Sunday, 29 December 2013

Oman to have Middle East's first sports science course

The Modern College of Business and Science in Muscat, Oman is set to launch the Middle East's first ever sport science programme. 

This course will be held in association with the Trafford College of Manchester in the United Kingdom, global non-profit football development organisation Kick Worldwide and the Oman Football Association (OFA) and is set to launch by September 2014.

Professor S.K. Pemma Raju, Director, Centre for Graduate and Professional Studies, Modern College of Business and Science. Reproduced with permission.
"Initially, we want to bring in sports-related programmes in a way to develop some activity in the youth," says Dr. S.K. Pemma Raju, the College's Director for Graduate and Professional Studies.

"It's not an organised way in which these sports have been [organised] particularly in terms of football, though the OFA is there. I think from six months back these guys (the OFA) have started giving proper training."

"Mostly the demand is for football," explains Dr. Raju. "That is the main thing, so we're starting with football and a couple of enquiries came for tennis.

Related Article: Q&A session with Chuck Martini, Head Coach, Muscat Football Academy

"Here, we don't have activities for the women," he adds. "Our other idea is to bring the Omani women into the sports field to provide them special facilities to do these things and a couple of girls are interested in trying to learn tennis to make their career. We are encouraging [them] on both sides."

Qatar 2022

One of the reasons the College - which has an affiliation with the University of St. Louis in the United States - has decided to invest in a sports science programme is because Qatar has won the rights to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which has given sports in the Middle East a major boost.

Related article: Football development in the Middle East shows global popularity of the sport

Dr. Raju hopes that by that time the World Cup does come to the Arab world, Oman will have sports science professionals who will be on hand to assist teams that make it to Qatar 2022.

"Now we want to start something related to some courses relating to the coaching and the refereeing, particularly keeping the sports activities that are going to take place in Qatar," he says.

"Already, Kick Worldwide has started some sports activities in some interiors with school kids."

Between one and two thousand kids took part in those activities, and Dr. Raju says that the next segment of the organisation's target audience is the youth who are in the later years of school life, so that they can begin to train the next generation of adults at foundation level.

"We want them to become professionals in the longer run," he says. "[We will] provide them proper direction, give them proper coaching."


On completion of this short-term course, students will get certificates that are jointly issued by the OFA and the Ministry of Manpower.

"They get a qualification and they do a couple of units here which has a direct link for the Associate or Bachelors' programmes anywhere in the world," explains Dr. Raju. "They complete here, certain of the courses.

"This will have a link-up with the advanced modules in certain other countries so guys who want to pursue their higher education in sports, the courses [that] they do here, they can be transferred. That is the main idea."

Those who wish to have a career in sports will also benefit from this course, which will have 40% theoretical studies with the other 60% being practical in nature. Holders of this certificate can join schools as sport coaches and will be called upon to officiate local league football games.

Plans are under way to develop an AstroTurf football pitch at the College for practical purposes. Although the course now only offers a sports science qualification in football, Dr. Raju hopes that there will be other specialisations that prospective students can follow in the future.

"The real sports personalities, we would like to interact with them," he says. "In another way, what I can say is we want the trainers to train the trainers so let the real people who're on the field, the professionals impart their knowledge, their methods and all and we train the local talent.

"After sometime, possibly they can take over the training initiative," he adds. "That is the reason why we're trying with a good organisation, where they are already experienced in this field."

Educational hub

Dr. Raju hopes that this course will help make Oman an educational hub for such studies. "A strategic location would be Oman [because] it is a non-controversial and peaceful place so people can come down here and we want to make this as a centre, a hub of the entire Middle East."

"You don't have these sports related [courses], particularly with this line of thought: trying to offer and linking up these courses for further education if students are interested in sports careers."

"People now are [getting] convinced that sports can also become a career," explains Dr. Raju. "There are parents also now, seeing various ways of making their children's dream come true."

The College has plans to introduce an AstroTurf pitch on campus for the practical aspect of the course to be taught. Space for the same has already been allotted.
Photo for illustrative purposes only. Image courtesy Wikipedia. com. 
The College also has in place long-term plans for such courses, says Dr. Raju.

"This is the initial step and if we see that there's a lot of future for sports as a career - you about the football celebrities, how much they are making - we want to make it in an organised way, linking up with the Oman Football Association.

"With their patronage, possible, there will be a continuity of the game, the activities on one side and in future we would like to associate with other sports bodies so something can be done in a better way for sports as a career," he finishes.    

Friday, 27 December 2013

"You have to be brave" - What it's like to work in a hospital

Dr. Apollina Sharma still remembers what it was like the first time she assisted in the delivery of a baby in a hospital.

"I was very scared during my first delivery because I didn't have someone on my first time to actually show me how to do it," she recalls.

"What is the method to hold the baby, what is the method to pull her out, where do you have to place the baby so it doesn't have an extreme rush of blood coming from the mother."

"I had no idea what was going to happen," she recalls. "All I knew was that there is this woman and there is this baby that is going to come out and I've read the birth process in some book."

Before the baby is born, doctors are meant to check for cervical dilation. This is done by placing the index and middle fingers at the entrance of the woman's birth canal which should measure about 10 centimetres before delivery

"Unless you've not done this in previous cases, you'll never be able to estimate that centimetre dilation," she says. "I had no experience in doing that so I was scared."

"When the head came out, my mind just went blank," she tells me. "Somehow I positioned my hands around his head and I tried pulling. Thank god a nurse was there to motivate me!"

"The thing is that he had a cord around his neck and that's a very dangerous situation and the cord has to be taken out immediately," she continues. "I'd only read that in a book, I did not know how to hold the baby and take the cord around as well.

"The nurse had to swoop in and hold the baby and it all has to be done in a matter of not more than one or two minutes. You have to pat the baby in order for him to get oxygen within the first five minutes (of his life) otherwise he can go into cerebral palsy."

