The Young Hardworking Poor of Rural Bangladesh

Child Labor - Welding in a Garage

If poverty could be eliminated solely by the hardwork and determination of the poor, then third world poverty would have ended a long time ago. The poor in the developing world are some of the hardest working people on the planet. In my latest episode on YouTube, I once again point out something I learned long ago: the poor aren’t lazy.



More photos and details after the jump.

This episode focuses around a group of kids (some as young as eight years old) who were forced to make a choice that many young people in this country face: go to school OR put food on the table. These kids would have had to completely abandon their education if it wasn’t for the fact that some locals from the community decided to form a charity and offer part-time informal schooling (for free) for these kids.

Rural Part-Time School Children

Here’s a photo (above) of me and the students. The school teacher (dressed in a yellow head-scarf) gets paid a mere $15 a month (1000 taka) to teach these kids English, Bengali, and math. She doesn’t even have a blackboard to draw or write stuff down. I try and help using some of my money from my Xbox 360 Challenge. But, that story will have to wait for a later video. :-)

Working at the Tea Shop Stand - 16 Year Old Self-Employed Rural Bangladeshi

The students come to study from 7 am to 9 am and then head off to work full-time. I asked the school teacher if she knows where some of the students work. She took me to a few that work close-by. Shafiqul (the kid welding in the first photo) was one of the students that I got to see work. Johnny (above) owns and runs this tea stand. He reminded me a lot of Mo, the teeanger who started a business of his own trading people’s used bottles in exchange for vegetables. The poor in this country are some of the most creative and industrious people in the world – the students I met in this part-time school were no exception.

Despite this ingenuity and creativity, by being forced to choose between surviving or going to school, many people are trapped in a cycle of poverty. I’m reminded of what Dr. Jeffrey Sachs said – getting kids to go to school is a lot like getting faculty to attend seminars: offer lunch and they will show up. No parent would ask their child to drop-out of school if they knew a daily meal came along with attending school. That’s another thing that I found surprising. None of these children were orphans – all of these students were living with either one or both parents. I can’t help but think that maybe a desire to pull one’s weight and not be a burden on one’s parents was a factor in many of these kids dropping out of school.

  • http://globalfamily.blogg.se Peggy Lee

    Hi there! Been checking out your website, and would very much like to get in touch with you. A few weeks ago I got home from a three weeks staying in Bangladesh, where I trough my global learning studies got the chance to write my final essay about gender issues in Bangladesh before graduating in may.. I´m going back in july for a longer staying, and some volunteering. Would very much like to hear from you, so you´re more than welcome to mail me. Cheers /Susanne Qvist, Sweden

  • http://globalfamily.blogg.se Peggy Lee

    Hi there! Been checking out your website, and would very much like to get in touch with you. A few weeks ago I got home from a three weeks staying in Bangladesh, where I trough my global learning studies got the chance to write my final essay about gender issues in Bangladesh before graduating in may.. I´m going back in july for a longer staying, and some volunteering. Would very much like to hear from you, so you´re more than welcome to mail me. Cheers /Susanne Qvist, Sweden

  • http://globalfamily.blogg.se Peggy Lee

    Hi there! Been checking out your website, and would very much like to get in touch with you. A few weeks ago I got home from a three weeks staying in Bangladesh, where I trough my global learning studies got the chance to write my final essay about gender issues in Bangladesh before graduating in may.. I´m going back in july for a longer staying, and some volunteering. Would very much like to hear from you, so you´re more than welcome to mail me. Cheers /Susanne Qvist, Sweden

  • stan frymann

    Shawn,
    Congratulations on your efforts, Shawn. I don’t suppose you probably get too many e-mails about parking lots, so this is pretty weird, but oh well. I’m fortunate enough to own an apartment building, but as it happens the asphalt parking lot is in a sad state of deterioration. Maybe not by Bangladesh standards, but by local standards. By local standards, “It needs to be replaced.” For $12,000 I can patch it together and in a few year’s it’s back where it is. For $20,000 I can put in all new asphalt. For $45,000 I gan go with concrete, which won’t have to be resurfaced again and again and will last a long, long time. For $55,000 I can have really nice pavers put in. They say, “It’s an investment.” But I ask myself, “What could they do with $55,000 in Bangladesh?”

