Working to Help the Poor in Rural Bangladesh

Before you can help – you have to listen. That’s exactly what I did in my latest episode on YouTube. This video is essentially part two of my video on The Young Hardworking Poor of Rural Bangladesh.

Some photos and details after the jump.

People know just what their circumstances are. Boy, are they clever! Boy, do they know what they need! Boy, are they pragmatic! And, boy, are they poor! So they need some help… but they’re ready to work.

– Jeffrey Sachs, 2006 Notre Dame Forum on Global Health

Those words echoed in my head as I was talking to these thirty or so part-time rural school children. We had setup an informal town hall style meeting. Everyone was in a circle and everyone had ideas of what I could do to help them. I had never met kids so eager to learn and to study before. The first thing someone shouted out was “books!” this was followed by “pens!” and then “pencils!”. Before I started the meeting, I was worried they would be too shy to speak up. But, as it turns out, the biggest problem was making sure everyone didn’t speak up all at once!

After I got a general idea of what was needed I asked the community leader (the school was technically run as part of an NGO and so the community leader had the role as director) to make a list and draw up a budget.
Making a Budget

The money I had available had come from some savings I had set aside from my previous job to buy an Xbox 360. While they had asked for less than $300 worth of items – I had already made commitments elsewhere to help others. So, unfortunately, some items on the list had to be cut. The biggest items to be cut? Clothes (over $100) and new school books. It killed me to have to do that. You’d think after doing this for ten months, I’d get used to the hard lessons I’ve had to learn here.
Buying School Supplies

The first stop we made was to a local school supply store. Off-camera, the store keeper had told me that – since I had come with local community members (and had a sense of the language and culture) – they were charging me the actual prices for these items. He explained that, when big foreign charities like World Vision come into town, the local store keepers normally jack up the prices. It’s good to know that even though I’m nowhere near the scale of those guys – I’m operating at a greater cost efficiency than they are 🙂

In the end I was able to buy 90 pens, 90 pencils, 90 notebooks (that’s three of each per student) and 5 boxes of chalk at this store all for 3,000 taka (or about $44 US Dollars).

Here is the store keeper making the bill:

Getting the Bill for the School Supplies

One of the things I found out I couldn’t buy were blackboards. Apparently there were no pre-made blackboards in this rural village. So, instead, I provided the money necessary (1,000 taka or about $15 US Dollars) to have one locally hand-made. When I told them I didn’t have enough money to buy everything on the list – I asked them to prioritize. Almost right away the school teacher spoke up about the need to have a blackboard – because that way she could write things down for all her students to see. I was kind of shocked because I was left wondering how exactly she was teaching so many students without a blackboard.

That wouldn’t be the last time I would be shocked that day…
Pharmacist Looks at the Prescriptions

After we were done at the school supply shop, we went to the pharmacy. It was here that I took a closer look at some of the prescriptions that the students had asked me to buy. One of them was a liquid antacid. Another was for antibiotics (both topical and oral) to treat an eczema-related infection. But the vast majority of the prescriptions the children had asked me to buy were for vitamin deficiency. One was for zinc deficiency, another was for vitamin A deficiency – and so on. It was then that I got the final shock of the day: these prescriptions were essentially a stop-gap solution to compensate for the fact they were suffering from malnutrition. I’m still speechless at that revelation.

In the end, I spent a total of about $71 US Dollars here. This was actually the last place I visited before coming back to Dhaka City. I will have to show where I spent the rest of my Xbox 360 money in the future.

6 Responses to “Working to Help the Poor in Rural Bangladesh”


  1. 1 BooNMiNG

    Hey guy, been watching your videos and reading your blog entries for quite some time now, it’s GREAT !!! It’s so great that you actually took initiative to reach outside and help those who needed it ..

    yes… Me too realised that there are just too many people that need help and we can’t help all of them … so I’ve decided to start it small by helping those locally … … and when in the future i am more capable of doing something bigger.. then let it be …

    Good job and wish you all the best in your life journey!!

  2. 2 BooNMiNG

    Hey guy, been watching your videos and reading your blog entries for quite some time now, it’s GREAT !!! It’s so great that you actually took initiative to reach outside and help those who needed it ..

    yes… Me too realised that there are just too many people that need help and we can’t help all of them … so I’ve decided to start it small by helping those locally … … and when in the future i am more capable of doing something bigger.. then let it be …

    Good job and wish you all the best in your life journey!!

  3. 3 Michele Spencer

    Shawn, Been reading more of your sites. Really comprehensive! You didn’t respond to my offer of lunch for the kids and you. Apparently, you don’t have time. Please create a general response that will cover this and related offers. And don’t make it too hard to find! This is my first computer, purchased Nov. 07, an Apple laptop. Techno Phobe dum-dum, newbie. Thanking you in advance, Michele S.

  4. 4 Shawn

    Hey Michele, you are right, I have been pretty busy lately with all these emails and such I’ve been receiving. I have just sent you an email though – it should be in your inbox by now.

    Take care.

    – Shawn

  5. 5 Shawn

    Hey Michele, you are right, I have been pretty busy lately with all these emails and such I’ve been receiving. I have just sent you an email though – it should be in your inbox by now.

    Take care.

    – Shawn

  6. 6 Shawn

    Hey Michele, you are right, I have been pretty busy lately with all these emails and such I’ve been receiving. I have just sent you an email though – it should be in your inbox by now.

    Take care.

    – Shawn

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