"I cut the clamp, baby cried, I was happy, and I was like 'thank God, no more deliveries until I get OBG'," she says, her voice rising in exultation.

Apollina with a baby she helped deliver. The hospital delivers between 23 and 25 babies a day but she vividly remembers the first one she delivered. Reproduced with permission
Last summer, Apollina Sharma graduated as a fully-qualified doctor. She's spent the last year or so interning at three government-run hospitals in the Indian city of Mangalore and is taking me through the emotional, physical and mental challenges she went through during that year.

Her surroundings play a great role in making her feel at ease. We're sitting in a coffee house that's located by the beach. The sun is setting in the distance while in the backdrop is the glittering skyline of the city of Muscat Children enjoy a kickabout on the beach while parents take a walk by the seashore. 


'You don't have a choice'

I've brought with me Dr. Zarshis Avari to help decode some of the medical jargon that is going to come my way. He's a bit miffed, because he'd rather be at home watching Manchester United play Newcastle on the telly.

listen to ‘Apollina on how her father influenced her decision to do medicine’ on Audioboo

"When a patient comes, depending on how critical his condition is, you have to [stay], you don't have a choice," says Apollina. "You have to stay there, that's your duty. You signed up for the job, you have to do what you've been assigned to do. That's your duty as a doctor.

"If you have a patient on a deathbed who requires your attention, that's your first priority because that person needs you at that particular point of time. There's no choice there. It's a part of your work.

Related article: No place for emotions in medicine

Apollina still remembers how much she was looking forward to working at the hospital at the start of her internship, a rite of passage for any qualified doctor. 

"You're happy and you're prescribing but I think after six months you realise that it's not as rosy," she reveals "You have to learn a lot."

That hit her in the face when she had to answer to the family members of patients who had not been able to overcome their afflictions, she says.

"Also, especially in India, you've a lot of people who are illiterate," she explains. "They don't necessarily know exactly what's right or wrong for them so you have to end up taking decisions out of the treatment options for them.

That's a very big responsibility because you're basically taking charge of somebody else's life."

'You do feel frustrated, you do feel angry'

"There are a lot of doctors who basically don't view patients as human beings," she says. "They view them as objects that they can learn from."

"They just charge them with their medicine, start putting needles in them, start examining them, start doing things on them," she explains. "The population's illiterate, so they they don't know what's going to happen and they just blindly follow whatever the doctor's doing.

Apollina during her stint in community medicine, instructing school children on medical safety. Reproduced with permission
Apollina says that her moods at the end of each day would depend on what she'd done at the hospital that day.

"There were days when I used to feel extremely happy," she recalls. "You've really helped somebody. I had a lot of patients who came in with liver disease. 

"Taking care of them and trying to counsel them, and when you see them get better over a period of time, it makes you happy."

Related article: Old people just need company

But there were obviously days when she would come back exhausted. "Because there's lack of doctors, your 12-hour shift gets pulled to a 16 hours, 18 hours. We don't have enough interns to match the population that comes in.

"It's not like the next morning when you go on rounds when the senior doctors ask you for reports, you can't be like 'my shift ended 12 hours ago and I went home because that's the end of it'. That's not a reply you can give to them," she says. "You have to be accountable for your work."

"At that particular time, you do feel frustrated, you do feel angry, but at the end of the day, you do it with the mentality that 'tomorrow, my patient is going to be better'," she concludes.

'Medicine was very interesting'

Apollina's taken a liking to a blueberry muffin that's sitting in the display window of the coffee shop we're in. Five minutes later, it's microwaved version is sitting on a ceramic plate in front of us. After 12 months spent primarily subsisting on rice cakes and lentil soup, she's practically inhaling this muffin.

She takes me through the different departments she spent time in.

Her first month saw her posted at a village as part of Wenlock Hospital's community outreach programme and along with learning what it was like to work in a village, she also learnt how to deal with shooing away scorpions and snakes where she used to "do something with a stick and run."

After another month spent in a suburban community, she spent two months in surgery. Although she was not allowed to perform major surgeries as in intern, she did perform minor amputations and learned how to suture and dress burn wounds.

Paediatrics at KMC Attavar Hospital came next and she learned "about little babies and how to treat them when they have jaundice and congenital defects." in addition to spending some time in the paediatric ICU.

She becomes quite giggly while telling me about her time at orthopaedics because "orthopaedics is full of guys, so the minute they see a woman walk in you get the least amount of work."

But she remembers her time in diagnostic medicine at Wenlock most fondly.

"I got to see a lot of great cases," she recalls. "I had this one amazing case. Nobody could find the diagnosis and it was something as simple as a loss of potassium in the body and the patient had gone into complete paralysis."

"Medicine was very interesting," she says. "It was about getting all these different concepts you've learned and trying to place everything together and trying to apply it on a patient."

"When a patient comes in, he's not going to have all the symptoms listed (in a book). A patient can come in with completely different symptoms and have a completely different diagnosis.

Zarshis is now getting fidgety: it's half time at Old Trafford and there have been no goals at the Theatre of Dreams so far.

'I've delivered a baby with my bare hands'

Diagnostic medicine aside, Apollina vividly remembers her time in the maternity wards at Lady Goschen hospital.

"The hospital, half of it was under construction," she recalls. "So all the wards were clamped into one. "Our entire hospital was structured in such a way that you would have women sleeping in the corridors. There would be no space to walk."

"There were beds in the corridors because the thing is, when a pregnant woman comes, that's the government hospital for that particular region, you can't send them anywhere else," she tells me.

Apollina (centre) and her fellow medical interns, who often had to pull 18-hour shifts at the hospital they worked in. Reproduced with permission
Government hospitals in India do sometimes face acute shortages of both staff and equipment and it was the same where Apollina worked.

