Using YouTube with a Purpose

I titled this video “Using YouTube with a Purpose” because, really, this couldn’t have been done without the help of a little website called YouTube and the community that is part of it (in particular the Nerdfighter community). From the donors Hank and Pat – both of whom are YouTubers – to the musicians who lent their music for free in this video such as Jamison Young, Brad Sucks, and Josh Woodward. And, here in Bangladesh, if Rick Davis never found my videos on YouTube – I would have never thought to make this trip nor would I have been able to meet the amazing children in this rural village.

If you notice in this video, I use a clip from one of my sadder videos – The Hard Lessons of Aid Work. That’s because, even though I don’t talk much about it in this video, I did learn a lot from this experience. I now have a better understanding about why big name charities need to have large overhead and infrastructure. I also have a better understanding of how help can sometimes come with a risk and how even trying to help can sometimes have it its pros and cons.

All that plus some photos from the field after the jump.

The Business of Risk

Everything about this particular trip was risky: the military control, the risk of terrorism and kidnapping (as the military personnel who stopped us had specifically warned us about), and the malaria. But, for me, the riskiest thing of all was giving Hank and Pat’s hard earned money to be supervised by an NGO that had yet to prove itself or get on its feet. It was new NGO, it had hopes for the people they were trying to help, and it wasn’t getting much help. The fact that it was an NGO run by local tribal villagers instead of “Bengalis” (though technically they were Bangladeshi as well) might have been part of the reason this NGO wasn’t getting much help.

  • The Potential Risk: This NGO could be too new to know how to properly handle this money. It could squander it or mismanage it and it could all go to waste. Or worse, this NGO could be a scam out to benefit no one but themselves.
  • The Potential Payoff: This NGO could be an honest to goodness legitimate organization that has got the short end of the stick in terms of getting local support because of its tribal and non-Bengali heritage. Some high profile support might be just whats needed for them to prove their legitimacy and gather greater support.

Groom in Jeans and a Baseball Cap

In this photo: One of the NGO directors talks to Rick Davis (now an unpaid advisor to this NGO). When dealing with new unproven NGOs, there is no way to tell if you are being scammed or if they are too inexperienced to be effective. You really got to take a risk and trust people.

The Greater the Flexibility, the Greater the Risk

Sponsorship programs aren’t at all a new thing. They’ve been around for a while in many different forms. The basic idea is that a family in a more well off part of the world helps a family (or a specific child) in the developing “third” world. Sometimes the child will correspond with his or her sponsor parent. Sometimes the sponsor parent can get a photo of the child he or she maybe sponsoring. But, it’s never that simple.

Many NGOs and charities that have been doing sponsorship programs for a while have kind of perfected how to create a balance. Because charities like Save the Children (as I’ve been told by those who work there) realize that for an individual child to benefit – sometimes the community needs to benefit as a whole. For example, to prevent a sponsored child from getting intestinal worms, sometimes its necessary to treat an entire village.

But, the sponsorship program proposed by this NGO is something sometimes referred to as a stipend-based sponsorship. Meaning that a sponsor family gives X dollars a month (or all at once for the year as I did with Pat and Hank’s donations) and the NGO will give the sponsor family X dollars minus their administrative costs.

  • The Risk of a Stipend Sponsorship: A lot of people have been burned by stipend sponsorships. Some have hoped that families would wisely invest this money in their children’s future or use it to invest it in starting a business. But many times sponsored families use the money to loan it out to others, spend it all on luxury items, or simply waste it. More importantly, giving out cash can sometimes be perceived as a handout in its literal form.
  • The Payoff of a Stipend Sponsorship: A stipend sponsorship does something not many other forms of help can give – it gives them control and gives them choice. Yes, they can choose to misspend it; but they can also choose to spend it wisely. A stipend sponsorship can also be a means to develop skills such as savings, investment, and budgeting. These are the kind of skills needed if a family is to pull themselves out of poverty.

