One Difference at a Time – The Follow-Up

Before (read my original article here):

PermaNet (Mosquito Net) Given to a Single Mother of Two

Five Months Later:

Five Months Later...

What’s Different?

  • Clothes – no more walking around shiverring and shirtless! (clothes provided by my aunt)
  • Schooling – the eldest son just graduated from Grade One! (school costs paid for by my mom, dad, and I)
  • No more insects and insect-bites! The PermaNet  I donated to them got rid of the cockroaches that used to crawl around their bed at night. It’s also protected them from being feasted upon by mosquitoes while they slept. (PermaNet donated to this project courtesy of Vestergaard Frandsen – they rock)
  • Can Study in the Dark – that windup flashlight I gave them still works and the eldest son uses it to study. My dad was worried that a five dollar camping flashlight from Wal-Mart wouldn’t be useful as long-term light source in the third world. Five months on, it’s still going on strong. LEDs and hand-cranked rechargable batteries rule!
  • Hungry no more! Malnutrition is a big problem here. And, that doesn’t mean that people aren’t eating meals. Rather, it means that people aren’t eating a lot of the proper stuff – because they can’t afford it. Protein and iron deficieines are all too common here. I found out that most of the poorer locals can’t afford beef or other foods high in protein. There are apparently two kinds of salt sold here. The “poor mans” salt is basically old and low in iron. The good stuff – the kind most reading this have on their dinner tables – is high in iron. Not only did we give them money for food but also, whenever my grandmother is in town, she invites them over for a meal full of all the stuff they normally can’t afford like beef and the “good” kind of salt. I was able to share such a meal with them earlier today.

Here’s a photo I took shortly after eating along with them:

One Difference at a Time - The Follow-Up

One of the things I remember Dr. Jeffrey Sachs talking about was how the poor know what they need but just cannot afford to buy it. Now that I knew the basics (protection from insect bites, funds for school, helping with food, etc) were taken care of – I could finally ask them: what do they need? I could tell no one ever asked the mother this question because it kind of took her aback. After some hesitation, the mother turned to the eldest son and quietly talked to him for a bit. She then turned to me and said it would really help if I could buy them a desk and a couple of chairs. They can’t afford it and, because of it, the son needs to study on the bed (as you can see in episode one).

Since Ikea hasn’t opened up a shop yet in rural Bangladesh, I was kind of worried that this would cost a bit of money. Afterall, all the furniture here is hand-made. And when was the last time anything hand-made was cheap, right? I went to the local bazar with my grandmother and we scouted out a couple of good hand-made chairs and a hand-made table to go along with it – not unlike the table and chair I’m using right now. Turns out the whole thing cost eight bucks. Eight bucks. Wow. Let me put it this way: There is a vending machine on the ground floor of the Hesburgh Library back at Notre Dame that has stolen more than eight bucks from me.

If I was looking for a pat on the back about my work – I’d end this article here. But, no good deed goes unpunished and nothing good comes without trouble. So click the jump to hear more…

The first surprise was shortly aftering paying for the chairs and the desk. I had taken out my camera to film the purchase because I wanted to use it in a future YouTube episode. Normally, a guy talking English would attract a crowd. But a guy talking English AND waiving a camera brought half the bazar around me. Someone in the crowd decided to make a fuss and started yelling at us after I got back into the car. Why were we filming? What business did we have here? He was demanding to know. It later turned out that they were afraid I was with the government and was a scout for some sort of future crackdown (on what? selling chairs without a chair-selling permit?). Fortunately, my grandmother started explaining who I was, what we were doing, and how we weren’t a threat to them. “This is my home” she said, “this is my grandson” and she then started mentioning names of some of our relatives that are well known in the area.

I can only imagine what my friend Mikey would have done in this situation since he doesn’t have a family connection in Bangladesh and can’t mention the names of local family members when he runs into trouble….

The second surprise – or sad revelation – came later that evening when the single mother of two (her name is Shaeda by the way) was inspecting her new table and chairs. She seemed sad for some reason. I asked if I had bought something crappy by accident or if it was the wrong kind of chair or desk. She explained to me and my grandmother that she’s concerned that she will get flak from her relatives. Her relatives – who are no better off than her – are already jealous of the support I have been showing her. We’ve given them food, clothing, money for school, and now chairs and a desk. In this crazy world we live in, she probably wouldn’t have gotten flak if (out of financial desperation) she abandoned her kids in an orphanage and remarried. But, as someone who now no longer needs to get married for financial reasons, can afford to keep her kids, and can help her children build a future – she’s getting flak from her relatives.

My friend Jeff at Notre Dame describes my work as “saving the world”. When I hear story’s like that which I just heard from Shaeda – I sometimes feel I’m the band that keeps playing while the Titanic sinks…

I don’t want to end this article on a sad note. So I’ll leave you this photo of those cute kids (this photo apparently caught the the younger one burping after eating lunch with me) :

Close-Up - These Aren't Hungry Faces

  • Jasimuz Zaman

    Dear Shawn:
    I was your dad’s teacher at BUET. Your mother gave my wife your website.
    So I just took a quick look.
    It is wonderful what you are doing.
    I have some projects in Bangladesh high schools. May be we can share some thing.
    As of now, I can only say that I am very proud of you.
    More if you reply.
    Best wishes,
    Jasimuz Zaman

  • Jasimuz Zaman

    Dear Shawn:
    I was your dad’s teacher at BUET. Your mother gave my wife your website.
    So I just took a quick look.
    It is wonderful what you are doing.
    I have some projects in Bangladesh high schools. May be we can share some thing.
    As of now, I can only say that I am very proud of you.
    More if you reply.
    Best wishes,
    Jasimuz Zaman

  • Star Hossain

    I am incredibly touched by this story. I am an American single mother of two (divorced) and my ex-husband (bangali) has remarried, but is currently going through very difficult treatment for Leukemia. It has been an incredible struggle — I work full time and am trying to keep my sanity raising my kids on my own. You’ve certainly made me remember my blessings: I live in Dallas, drive a dependable car, and my kids have all of the physical comforts they could ask for — in fact, they’re pretty spoiled. (well, as much as they can be after worrying about their dad)

    I know what you mean about Sheeda (bhabi) catching it for getting her new things — My father in law in Dhaka had the money for a car, but didn’t want anyone in the community knowing that– so they never bought one. Its a pervasive mentality.

    If you get a chance, please let me know if/how I can help. It is difficult paying zakat here — I don’t know who to trust organization wise, and I don’t know anyone here who really could use it. Seems like some of the little that I have could go a long way there.

    My email is starh@hotmail.com

    thanks, and salaam

  • Star Hossain

    I am incredibly touched by this story. I am an American single mother of two (divorced) and my ex-husband (bangali) has remarried, but is currently going through very difficult treatment for Leukemia. It has been an incredible struggle — I work full time and am trying to keep my sanity raising my kids on my own. You’ve certainly made me remember my blessings: I live in Dallas, drive a dependable car, and my kids have all of the physical comforts they could ask for — in fact, they’re pretty spoiled. (well, as much as they can be after worrying about their dad)

    I know what you mean about Sheeda (bhabi) catching it for getting her new things — My father in law in Dhaka had the money for a car, but didn’t want anyone in the community knowing that– so they never bought one. Its a pervasive mentality.

    If you get a chance, please let me know if/how I can help. It is difficult paying zakat here — I don’t know who to trust organization wise, and I don’t know anyone here who really could use it. Seems like some of the little that I have could go a long way there.

    My email is starh@hotmail.com

    thanks, and salaam