In fact, 40% of India's primary healthcare centres are understaffed.

A phone call to Lady Goschen Hospital a few days after she'd spoken with me confirmed what she'd said. Both KMC Attavar and Wenlock Hospital were unavailable for comment.

"Because we were so understaffed, what used to happen was that I would be delivering a baby and the other baby would start coming at the other end," she says. "I would deliver this baby, run, rush, deliver that one, deliver the third one, deliver the fourth one.

"I was not changing my gloves. I've even delivered a baby with my bare hands because we just didn't have gloves to wear."

"Illiteracy, it plays a very big role especially in the delivery room," she continues. "We once had this woman who was told by an ayah (nurse maid) in the village that she came from that the best way to deliver to sit on the floor and squat down."

Standard procedure during delivery is to place a patient in the lithotomy position and then perform an episiotomy where the wall of the birth canal and the protective layer that covers it are slightly cut to allow the baby unencumbered passage through the birth canal.

Diagrammatic representation of the lithotomy position in which women are placed before giving birth. For informational purposes only. Image courtesy Saltanat Ebli and Wikipedia 
"You won't be able to do that if the woman is squatting down and she was reluctant to get on the bed and this was at three o'clock in the morning and we were working since six o'clock the previous morning," recalls Apollina.

"When a patient comes in and she's doing all of these particular things, she's not getting on the bed, she's acting crazy, she's throwing things around, it gets very difficult because at the same time you have to be a doctor. You can't hit her. You can't forcibly take her on the bed against her will."

"We had to sedate this patient and then give her a C-section." About 23 to 25 babies were delivered at the hospital every day.

'I learnt the basics of what it takes to be a doctor'

Working long hours in a hospital takes its toll on any medical professional. Apollina says her primary method of unwinding was by sleeping.

"For the most part, when things got really hectic, all I would think about was my bed," she says with a laugh, while Zarshis nods in agreement. "Sleep is a very uncommon commodity."

"It was basically just getting enough sleep and getting some good food," she continues. "When you work for so long, you think of basics. You want something good to eat and you want a bed to rest on. For most of my days, that's what it was."

Looking back on her past year, Apollina says she learned a lot. "I used to think it's very simple: you see a diagnosis, you give medication but its a lot more than that," she says. "It changes you as a person when you actually go through another person's problems.

"Sometimes you get scared in situations and trying to overcome that fear in order to get the confidence, that's important, and also practising what you learn is also extremely important because that's the only way you're going to be good at it."

"I've grown as a person," she says with a wan smile. "I've actually learned how to get through a very tough day and be able to smile at the end of the day."

"You have to be brave," she says in closing.

Apollina now plans to move to Canada to earn her MD, she gives me a hopeful smile as she plans for the future. Across the table, however, Zarshis Avari is wearing a scowl like thunder. It's not because he's had to listen to so much of what he already knows for a good hour.

It's because Newcastle United have scored at Old Trafford.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

It's like living on your own: What it's like being a freelance photographer

Faizan Patel, freelance photographer
Faizan Patel tells me he's busy this weekend. Then again, he's busy most weekends, which might explain why the answers he's sent me are so short.

But words are not his forte, pictures are. Faizan is a freelance photographer who specialises in weddings.

"Photography started off as a hobby and later became a passion which needed to be fed with a dose of creativity on a regular basis," explains Faizan.

He added to his skills behind the lens with a Masters degree from Manipal Institute of Communication in 2011 and has been freelancing since then.

Weddings aside, Faizan has also done food photography for restaurants and bakeries and also dabbles in portfolios for models.

Wedding season

The wedding season in India is all year round. If you live in Mumbai in the west of the country where it's warm and humid, July is the time people choose to tie the knot. Up north, with the advent of cooler climes replacing the hot summer months, September to December is wedding season.

Most weddings though take place during either February and March, where the weather is relatively mild before summer's arrival, or immediately after, between September and November before winter comes around.

Man, that looks good: Faizan is regularly contracted for product photography.
This photo was taken for Puma Club Bangalore
Faizan still remembers the first wedding he covered. "It was the biggest wedding I have ever covered and also the bestest couples of them all," he recalls. "I am still in touch with them and wish them every year on their anniversary."

He now covers about one or two events a week and while that might not seem like a lot of work on the surface, traditional Indian weddings last about two to three days

There are weeks where he works about six days. "I don't have a life. My personal life has gone for a toss ever since I took up photography," he says.

The personal reasoning behind Faizan choosing to specialise in weddings however was simple: he loves food.

Indian weddings are known for lavish expenditure and the same extends to the variety of rich food that people are treated to.

At a wedding, it is not uncommon to see individual stalls catering to different cuisines, ranging from traditional Indian spicy chaats and crispy dosas to more conventional Western fare such as pizza and pasta.

And Faizan gets all that for free.
Would you like to wash that down with this? A sample of of Faizan's work while working on a photo op with the Taj Group of Hotels

Loving his job

Those who wish to get in touch with him normally do so via either Facebook or email. He has his own website where people can take a look at his work, get in touch with him and look at his rates, which can be pretty pricey, but worth it if you take a look at what he has to offer.

Although Faizan now earns a steady income, he says that freelances should always be paid for their work. Working for free normally leads to exploitation of these professionals and can get demoralising.

 "It's unfair on their part," Faizan says of these companies. "Pay less but do pay is what I wish to tell them."

Faizan however has always been paid on time. "By God's grace that has never happened to me so far," he says.

Freelancing, says Faizan is just like an extension of life. "It's just like living on your own and managing your expenses," he explains. "You are your own boss, [but] your future is unpredictable."
Can I tempt you with some desert? This shot of miniature blueberry cheesecakes was taken for the Kettle Drum bakery in New Delhi

In addition, freelancing doesn't get affected by inflation or deflation, he says.