Inherently, this all boils down to trust. Do you trust the NGO to do the right thing and do it efficiently? Do you trust the family to spend the money wisely and not waste it? There is a lot of potential for good to come out of this. But, I’d be lying if this kind of help was a 100% guaranteed sure thing.

Rithanu and His Mom

In this photo: Rithanu (right) and his mother Nipona (left). With a stipend-based sponsorship, it is up to the family to decide when, where, and how they will invest and spend Hank Green’s money. Do they use it to fix their leaky roof? Pay for the medical expenses involved in Rithanu’s younger sister’s stomach pains? Or waste it all away? In the end, its not about guarantees – its about trust.

The Human Connection

With all  travel expenses, PayPal fees, bank fees, and the expenses I had to bear while I recovered from an illness I got from this trip – I know I’ll never be as efficient as a big name charity. That’s part of the reason why I say I’m not trying to become a charity or be an NGO. What I wanted to do is get to know the people I am helping and – through YouTube – bring that human connection to everyone else. While I didn’t have much time in this rural village, I got to know Rithanu (and to a certain extent Jack) rather well.

Jack (The Camera Shy Malaria Survivor)

In this photo: Jack – the 7 year old tribal Buddhist villager in the Chittagong Hill-Tracts was able to benefit from a stipend sponsorship funded by fellow YouTube user (and Uncultured Project supporter) Patrick. Unfortunately, Jack’s camera shyness meant that I don’t have much footage of him.

Rithanu and His Mom

In this photo: Rithanu and his mother.

Rithanu is an 11 year old malaria survivor. Along with his sister (currently suffering from intestinal pains of an unknown cause), his brother, and his mother – they all have first hand experience of what its like to be infected by malaria. Meeting Rithanu reminded me of all the children I met in another village who tried to balance schooling and full-time jobs. From what I understood, Rithanu is a full-time student – but its only because his mom and dad juggle four full and part-time jobs. The husband is a full-time farmer and was working and was unable to show up on camera.

Rithanu’s mother, on the other hand, has three different jobs. First, she’s a subsistence farmer and cultivator – the meal she was preparing for her family when I met her, she farmed herself. Second, she is an independent winemaker and seller. In this mostly non-Muslim part of Bangladesh, alcohol consumption and selling is both common. For wine makers such as Rithanu’s mom, it’s also a way of earning a living. Not that it’s easy. When I asked to see how she makes wine her kitchen turned into a small little laboratory with Rithanu and her mom running to grab bottles, pipes, and firewood.

Rithanu and His Mom Make Wine

In this photo: Rithanu and his mom make a local rice wine to sell.

Why Malaria Prevention Fights Poverty

The thing that struck me about my conversation with Rithanu and his mom about how they dealt with malaria is how it derailed things for them. It is possible to buy medicine and get to a doctor – but its not easy or convenient. From what I understood, when the first signs of malaria set in, they first tried to treat it with “other medicine” (antibiotics). When that didn’t work they went to a doctor, got a blood test, and started taking anti-malaria medicine.

These things cost money, and from what I understood, when there is a pressing need for more money the mother would sometimes take yet another job as a maid/servant in a wealthier person’s home. It’s hard to save money to pull yourself up or to invest in the future when you are bogged down with malaria. In fact, Rick Davis’s sponsor child – Aloren – had malaria virtually every year since before he was a teenager. He lost count, but according to locals it was anywhere from 9 to 10 times.

Rick and His The Child He's Sponsoring

In this photo: Rick Davis with his sponsor child – Aloren. Aloren has survived malaria at least 9 times.

In addition to bringing money donated by Hank and Pat, I decided to bring the last PermaNet in my possession. This was donated by Vestergaard-Frandsen. What makes this net special? It’s treated with an insecticide that is safe for humans and last for years. It is constructed in a way that is both tear and dirt resistant. My only regret is that we didn’t have the time to distribute the other anti-malaria gear Vestergaard-Frandsen had donated to me (like ZeroFly which helps prevent the spread of mosquito-borne diseases even when you aren’t inside a net).

