Archive for the 'Global Health' Category

We Speak For Ourselves

When it comes to international aid and development, we are all biased. It doesn’t matter if you’re a donor reading pamphlets, a celebrity or YouTuber endorsing your favorite NGO, a journalist interviewing villagers, an academic outside of the ivory tower, an experienced aid professional talking about “good aid”, or even a free agent trying to be a bridge-maker.

There is nothing nefarious about this fact. We as human beings, while capable of untold capacities for empathy, will never have a complete verstehen and fully imagine the complexity of others. This is important because the arbiters of what is and is not “good aid” and what does and does not “harm the poor” must be the ones whom international aid is meant to serve.

This latest video, which among other things shows a project I did in collaboration with Save the Children, is my attempt to bring the poor one step closer to being able to speak for themselves. This is by no means the pinnacle of the kind of global voice I think the poorest of the poor should have. Rather, I see this as merely Step 4 out of a 5 Step Program.

This video also connects with a lot of things I’ve talked about on this blog – from mistrust of NGOs in Bangladesh, to raising overhead separately, to Islamic POVs on aid (which partly influences why many Bangladeshis talk about overhead), to the need for the poor to be more digitally and globally connected, to explaining the significance of the woman (near the end of the video) blessing the donors.

If you’re new to my work then I should point out this isn’t about raising as much money as possible. If you want to donate, I strongly suggest you consider donating to Save the Children instead of me. My goal has always been just to change the conversation on global poverty – that means less guilt, pushing for diversity, and letting the poor speak for themselves.

The Final Week?

This is maybe my final week in Bangladesh.

Since I landed, I’ve been trying to complete projects related to Challenge Poverty. As you know, I’ve been working on building that Pond Sand Filter and repairing that school. It’s been nearly 6 months and I want to wrap everything up in the next 72 hours. Yeah…. that maybe a bit ambitious. Fingers crossed.

The good news is that the water quality of that Pond Sand Filter is now clear, clean, and deemed safe to drink by official tests conducted by the Department of Public Health here in Bangladesh. Here’s a photo. One is a glass of water from the Pond Sand Filter and the other is a glass of store bought mineral water. Can you tell which is which?

Pond Sand Filter Water vs. Store Bought Mineral Water

Mineral Water (Left), Pond Sand Filter Water (Right) has been tested by the Department of Public Health thanks to Save the Children

Getting to this point has been long. Since landing there was the BDR mutiny which stopped things, Cyclone Aila which stopped things, and normal bureaucracy and office meetings which come with trying to do something like this. Save the Children has been helping me navigate most of this as best they can and now we’re pulling out all the stops to get this done before I fly home.

The question is – am I going back for a break or for good? Back in January, I wrote that if I can’t sustain this project I’m gonna have to pack up in 12 months time. By “sustain” I want to do this in a way that doesn’t impoverish my parents. My savings are long gone – and I do this by borrowing from my parents. We’re not Rockefellers unfortunately – just regular Suburban Middle Class Canadians (basically like Americans… but we get free health care).

I also don’t want to start taking a cut from people’s donations. That still just doesn’t sit right with me.

I’ve decided to spend the next few months trying to figure ways to sustain this work. During this project, I’ve learned a lot about the world of charity work. One things that surprised me is that this field is a hell of a lot more competitive than I ever imagined. Many orgs prefer to copy & compete instead of collaborate & create. These orgs and charities like my approach – but want to replicate it internally instead of teaming up 🙁

Save the Children has really been the exception by being supportive, open, and collaborative (instead of competitive). Going forward, I’m hoping there are other exceptions out there…


What’s going to happen with your donations? Don’t worry I’m not gonna run away with them! In my attempt to network with more charities and organizations that I’d like to team up with, it’s easier to propose to do certain projects and/or team up when you can assure them you already have the funds. So please, feel free to keep donating to either the project fund or the operating and equipment fund.

Crystal Clear Community Water

This is a bottle of Evian water:


You can buy yours for about $2.25 at a convenience store for about a 1.5 L bottle.

Here’s what you guys spent your money on instead:

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

Pond Sand Filter Water Samples (click for larger size)

This is water samples from the near-finished Pond Sand Filter. Paid for by donations from you and voted democratically upon in Challenge Poverty. This will serve over 50 families in rural Bangladesh and has the potential (if maintained inexpensively by the local community) for approximately ten years.