Another reason he loves his work is because he enjoys the travelling element of his job. "I have travelled to eight different states this year," he says. "The travel and accommodation expenses are taken care by the client."

"Travelling to different parts of the country and witnessing different cultures has been the best adventure this profession offers me." 

Faizan says he enjoys freelancing a lot, but advises people who want to branch out into freelance photography to develop a few skills which will take them a long way.

Public relations, networking [and] bargaining are some of the skills you need to have, he says, in addition to obviously specialising in whatever field you choose.

Because Faizan's profession sets him apart from the rest of his friends, it is often a subject of conversations. "They (people) get excited when I tell them I do photography and request me to cover their wedding for free!," he says.

Faizan is one who is doing what he loves. However, he says that it wasn't this way when he first moved to Delhi to take up freelancing. He says that his concern regarding freelancers not getting a steady income is a very real one. "I struggled in the initial phase of my life when I was in Delhi," he admits.

But despite this rocky start, Faizan says he never considered taking up a full-time job involving photography. "I wouldn't do that (take up a full-time job). I have had several offers in the recent times and I have declined them all."

Please note that all pictures have been used for academic purposes only and have have been reproduced with permission from Faizan Patel.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Audit firms responsible for accurate records, says analyst

A long-serving financial analyst has said that financial firms are established to ensure that companies do not intentionally commit large-scale fraud.

Ramanuj Venkatesh, Senior Analyst,
Deloitte and Touche
Reproduced with permission
"The finance sector is a very important sector," says Ramanuj Venkatesh, a Senior Analyst who works for professional finance firm Deloitte and Touche.

"[They] help in regulating different investment companies by setting in all these kinds of standards and setting in all these kinds of principles that companies need to follow," he adds

"They enforce these kind of laws."

He then uses the example of the 2009 Satyam Computer Services scandal where Indian IT company Satyam Computer Services admitted to the falsification of their accounts which was not picked up by the company's auditors, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC).

The company's Chairman Ramalinga Raju admitted to falsification of accounts by $1.47 billion, as a result of which he tendered his resignation from the company.

As part of the consequences, the Satyam Board of Directors were removed from their post, the company were fined $10 million and agreed to undertake internal restructuring.

The issue was with PWC," says Ramanuj. "These guys actually made a fundamental mistake in the Satyam case and in fact, they had signed off the audit report stating that the financials are true and fair when it was quite evident that there was embezzlement of funds.

This embezzlement was because the accounts had stated that Satyam had on staff 53,000 employees, when it was later discovered that only 40,000 were actually employed. Mr. Raju drew $3 million to pay these 13,000 non-existent employees. He now faces up to 10 years in jail.

Founder and former Chairman of Satyam Computer Services Ramalinga Raju at the World Economic Forum.
Reproduced with permission courtesy World Economic Forum and Wikipedia
"It was their responsibility and it was not that much of the client's responsibility," Ramanuj explains. "It was the auditors' responsibility to check, that 'have funds been embezzled in this case?'.

"It was the auditor's responsibility to provide reasonable assurance that the financials were true and fair in terms of their figures and they should've caught [on] to this problem of embezzlement of funds."

Because of PWC's negligence, they were fined $6 million by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission.

Soon after the scandal, Satyam was acquired by Indian industrial giant Mahindra, as part of its expansion into the technology sector. As of August 2013, Satyam has been merged with Mahindra's technology arm, TechMahindra.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Right-wing parties prominent due to economic crisis: political activist

A political activist has said that the reason right-wing parties throughout the world are becoming increasingly prominent is because of the impact the economic crisis has had on people's lives.

Oliver Clay says that right-wing parties get people's support by tapping into their fears and using the media to publish material such as posters, advertisements and leaflets to get their agenda across.

A poster issued by French right-wing
party Front National. The text reads
'the immigrants are voting...and you're
This photograph has been used for
informational purposes only. Image
courtesy Lise Broer and Wikipedia
An example of this would be the rise in popularity Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn - which vows to 'clean' immigrants from Greece - has seen.

After winning just 0.3% of the nation's parliamentary polls in 2009, the party startled the nation's conservatives when it won seven percent of the votes in 2012.

As a result, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras' New Democracy party only just managed to stay in power.

Of late, the party's paramilitary forces have been involved in violent rioting and and the Greek parliament has voted to heavily slash the funding provided to the party 

The government has also moved to outlaw the party, but progress on that front is slow

Oliver, who is doing his MA in politics at the University of Sheffield, often takes part in protests against right-wing parties.

He remembers a similar riot he was involved in when he and his fellow demonstrators faced off against the English Defence League during a protest in Sheffield.

"In Sheffield, the EDL attempted to lay a wreath at the war memorial to piggy back on the death of (British army man) Lee Rigby," recalls Oliver, a member of the national Antifascist Network.

"[The] first two times, they were stopped by antifascists. [The] third time, with (erstwhile EDL leader) Tommy [Robinson] up, the police enabled them to get through. The day ended with the Sheffield community running the EDL off the streets." 

"Police tried to 'disperse' them into the city after the demo," he adds. "Some EDL members threatened and attack non-white people on the street. [This] lead to running fights and police lines as they tried and to an extent failed. to keep the two lines apart"

"[The community] forced the EDL back into a pub called the Harley where they were kept until police could reassert control over the streets, which they struggled to properly do at any point in the day until the EDL had been properly removed from the city."

A demonstration by Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn staged in the Greek capital, Athens, in 2012. The Greek parliament has recently voted to cut the party's funding and is trying to outlaw it.
Photo courtesy Steve Jurvetson and Wikipedia
To explain this further, Oliver refers to the concept of hegemony as popularised by Italian political thinker Antonio Gramsci, who says that the consent of people is eroded when there is no efficient government in place, which in turn leads to violence.