Rithanu Sets Up the PermaNet

Rithanu's Mom Helps Hang Their New PermaNet Rithanu Ties the Knot on His New PermaNet

In these photos: Rithanu and his mom setup their PermaNet donated by me with the assistance of Vestergaard-Frandsen.

It Takes Money to Give Money

I’ve heard of the phrase “it takes money to give money” but I always brushed it off. But now that I have started to use the money people have donated to me via PayPal, I am starting to realize how much that is true. Rick Davis, who generously paid for my trip to the Chittagong Hill-Tracts, sent me an excel spreadsheet which showed just how much it took to get there and back:

  • Transportation + Gas (roundtrip): $300
  • Hotel (2 Nights): $35.00
  • Food (total): $30

On top of that, there were PayPal and bank fees. PayPal has a variable percentage charge. PayPal takes a smaller cut from larger donations and a bigger cut from smaller donations. For example, PayPal took a little over $7.50 for both Pat and Hank’s donations. But some people who have donated $1, PayPal takes 44 cents. On top of that there were also bank fees. So, in total, there was about $20 which was taken from Pat and Hank’s donation before it even reached my hands.

Even with the money in my hand and travel and lodging expenses covered, there was still the issue of the NGO’s administrative fees. This particular NGO wanted to take 3 dollars PER month PER donation as part of their administrative costs – or $72 from both donations. I understand that NGOs need to pay their staff and that they can’t run off the kindness of others (like this project seems to be running) – but that seemed ridiculous. What made me more uncomfortable was that there was originally a miscommunication with the NGO director. I had originally thought he was asking for $3 per YEAR per donation. It was later, on camera, that he stated that the NGO required $3 per MONTH per donation.

I resolved this by negotiating and making a separate donation of about $30 (vs $72) to cover the administrative expenses demanded by this NGO. In exchange, the NGO promised to not take a dime from both Pat and Hank’s donation. While I understand NGOs need money in order to operate and administer things – I just couldn’t bring myself to let the donations be spent in this manner. As I try and team up with more NGOs, I will have to figure out how I can come to terms with this reality.

Finally, I officially think I’ve finally found a friend here who is as crazy as me. Take a look at Rick’s alternative to the shaky bamboo bridge:

Rick Walks Across the River (#2)

18 Responses to “Using YouTube with a Purpose”


  1. 1 Laura

    Hi! I really love your blog I really do, I look forward to all your videos and posts, even if they make me feel a bit sad after reading them (like the one with the beggar street children). But theyre always worth it. I just got back from a week of building a house for a family in need in West Virgina and it just made me think how theres poverty everywhere. And I really see what the people of rich Bangladesh are coming from. I never thought in my life that anyone in the United States could live like this. With no water, no sanitation, no way to keep warm, no way to possibly get a job. We worked as hard as we could, and managed to put up an addition for a bathroom. But their well is dirty and needs purifying before anything can be done. I sometimes wonder if they will have water before the summer is over and I doubt it. But when I talked to the mother of this family about the constant butterflies that were landing on our hammers and hair she just laughed and said “Oh theyre everywhere. They remind me how beautiful this area is. I wouldn’t live anywhere else,” I know that I’m kind of rambling here but when I watch youre videos or read your blogs you remind me of how when I help the poor its not just about serving my time and leaving. Its about their lives, and how even though they are in situations that are truely awful but they are still smiling. And I just really wanted to say to you although its hard, and it makes you want to cry because the world is unfair, and you struggle to change something thats just so big and out of control as poverty is. Youre now forever imprinted on this person’s life, positive or negative. They will know that someone was there, that was going to help. You’re a really strong person and I admire you. Never give up. Because those people in poverty? They never give up.

    When I have my sweet sixteen (months after my actual birthday… which is another long story and this post is already crazy long) I’m going to ask for all my presents to be donations to you. Because this is the work I want to be doing when I get older. Thank you.

