Alex Masi – Poonam’s Tale of Hope

This week’s feature is by UK-based photographer Alex Masi

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Sometimes a picture has the power to turn fate around.

In August 2009, I began visiting urban colonies in the city of Bhopal, central India, to document the severe illnesses faced by children due to heavily contaminated water. As a consequence of the 1984 Bophal gas tragedy, where a gas leak at the Union Carbide India Limited pesticide plant released methyl isocyanate gas and other chemicals into the atmosphere, more than 100,000 people are chronically ill from the effects of the gas contamination and tainted drinking water has affected thousands more.

Toxic waste buried around the former factory has continued to penetrate the underground aquifers. As a result, children are increasingly affected by severe neurological and physical disorders.

Living with his family in a rundown house made of bare soil and cow dung, one such victim, Sachin, now 20, suffers from leg paralysis and a spinal deformity. On a fateful day during one of my regular visits to his home, heavy rain began to fall. His youngest sister, Poonam, then 6, was revelling in the rain to help curb the scorching summer heat. I started taking pictures immediately.

A frame from that propitious moment later received numerous recognitions, including a US$5000 grant from The Photographers Giving Back Awards in Sweden. The grant funds were used to implement a long-term plan for the well-being of Poonam and to help her family overcome extreme poverty. Born ‘unlucky’, with a tiny sixth toe on each foot, her father superstitiously believed she had brought misfortune upon their lives.

Today, 10-year-old Poonam dreams of becoming a teacher like those at her small private school, a short walk from the family’s newly built home made of solid brick. Along with her sister Jyoti, 11, and brother Ravi, 12, she currently attends lessons regularly at level Year 4 Elementary.

My plan is to soon enroll the children in an English and computer course ahead of their school Year 5. In the hope of being able to cover the future cost of a quality full-time boarding school from Year 6 until the end of their studies in Year 12, I have set up a website to assist in the fundraising process. More detailed information is available on Poonam’s website listed below.

I have witnessed the passion that is now moving this family along and how a single possibility for change was able to spark such a vibrant enthusiasm for life. Poonam’s fairytale is far from over. It is my hope to witness her blossoming into a teenager, an emancipated woman, and later into a loving wife and mother.

Presently, Poonam, Jyoti and Ravi’s education is being supported by small donations and the sale of “Prints for Education” which, along with more information, are on the following website:


Since becoming a professional photographer, Alex Masi has devoted his efforts to expose issues of human-made injustice, focusing mainly on children, their living conditions, health and basic rights. He constantly strives to portray his subjects with intimacy, meaning and depth, while aiming to present images that can convey emotions and stimulate our deepest feelings: our senses of compassion, brotherhood and justice.

Alex believes documentary photography is an essential catalyst towards a slow but steady evolution in people’s ideals and behaviour. It is also an essential tool to help the viewer to learn with immediacy and empathize with other human beings.

A selection of recognitions includes: 2013 Photocrati Fund winner; 2012 Unicef Picture of the Year Honourable Mention; 2012 FotoEvidence Book Award; third place in the 2012 Days Japan Photojournalism Awards; 2011 Enzo Baldoni Journalistic Prize; 2011 Getty Images Grants for Good; first place in the 2011 United Nations – Yonhap International Press Photo Awards – Singles.


Category: Photo Essay

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