Hegemony, according to Gramsci comes from intellectual and moral leaders who make alliances and compromises with those who have other agendas.

Oliver says that it is very much possible to stop the rise of right-wing parties.

"Build popularly-supported, mass democratic campaigns against austerity and bigotry that focus on where actual social issues come from - the unequal distribution of economic power - rather than the right wing imagined ones," he says.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

"If you believe in something, you have to act on it" - an Insight into the life of a student protester

Oliver Clay spent the second of December protesting on the campus of the University of Sheffield as part of the Sheffield Strikes Back movement, aimed at halting the privatisation of public institutions and halting a further wave of spending cuts.

Oliver is a student protester who spends as much time organising and participating in peaceful demonstrations against what he thinks is political injustice that he spends inside lecture theatres and classrooms.

Currently pursuing his MA in Politics at the University of Sheffield, Oliver says he was brought up with morals that saw oppression, suffering and exploitation as injustice.

Growing up in Canterbury, Oliver remembers the myriad numbers of political conversations his parents engaged in during dinner time.

As he grew up, he, he spent time watching the news with his parents and like them, became a supporter of the Labour Party.

Oliver Clay, pictured here in a sit-in to show solidarity with Palestine.

Fighting for what he believes in

"If you believe in something, you have to act on it," he tells me, when I ask him why he chooses to demonstrate against what he thinks is injustice.

In order to act, Oliver has joined several University-affiliated political groups where he can share his ideas and coordinate his efforts with those who share his mentality.

"Palestinian Society campaigns to raise awareness of the occupation and genocide in Israel/Palestine and build links between [the] Islamic University of Gaza and Sheffield University," he explains.

"Fund Education Not War campaigns to end the University's deals with and complicity in the arms trade, Antifascist Network combats the growth of the English Defence League and racist ideas in society and Sheffield Strikes Back challenges austerity [and the] privatisation of education."

Oliver says the groups such as the ones is part of use a variety of pacific measures to achieve their objectives.

These include lobbying the Universities they belong to, peaceful protests and petitions, organising talks and lectures, and laying out cultural events which include film screenings and shows at comedy clubs, which are mainly held to spread awareness about a particular issue.

For example, earlier this year, the Palestinian Society organised a talk by Palestinian activist Malaka Mohammed from the University of Gaza. Now at the University of Sheffield, Malaka gained admission after the Palestinian Society lobbied on her behalf.

"[We] had a protest last Friday against police repression and Austerity that attracted 60 plus people," says Oliver. "Some are smaller in the dozen or two.

There was a film showing on Womens Brigade in the Spanish civil war that had 20-30 people. Palestine [Society's] showing on Gaza had around 35."

Pictured here during a solidarity campaign against racism and islamophobia for the Antifascist Network 

Protests, demonstrations and clashes

Oliver then tells me that as part of his protests, when relevant, he and his fellow demonstrators occupy university buildings as a show of support to those who were going on strike.

During the protests on the 2nd of December, Sheffield Strikes Back occupied the iconic Arts Tower building, the tallest university building in the UK and a city landmark to show solidarity with the teachers who were going on strike by unfurling banners and chanting slogans.

But demonstrations don't always remain peaceful, he says, and has been on the receiving end of repressions by the police on several occasions.

In the past, Oliver has been charged down by horses and hit with batons, in addition to being kettled, which is "when the police surround a group of protesters or people in the wrong place and refuse to allow them to leave for a number of hours," he explains.

"I've been hit round the head," he says. "[My injuries] weren't too serious but others have been hospitalised through similar things."

University groups protest as one in an attempt to fight austerity in a demonstration organised by Sheffield Strikes Back
It's not just the police that Oliver has locked horns with in the past. One protest he vividly remembers is the time he and his fellow demonstrators were attacked by members of the English Defence League.

Related article: Right-wing parties prominent due to economic trouble

"In Sheffield, the EDL attempted to lay a wreath at the war memorial to piggy back on the death of Lee Rigby," recalls Oliver. "[The] first two times, they were stopped by antifascists.

[The] third time, with (erstwhile EDL leader) Tommy [Robinson] up, the police enabled them to get through. The day ended with the Sheffield community running the EDL off the streets." 

"Some EDL members threatened and attack non-white people on the street. [This] lead to running fights and police lines as they tried and to an extent failed. to keep the two lines apart"

"[The community] forced the EDL back into a pub called the Harley where they were kept until police could reassert control over the streets, which they struggled to properly do at any point in the day until the EDL had been properly removed from the city."


Although Oliver says victories like this help build up morale, he says he plans on fighting for what he believes is right. The results the groups he is in have achieved would reflect that.

"Israel still occupies Palestine, the cuts are still being made and the University is still involved in the arms trade," says Oliver. "[We've been] very successful for Palestinians getting a scholarship from the Islamic University of Gaza, though work continues to make that include accommodation as well."

Several of the University's Departments, including those of Mechanical Engineering, Electronic and Electrical Engineering, Automatic and Control Systems Engineering, Chemistry, Physics and Astronomy are being funded by global arms manufacturers. 

More than £40 million in funding has been received from BAE Systems, Rolls Royce and Thales, which manufacture the arms used in most theatres of war throughout the world and have been found guilty of corruption in the past.

"[We've had] success in kicking Veolia off campus too," he continues. "Fund Education Not War passed a policy mandating the Union to lobby the University to divest from arms and Sheffield Strikes Back has helped restart a vibrant student movement against austerity."

Transnational French company Veolia Environment, which until very recently managed the University's waste disposal systems, has heavily invested in Israel

The Palestinian Society are obviously opposed to this and recently succeeded in removing Veolia as the firm which managed the University's waste. Several other universities and cities voted against Veolia because of their actions in Israel.