  2. 2 Laura

    Hi! I really love your blog I really do, I look forward to all your videos and posts, even if they make me feel a bit sad after reading them (like the one with the beggar street children). But theyre always worth it. I just got back from a week of building a house for a family in need in West Virgina and it just made me think how theres poverty everywhere. And I really see what the people of rich Bangladesh are coming from. I never thought in my life that anyone in the United States could live like this. With no water, no sanitation, no way to keep warm, no way to possibly get a job. We worked as hard as we could, and managed to put up an addition for a bathroom. But their well is dirty and needs purifying before anything can be done. I sometimes wonder if they will have water before the summer is over and I doubt it. But when I talked to the mother of this family about the constant butterflies that were landing on our hammers and hair she just laughed and said “Oh theyre everywhere. They remind me how beautiful this area is. I wouldn’t live anywhere else,” I know that I’m kind of rambling here but when I watch youre videos or read your blogs you remind me of how when I help the poor its not just about serving my time and leaving. Its about their lives, and how even though they are in situations that are truely awful but they are still smiling. And I just really wanted to say to you although its hard, and it makes you want to cry because the world is unfair, and you struggle to change something thats just so big and out of control as poverty is. Youre now forever imprinted on this person’s life, positive or negative. They will know that someone was there, that was going to help. You’re a really strong person and I admire you. Never give up. Because those people in poverty? They never give up.

    When I have my sweet sixteen (months after my actual birthday… which is another long story and this post is already crazy long) I’m going to ask for all my presents to be donations to you. Because this is the work I want to be doing when I get older. Thank you.

  3. 3 Shawn

    Dear Laura,

    I am truly touched by your comment. Because – both literally and figuratively – you hit the nail on the head. There is poor people everywhere. Sure, the need isn’t always so apparent and great as in a country as Bangladesh, but there are people that need our help everywhere. The United States is no exception. And sometimes poverty within the US is the most hidden poverty of all.

    And I gotta say as far as Sweet Sixteen birthdays go – that’s as pretty selfless as you can get. Although you should probably check with your parents as – if they are going to donate a large amount – they might be better off donating to a registered charity. That way, they can write it off on their taxes.

    Keep in touch!

    – Shawn

    Oh and the story about the beggar street children was written by my friend Matt whose currently in Uganda. Although I did write a post about Bangladeshi street beggars many many months ago as well..

  4. 4 Shawn

    Dear Laura,

    I am truly touched by your comment. Because – both literally and figuratively – you hit the nail on the head. There is poor people everywhere. Sure, the need isn’t always so apparent and great as in a country as Bangladesh, but there are people that need our help everywhere. The United States is no exception. And sometimes poverty within the US is the most hidden poverty of all.

    And I gotta say as far as Sweet Sixteen birthdays go – that’s as pretty selfless as you can get. Although you should probably check with your parents as – if they are going to donate a large amount – they might be better off donating to a registered charity. That way, they can write it off on their taxes.

    Keep in touch!

    – Shawn

    Oh and the story about the beggar street children was written by my friend Matt whose currently in Uganda. Although I did write a post about Bangladeshi street beggars many many months ago as well..

  5. 5 Zak

    Hey…

    Another nice and awesome post. I love reading your blogs and watching your videos( I am sure this isn’t the first time you are hearing this anyway). You are doing a great job and inspiring others to do the same, which is amazing. I am planning on doing something like that it’s a little bit diffent. Anyway keep up the great work 🙂 .

    Zak

    ps. I will be in Bangladesh for the month of July, if you want to hang out one day or if I could join you while you are doing your thing, that would be great. Let me know..

  6. 6 Zak

    Hey…

    Another nice and awesome post. I love reading your blogs and watching your videos( I am sure this isn’t the first time you are hearing this anyway). You are doing a great job and inspiring others to do the same, which is amazing. I am planning on doing something like that it’s a little bit diffent. Anyway keep up the great work 🙂 .