    I already sponsor three kids through Christian Children’s Fund (even though I’m not a Christian.) I give money to Sight Flight, Smile Train, and various charities working in the 3rd world. We gave $5000 to establish a microcredit bank in Guatemala. We donated $5,000 to help build a school in Nepal. I “do my part.” I live in a studio apartment, drive an 18 year old car, and wear clothes from the thrift store. By our standards, I don’t live an extravagant lifestyle.

    Part of me says, “It’s a business investment. If you want a fancy parking lot the way someone else might want a fancy car, you’ve worked for it, go ahead. But then I see your video about the hard work of Bangladeshis and where it gets them and I wonder it it’s right to spend $55,000 on a parking lot.

    What do you think? Well, parking lot or not, your video has encouraged me to do more than I have been doing. Keep up the good work. Stan

  • stan frymann

    Shawn,
    Congratulations on your efforts, Shawn. I don’t suppose you probably get too many e-mails about parking lots, so this is pretty weird, but oh well. I’m fortunate enough to own an apartment building, but as it happens the asphalt parking lot is in a sad state of deterioration. Maybe not by Bangladesh standards, but by local standards. By local standards, “It needs to be replaced.” For $12,000 I can patch it together and in a few year’s it’s back where it is. For $20,000 I can put in all new asphalt. For $45,000 I gan go with concrete, which won’t have to be resurfaced again and again and will last a long, long time. For $55,000 I can have really nice pavers put in. They say, “It’s an investment.” But I ask myself, “What could they do with $55,000 in Bangladesh?”

    I already sponsor three kids through Christian Children’s Fund (even though I’m not a Christian.) I give money to Sight Flight, Smile Train, and various charities working in the 3rd world. We gave $5000 to establish a microcredit bank in Guatemala. We donated $5,000 to help build a school in Nepal. I “do my part.” I live in a studio apartment, drive an 18 year old car, and wear clothes from the thrift store. By our standards, I don’t live an extravagant lifestyle.

    Part of me says, “It’s a business investment. If you want a fancy parking lot the way someone else might want a fancy car, you’ve worked for it, go ahead. But then I see your video about the hard work of Bangladeshis and where it gets them and I wonder it it’s right to spend $55,000 on a parking lot.

    What do you think? Well, parking lot or not, your video has encouraged me to do more than I have been doing. Keep up the good work. Stan

  • stan frymann

    Shawn,
    Congratulations on your efforts, Shawn. I don’t suppose you probably get too many e-mails about parking lots, so this is pretty weird, but oh well. I’m fortunate enough to own an apartment building, but as it happens the asphalt parking lot is in a sad state of deterioration. Maybe not by Bangladesh standards, but by local standards. By local standards, “It needs to be replaced.” For $12,000 I can patch it together and in a few year’s it’s back where it is. For $20,000 I can put in all new asphalt. For $45,000 I gan go with concrete, which won’t have to be resurfaced again and again and will last a long, long time. For $55,000 I can have really nice pavers put in. They say, “It’s an investment.” But I ask myself, “What could they do with $55,000 in Bangladesh?”

    I already sponsor three kids through Christian Children’s Fund (even though I’m not a Christian.) I give money to Sight Flight, Smile Train, and various charities working in the 3rd world. We gave $5000 to establish a microcredit bank in Guatemala. We donated $5,000 to help build a school in Nepal. I “do my part.” I live in a studio apartment, drive an 18 year old car, and wear clothes from the thrift store. By our standards, I don’t live an extravagant lifestyle.

    Part of me says, “It’s a business investment. If you want a fancy parking lot the way someone else might want a fancy car, you’ve worked for it, go ahead. But then I see your video about the hard work of Bangladeshis and where it gets them and I wonder it it’s right to spend $55,000 on a parking lot.