Oliver organising a demonstration in Sheffield

Long term plans and future growth

Oliver says all the organisations he is part of have long-term plans in place. "[The] Palestinian Society want to cement the scholarship and include accommodation as well as fees paid for,

"Antifascist Network want to build greater links with the communities and combat racism," he tells me. "Palestinian [Society] and Fund Education Not War want the University to invest ethically. Sheffield Strikes Back continue resisting austerity and privatisation. 

"Support for all the campaigns seems broadly positive," says Oliver. "Fund Education Not War and [the] Palestinian Society have both won referendums in the thousands.

AFN [has been] able to organise anti-EDL marches far bigger than Unite Against Fascism." Unite Against Fascism (UAF) is the mainstream body against racism.

In an attempt to better coordinate their demonstrations, Sheffield Strikes Back have showed solidarity with the Occupy Sussex student movement by Skyping their occupation of University buildings on the 31st of October, when universities throughout the UK went on strike over pay cuts.

As reported by Forge Press, the University of Sheffield's press arm
Recently, Defend Education Birmingham called for co-ordination on all future protests in order to project a more united front, with Sheffield and Sussex both being mentioned as centres of protests.

Oliver, however, hopes that he isn't suspended by the University because of his political activities. "I hope to finish my masters, get a good result on it and not get suspended because of involvement in politics," he finishes.

Please note that all pictures have been reproduced with permission of Oliver Clay and are for academic purposes only.

Friday, 13 December 2013

"Working in the desert teaches you many lessons of life"

"Ashish, I will need you for the next 40 minutes," I tell my interviewee over the phone. "Okay," he says, but truth be told, he does not know if he will be free for that period of time.

Ashish Kumar Mallick is speaking to me via telephone from Haima, a dusty little town in the middle of the Omani desert, 500 kilometres from the capital, Muscat and the same distance from Salalah, a city in the nation's south.

It is widely known now that the Arab world's development has come via the region's vast reserves of oil and natural gas. Most of Oman's oil wealth lies far away from its coastline, in the middle of the country, deep in the of the desert.

Haima is one such base of operations for oil companies that are involved in the extraction of oil and natural gas from the nation's fuel-rich earth. 

What he does

Ashish is a field operations and network maintenance officer for a telecommunications company that monitors the 3G and 4G connection networks for these companies that are involved.

Because what these multinational oil companies do is so vital to the nation's economy, telephone networks that serve them are prioritised above the others that have been laid out all over the country. He is responsible for about 40 individual sites in the region.

Breakdown of these 'priority one' sites means a lapse in communication between an isolated oil drilling operation in the middle of the desert and the operations centres which are located in the capital.

Ashish therefore has to be available to monitor, service and repair these sites 24 hours a day.

"All our telecom sites are monitored 24/7 by the Network and Operations centre (NOC) located in the capital", explains Ashish. "Any activity carried out in any of the sites or any issue occurred in any site is reported to the systems in the NOC.

"The issues are reported in the form of alarms which were configured in the sites when [they] were installed," he explains. So, whenever an alarm appears on any site, the issue is escalated to the Field Maintenance team i.e. to us and then we follow the issue."

 The base transceiver of a 3G telephone tower. 
The antennae through which such towers send and receive signals
Ashish says that every issue that is reported to him has to be addressed within a given period of time called a Service Level Agreement.

Where he lives

Oman's capital of Muscat is located in the north of the country. Its other major city, Salalah, is in the Dhofar Region to the south, more than a thousand kilometres away. Known as Route 15, the road that links these two cities together is the nation's spine.

Haima lies about halfway between the two cities of Muscat and Salalah, which are a thousand kilometres apart. Picture courtesy Google Maps.
"After you leave from Muscat, comes the city named Nizwa. After that its all barren land as far as your eyes can see with no civilisation at all," explains Ashish. "But this road is very crucial and never sleeps.

"There are vehicles from small ones to long trailers running 24/7 on this road, transporting people, food, heavy machinery [and] industrial chemicals to the oil rigs and base camps. "Haima is a stop to take rest or for refuelling for the traffic along this road."

Ashish originally worked in the capital, monitoring mobile internet sites and phone towers that went kaput but was slightly disappointed when he was told that he would be posted to an outpost in the middle of the desert.

"Before I was posted to this place, I had enquired [with] my colleagues who had worked here earlier about the place," says Ashish, who originally hails from Bangladesh.

"They described the place as a small dwelling (in this case, town) consisting of [a] few houses, a hospital, a police station, a school [and a] few shops in middle of the majestic desert whose vastness makes you feel so small. 

"So I had a clear picture of the place before I arrived here and the thought that I have to leave my family and friends and work in the middle of desert made me sad and depressed," he said

"But still focussing on my job and gathering some positive feeling I looked forward to the experiences I would take back after working here."

Going to Haima exposed the 25-year-old to a very different aspect of life in the Arab world. He was able to witness first hand what went into providing Oman with the wealth she has amassed over the years.

Living in the desert

"I have been to oil rigs and gas plants as many of my sites are installed there," reveals Ashish. "It's totally a different experience seeing these drillers and machinery harvesting energy for us.

"I have also stayed overnight in base camps in the middle of the desert which was another adventurous experience for me."

"Every time I move out to go it feels like an adventure to me because today if I am going to one site for the first time, I don't know where is it, how are the roads leading to the site," he tells me.

"I just follow the GPS (Global Positioning System) and I feel like an explorer, exploring the sand-filled areas of the country, driving long distances, so that itself is an adventure."

An oil rig in the desert. Many dot the landscape of Oman's southern desert. It is here that the nation's oil wealth is located.
"In the middle of the desert they have done all this stuff. They were able to organise everything," he recalls. "You're in the camp and you see around you, it's just the desert. You're living in the middle of nowhere. That's like an adventure."