    Zak

    ps. I will be in Bangladesh for the month of July, if you want to hang out one day or if I could join you while you are doing your thing, that would be great. Let me know..

  7. 7 Lelung Khumi

    Hi Shawn,

    I love watching and reading your you tube video and writing about CHT Indigenous people in Bangladesh.

    I’m really inspired by your praise worthy works. I know how difficult it is to get out of this poverty net because I’m a member of CHT. I belong to a small ethnic group called ‘khumi’ in CHT in Bangladesh. The khumi people are endangered as they have no access to education and due to the lack of government supports.

    I wonder if I could be part of your program in some ways to help this endangered Khumi people.

    Looking forward to hearing from you.

    All the best,

    Lelung

  8. 8 Lelung Khumi

    Hi Shawn,

    I love watching and reading your you tube video and writing about CHT Indigenous people in Bangladesh.

    I’m really inspired by your praise worthy works. I know how difficult it is to get out of this poverty net because I’m a member of CHT. I belong to a small ethnic group called ‘khumi’ in CHT in Bangladesh. The khumi people are endangered as they have no access to education and due to the lack of government supports.

    I wonder if I could be part of your program in some ways to help this endangered Khumi people.

    Looking forward to hearing from you.

    All the best,

    Lelung

  9. 9 Lelung Khumi

    Hi Shawn,

    I love watching and reading your you tube video and writing about CHT Indigenous people in Bangladesh.

    I’m really inspired by your praise worthy works. I know how difficult it is to get out of this poverty net because I’m a member of CHT. I belong to a small ethnic group called ‘khumi’ in CHT in Bangladesh. The khumi people are endangered as they have no access to education and due to the lack of government supports.

    I wonder if I could be part of your program in some ways to help this endangered Khumi people.

    Looking forward to hearing from you.

    All the best,

    Lelung

  10. 10 Lelung Khumi

    Hi Shawn,

    This is Lelung again. I just wanted to send one of khumi webs that I designed few months ago.

    To view the web, please click at: http://khumib.ning.com/profile/zdpydtdk5evg . From this web, you’ll know about the Khumi people I briefly introduced in my previous mail.

    Best,

    Lelung

    Australia

  11. 11 Lelung Khumi

    Hi Shawn,

    This is Lelung again. I just wanted to send one of khumi webs that I designed few months ago.

    To view the web, please click at: http://khumib.ning.com/profile/zdpydtdk5evg . From this web, you’ll know about the Khumi people I briefly introduced in my previous mail.

    Best,

    Lelung

    Australia

  12. 12 coetsee

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    Thanks N regards
    Coetsee

    onlineuniversalwork

  13. 13 coetsee

    I think your website is interesting very colorful. Good job! I feel helping job seekers finding their ream home jobs are a fulfilling quest. Good luck in your quest too.- The Beginning The working life is already tough enough, but the worries of being out of work was even tougher. The unsecured working environment have prompted me to search the internet for an alternative source of extra income so that I could learn how to Make Money Work for me and be Financially Independent. I listed down a number of Free Internet Business Opportunity Ideas while researching ways how people earn money online while working-from-home…….

    Thanks N regards
    Coetsee

    onlineuniversalwork

  14. 14 coetsee

    I think your website is interesting very colorful. Good job! I feel helping job seekers finding their ream home jobs are a fulfilling quest. Good luck in your quest too.- The Beginning The working life is already tough enough, but the worries of being out of work was even tougher. The unsecured working environment have prompted me to search the internet for an alternative source of extra income so that I could learn how to Make Money Work for me and be Financially Independent. I listed down a number of Free Internet Business Opportunity Ideas while researching ways how people earn money online while working-from-home…….

    Thanks N regards
    Coetsee

    onlineuniversalwork

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  1. 1 The Uncultured Project: An indepth look at its past and present. « Glimpses of Humanity

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