    What do you think? Well, parking lot or not, your video has encouraged me to do more than I have been doing. Keep up the good work. Stan

  • http://www.marriageandfamilyinislam.blogspot.com mariam kim

    Shawn,
    i just happen tocome across your video on youtbue while i was looking for something else off the topic of poverty, having seen the video of the children who work hard to earn a living like johnny and shequl Islam i believe Allah (im muslim) made me see this to remember that my life is blessed and i have food to eat, to be greatfull instead of moaning,(note to myself, i need to shut and stop moaning.)
    You deserve a Medal of Honor for your good deed in helpsing these poor people. Your story reminds me of a small girl i saw in thailand back in 2004, on a over head walking bridge in bangkok,sukhumvit area, i had never seen poverty untill i went to bangkok..i swear ill never ever forget that little girl, she led there in a little pair of shirts and a vest with a puppy dogg pulling at her, i collapsed from shock and my traveling companion had to literally pick me up & calm me down.I felt hopeless then but thanks to that experiance and the stories from people like yourself i have learnt many things, a simple meal for a poor person can be a big gift after a long day of suffering from an empty stomache.
    Brave Shawn,Allah bless you for all your hard work & showing first hand the hidden truth of how goverments really treat their people in such ill ways by stopping aid coming to them from different lands.
    My Duaa ( suppicaltions) will be with you and the many hundreds who dedicate their time to helping others. May you be given a bright and beautifull place in paradise.Ameen.

  • http://www.marriageandfamilyinislam.blogspot.com mariam kim

    Shawn,
    i just happen tocome across your video on youtbue while i was looking for something else off the topic of poverty, having seen the video of the children who work hard to earn a living like johnny and shequl Islam i believe Allah (im muslim) made me see this to remember that my life is blessed and i have food to eat, to be greatfull instead of moaning,(note to myself, i need to shut and stop moaning.)
    You deserve a Medal of Honor for your good deed in helpsing these poor people. Your story reminds me of a small girl i saw in thailand back in 2004, on a over head walking bridge in bangkok,sukhumvit area, i had never seen poverty untill i went to bangkok..i swear ill never ever forget that little girl, she led there in a little pair of shirts and a vest with a puppy dogg pulling at her, i collapsed from shock and my traveling companion had to literally pick me up & calm me down.I felt hopeless then but thanks to that experiance and the stories from people like yourself i have learnt many things, a simple meal for a poor person can be a big gift after a long day of suffering from an empty stomache.
    Brave Shawn,Allah bless you for all your hard work & showing first hand the hidden truth of how goverments really treat their people in such ill ways by stopping aid coming to them from different lands.
    My Duaa ( suppicaltions) will be with you and the many hundreds who dedicate their time to helping others. May you be given a bright and beautifull place in paradise.Ameen.

  • http://uncultured.com Shawn

    Thanks for the kind words Mariam and Peggy Lee :)

    Stan, you kind of remind me of that fact that the average guy tends to care more about this issue than politicians. If politicians diverted some money that normally would used for pork barreling – they could do more than a thousand or a million parking lots worth of paving.

    But its not a priority for politicians – or at least a lot of them. Hopefully people can change that through political pressure.

  • http://uncultured.com Shawn

    Thanks for the kind words Mariam and Peggy Lee :)

    Stan, you kind of remind me of that fact that the average guy tends to care more about this issue than politicians. If politicians diverted some money that normally would used for pork barreling – they could do more than a thousand or a million parking lots worth of paving.

    But its not a priority for politicians – or at least a lot of them. Hopefully people can change that through political pressure.

  • http://uncultured.com Shawn

    Thanks for the kind words Mariam and Peggy Lee :)

    Stan, you kind of remind me of that fact that the average guy tends to care more about this issue than politicians. If politicians diverted some money that normally would used for pork barreling – they could do more than a thousand or a million parking lots worth of paving.

    But its not a priority for politicians – or at least a lot of them. Hopefully people can change that through political pressure.

  • Carlos

    Where exactly in Bangladesh are you helping the poor ?

  • Cecilia

    You mentioned already donating to Smile Train. That is an organization that puts every penny to use! Awesome, awesome, awesome. http://www.squidoo.com/smiletrain smile train