay for the editing and post-production will enable me to finish the film and get it seen by as many people as possible.
BE PART OF SOMETHING SPECIAL!
YOU can be part of this fantastic project by pledging a donation. YOU can make a difference by helping to tell this amazing story, ensuring that many other people like Sandhya, Roshni and Vinod don't have to spend their lives on the scrap heap just because they've lost limbs, but can go on to lead happy and productive lives.
WHERE WILL YOUR MONEY GO?
As well as paying the editor, we also need money for the hire of the editing equipment and studio, commissioning music and paying a voice-over artiste. Then there's the cost of translation and subtitles for some of the footage and copyright clearance for archive material - and of course giving you lovely Kickstarters your Rewards!
That's the minimum to get the film finished. After that, we'll need to pay for making extra DVDs, designing a poster, publicity and distribution, so the more I can raise above my target, so much the better.
Please see my UPDATE no.3 for clear instructions on How To Make a Pledge.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions at all - or use the FAQ section on this page. Thank you!
I have been working in film and TV for over thirty years, since graduating from the Royal College of Art Film School. Since I made my first film, For Good, in 1980 - which showed three disabled people talking about living in able-bodied world - I have written and directed many more documentaries about disadvantaged or disabled people overcoming difficulties and inspiring others. This is something I've always been passionate about, so, when I discovered the Jaipur Foot five years ago, I knew I had to make a film about it!
You can see more of my Jaipur Foot photos and other India photos on my London Photographic Association web page here (when you are on my page, please click on 'Featured Gallery - Jaipur Foot Project' to see more information and photos about the BMVSS) http://london-photographic-association.com/site/lightbox2.php?type_f=3&fid=0&user_id=9333&coid=&pg=1
You can see my Photographic Essay about the BMVSS on the Photophilanthropy web site here http://photophilanthropy.org/gallery-posts/stepping-forward-from-jaipur/
And you can see my first film, For Good, here: http://www.cultureunplugged.com/documentaries/watch-online/filmedia/findit.php#text=Christine%20Booth&type=storyteller&method=OR&scope=all&page=1
Risks and challenges
This project has been my all-consuming passion for almost five years. When I first set out on my mission to tell this story, I took a leap of faith and I have already taken many risks and faced huge challenges. But I've also received incredible support and encouragement - from Mr Mehta and everyone at the Jaipur Foot Centre making me feel like part of the family, to friends in India putting me up and feeding me. And my determination has only been strengthened by the joyous enthusiasm of every single limbless person I've met along the way, who all want this amazing story to be told. I promised them I would tell it and I won't let them down.
But I need YOUR help to fulfill my promise. If I reach my Kickstarter goal, I can finish the film. Raising more than my target will enable me to make sure it is seen by more people in more places, so that would be even better. Please pledge - even a small amount will help - and please tell all your friends about it too. Thank you so much.
- (31 days)