'Nowhere' is correct. The closest city from Haima is Duqum, located on the Omani coast, 180 kilometres from where Ashish is based. It is being built to help channel Oman's economy and has the nation's first dry dock.

There are several construction projects in Duqum, with roads, hotels, residential complexes and an airport being built. Future plans for the city involve the establishment of a duty-free port. Ashish goes there often, as he has several sites that need tending to.

The dangers of drilling

But Ashish reveals that the process of extraction of oil and natural gas is an extremely dangerous business. Safety protocols of the highest standards are enforced at such sites. 

"A small mishap can cause disastrous results. So the oil and gas industry has laid a lot of safety rules and regulations to be implemented while working on the field," explains Ashish.

"The complete workforce in the oil and gas industry, ranging from labourers to engineers, have to undergo strict safety training and [have] to [pass] tests before they start working [in] the field.

"Wearing safety helmets, safety shoes, safety glasses, coveralls while working on the field are few safety measures [that] I know [of].

"Even when we go to sites (that are located in oil rigs) we have to follow these safety measures."

"The drilling of crude oil or gas also leads to the extraction of Hydrogen sulphide gas which is a highly poisonous gas and can cause painless death," he continues.

"Therefore the levels of this gas [are] strictly monitored and maintenance of the pipelines carrying this gas is done regularly.

This is a pipeline that transports hydrogen sulphide gas away from the oil rigs. The gas, says Ashish, can cause painless death. 

Safety measures

The traffic rules there are very strict. "All the vehicles running in the fields have in-vehicle monitoring systems installed with speed limits to drive. Violating any of the safety rules or regulations is penalised," adds Ashish. "Also, there are security checks all over the place to ensure safety.

"The vehicles here are always parked in reverse parking mode," he says. "Also, there are assembly points made near the oilfields, where all the labourers and people working can assemble (in case of fire)."

In addition, all workers at these rigs are put through training sessions and fire drills so that they know what has to be done in case a fire breaks out.

"It's the combined effort of this huge workforce in the oil and gas industry working 24/7 that we are able to harvest energy for our energy-hungry cities."

Because of the dangers of travelling alone in the desert, Ashish says that the movements of all those who are away from the base of operations on maintenance duty are constantly tracked.

"When we are travelling through some sites which are in some oil rigs which are very far away from the main cities or the highway, its dangerous to travel to such places," he says. "Those places have a procedure. Initially, we have to mail them a day before.

"We have to mention our scope of work, why are we visiting the site, we have to mention our car details, our personnel details, ID card number and our company details - from which company we come and what is the purpose of visit."

Oil rigs and their operations centres are always cordoned off with fences such as this one so as to prevent entry by unauthorised personnel
"These people will formulate the journey plan accordingly, and the camp at the oil rig are notified [via] email," says Ashish, explaining how this procedure works.

"We have to carry this journey plan once we're leaving the base camp. Once we reach the oil rig, we have to show the authorities there the plan and everything: the permission we get to access the site."

Sometimes, it is not safe to return to base camp on the same day. When such situations arise, provisions are made for visiting personnel to stay at such outposts overnight.

"In the middle of the desert, you have a five-star hotel," says Ashish, referring to the quality of accommodation. "We have proper rooms located for engineers, managers and labourers. Engineers, we get a complete room, we get all facilities.

"There are timings for the food. If you miss it, then you won't get to eat," he says. But, "everything is so disciplined and organised, it's like army rule in these places.

"Everything has a time: you have to wake up early, for lunch there is a time, for breakfast there is a time, for dinner there is a time."

The dangers of the desert

Because of the dependence that the worlds' economies have on oil and natural gas, areas that are rich with black gold are often dotted with military encampments and Ashish says it is the same in and around Haima.

But the military are (naturally) quite secretive about their operations in such areas and when Ashish does go to such places to service mobile phone sites, he is provided with an escort to ensure he fulfils his purpose and then leaves.

"You can't ask [about anything] or take photos in that place. The camps are guarded with a lot of security and you have to get security passes and a lot of procedures are there (to enter military bases)," he finishes.

The operations centre of an oil rig. Note the tall radio tower on the left. It is towers like these that Ashish is responsible for
The vast spaces available on roads that traverse the desert coupled with fuel being available at throwaway prices in Oman initially did tempt Ashish to drive his car at top speed as he made the long journey from Haima to one of his remote phone sites in the desert.

But he learned very quickly that doing so was a serious faux-pas.

"The fuelling stations here are quite a distance, probably a minimum of 300 kilometres far from each other so when are fuelling our vehicles, we feel that so much fuel is enough for travelling so much distance," he elaborates.

"But sometimes our calculations can go wrong because we drive fast or we're not stable on the road. All these vehicle parameters determine the mileage of the vehicle, so finally we end up running out of fuel for the vehicle."

To Ashish, this happened on the day he left the capital for Haima. "Luckily, [at] that time, my other colleague, who was already here, was present, so I just called him up and he brought extra fuel for me," he recalls.

Despite the presence of all these safety measures, Ashish says there are rescue teams who search for people who do get lost or are involved in accidents.

Now at Haima for three months, Ashish has several avenues to keep himself busy during down time. This is vitally important, as boredom in such a remote place can quite often have adverse health effects.

"Since I've been staying here since three months, I have made many friends working in the same field as I," he says. "We go to a hookah place nearby for hangouts or play football in the park or do BBQ sometimes.

"Otherwise thanks to the high speed 4G internet we get here and the technology that has made high storage capacities for digital media so that we can store in huge collections of movies, TV series and e-books to read that can keep us occupied. So this is how I spend my spare time here."

Life lessons

Ashish has decided not to dwell on the acute isolation that such places have from the rest of the world. He has learned much from his time in Haima. "This place has given me lot of experiences and has taught [me] many job skills," he says.

"If any issue arises in any site you have to co-ordinate with all the departments and plan your actions that you will need to troubleshoot the problem. You cannot afford to make mistakes here."

Another type of oil rig construct
However, Ashish feels very fortunate for the experience living in Haima has provided him with. "I feel good that I am able to see such things because you don't get to experience [this] if you're staying in cities," he says. "If someone wants to pay and experience like this, he won't get [it]."

"It's a completely different experience. You're going in between the desert and you don't know where you are going and you finish your work and you come back. Everything is planned."

"Staying alone in a deserted place away from your friends and family is like the worst punishment," adds Ashish, "though it teaches you many lessons of life. like to have self control over your feelings and emotions, teaches you to value each and every moment you have spent with your family and friends, teaches you to focus more on your work [and] makes you a better organised person.

Ashish is glad his tenure in the desert is coming to an end, though. The towers he manages are in the process of being handed over to another company, and his is eager to see his family again. 

"[I am] hoping to enjoy New Year's with them," he says.

Please note that all pictures have been used for academic purposes only

Queues form in Omani gaming stores ahead of PS4 launch

Enthusiastic gamers formed queues outside Oman's gaming stores ahead of the launch of Sony's PlayStation Four.

At the Geekay Games outlet in Qurum City Centre, locals Mohammed and Yaser had been part of a queue of around a hundred people since eight o' clock that evening, a good four hours ahead of the console's official launch.

Both of them were carrying paper bags with McDonald's meals in anticipation of their long wait.

"I'd let the job go, it's the PS4," said Yasser with a laugh, when asked what was most important to him.

Having bought copies of Battlefield 4 to go with their new consoles, the duo tell me they've come early because they do not think there will be enough pieces of the PlayStation for everybody standing in line.

"We're in the front, we're almost there," says Mohammed, as he looks wistfully at the new PlayStations that are now being unloaded in the store.

The new PlayStation 4 arrives at shops ahead of the official midnight launch
Standing a few places behind them is Ashwin, who's walked all the way to the store to get his hands on Sony's latest offering.

"I was told that you need to come to the queue at 11, but when I came at 11, there was already 20 members waiting before me," he says.

"I don't have any vehicle on my own, so I took a walk right from Qurum beach (which is a good hour away on foot) and I am here. I am going to walk back."

While Yasser and Mohammed are fans of the Battlefield series, Ashwin is planning to play Assassins' Creed on his new gaming console. He's been waiting for this moment for more than a year.

People queue up in front of the Geekay Games store at the Qurum City Centre ahead of the official launch of the PlayStation 4
"I've been counting the days right from November, and the days have never been going," says Ashwin, who's been playing games right from the time Sega unveiled their 16-bit video-game consoles.

Noor Ul Habib runs a game store at the Capital Commercial Centre. He says he's received more than a hundred orders for the PS4 already.

"Today, more than a hundred phone calls we picked up, only for the PlayStation four," he tells me.

He sources his consoles from Jumbo Electronics, the supplier for consoles throughout Oman and because demand is a lot higher than supply, he's only received (and sold) five pieces a day after the launch.

"Before we opened the shop, there are maybe ten people standing outside," he said. He had one piece left that morning and the first customer who came in was the lucky one who got his hands on a PlayStation 4 that day. 

"Today I was [going to] get five pieces, but unfortunately we didn't get," adds Habib, who often keeps in reserve a couple of pieces for his regular customers.

Noor Ul Habib, who owns a game store in Muscat. He's already had more than a hundred orders for the PlayStation 4
"Some customer, say, he is our good customer," he explains. "He will call me [and say] 'Habib, keep for me one PlayStation'. Obviously, I'll keep for you because some returning customers, they don't come all the time [to] our shop."

The first five pieces Habib sold all went to returning customers. In addition to the game console itself, Habib is offering a free disc with every PlayStation 4 he sells, along with a year's warranty.

The PlayStation 4 is priced at R.O. 180 and Habib says this is good value for the customer, in comparison to Microsoft's XBox One, which released at around the same time and is priced at R.O. 350, nearly twice the amount of the PS4.

"The PS4 price is reasonable, that's why all the customers go for the PS4," he finishes.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Ethics paramount when dealing with children, says doctor

A doctor says that when it comes to doctors treating children, ethics always come first.

Dr. Zarshis Avari. Reproduced with
"The medicine is different, the ethics are different, the approach is different and so is the history," says Dr. Zarshis Avari

"We have to rely on what the parents and other relatives tell us," he adds.

"Also the some of the organ systems of a newborn child are different to an adult's," he explains. "For example the bones of an adult are fused at the tips, whereas they are not in very young kids.

This makes it difficult for a doctor not experienced in paediatric x-rays to figure out whether the child has a fracture"


The ethical conundrum, he says, with children, is that they cannot make decisions over treatment on their own, and those decisions have to be made for them by their parents or guardians.

Related article: Proper patient histories mean optimum care

"With newborn children there is also the issue of genetic diseases, some of which are very serious and have to be dealt with straight away to maximise the quality of life of the child," he explains. "A child cannot give consent and hence it is up to the parents.

"Sadly, sometimes the parents do not have the baby's best interests at heart."

"Also there are ethical issues surrounding a 10-year-old girl who visits you asking for contraceptive pills," he adds. "Do you tell the parents or not? Do you still maintain privacy of the patient? In most cases, yes."

Related article: No room for emotions in medicine

Avari, who is currently doing his MBBS at the University of Sydney in New South Wales, Australia, adds that doctors also have to sometimes deal with patients who've been suffering from physical and emotional abuse.

"Another ethical conundrum that is not limited to kids but is seen in kids quite often is abuse, be it sexual, physical or emotional. It is the prerogative of the doctor to report any suspected abuse to the authorities."