Just some of the 50+ Families to Benefit from This

Just some of the 50+ Families to Benefit from This

Thanks to Save the Children for tirelessly working on this to make sure this small rural community gets to drink water as clear as if it came from the French Alps.

Open Letter & Appeal to Charities in Bangladesh


Image via AFP

Although not anywhere near as bad as Cyclone Sidr which hit Bangladesh in 2007, Cyclone Alia has already killed 100 over 200 people with many more displaced and without access to shelter or clean & safe drinking water. I want to help – but I might as well be back in my bed in Canada because that goal is so very far away.

I need a hero.

Nick Downie (Save the Children) On the Boat with Me

Nick Downie (2007)

I was able to help during Cyclone Sidr because of someone who is now a personal hero of mine. His name is Nick Downie. Back during Cyclone Sidr, he was working for Save the Children UK. In the midst of all this death and trauma, Nick saw the sincerity in my desire to help… and gave me the opportunity.


Helping Kids with Save the Children

Thanks to him approximately 35 children at a Save the Children Safe Center were provided with blankets to sleep under in advance of the winter season that was quickly approaching. Without any homes or shelter, those blankets were the only way many of those children & families were able to stay warm that winter. I’m willing to help again and have even more to offer this time.

One LifeStraw = Clean Water For One Year

One LifeStraw = Clean Water For A Year

Thanks to Vestergaard-Frandsen I have 45 personal water purification units. These can turn water from any salt-free source (a pond, a river, a lake) and turn it into safe drinking water. I have 10 insecticide treated tarpaulins – useful as shelter and to keep disease spread by bugs away. I also have donations from over 22 different countries ready to be spent. But I have no means to help anyone just by myself.

I need a hero again.

Thus far, my friends at Save the Children are working up the various chains of command trying to see if I can team up again. No word yet – but I am hopeful. A friend at the American International School helped me network with the Deputy Country Director of Care Bangladesh. The Deputy Country Director thanked me for the offer – and then politely denied my request.

I am ready willing, and able to go to the field right away. I know it’s not going to be a glamorous experience. Last time I went, the “toilet” was nothing more than a hole in the ground and my “bed” was nothing more than two abandoned school desks put together. I don’t ask for much except the opportunity to get out there, help, and share the story with those interested in following along.

It’s disasters like Cyclone Alia that highlight a painful reality for me here in Bangladesh. Charities are more than happy for people like me to raise awareness & funds for them back home. But doing the same with them on the ground is a completely different reality – and the majority of charities haven’t given me the time of day to even consider the possibility.

Now more than ever, I need someone to help me so I can help others.

A Walk Through a Slum

Slum Lady Washes Clothes by the Pond

Slum Lady Washes Clothes by the Pond

When it comes to my work in Bangladesh, I tend to focus a lot on rural villages. This probably seems strange since there is so much poverty just outside of my door here in Dhaka City. A few days back, along with a more adventurous friend, I decided to take a closer look at one of these slums…

I’ve seen people in slums wash their hands, do their dishes, and use the bathroom in ponds adjacent to slums. Until this walk, I always assumed that this was their primary (and only) water source.

In reality, many slum residents (dwellers?) dig make-shift wells by digging large holes into the ground. They can than use this water from everything to washing clothes, taking bucket-showers, and drinking. It’s not great – but it’s far better than drinking from the filthy ponds.

Slum Dwellers Dig Make-Shift Wells for Clean Water

Slum Lady Uses Make-Shift Well

Many charitable organizations and communities in the city (like this Buddhist monastery in an older part of Dhaka) have water stations. Local residents and slum dwellers fill their pots & pans to use back home. It’s crystal clear water – but unless you boil or purify it – you can still get sick.

Along this particular walk, I found not only make-shift wells but also mothers doing laundry with and bathing their children with well water. It may sound silly but it really made me realize that people living in slums are just like us.

No – let me say it another way. People living in slums are us.

Filling It Up With Water

In Line for Water at a Water Station at a Buddhist Monastery

People living in slums like drinking clean water as much as we do. They like having showers, staying healthy, and having clean clothes. And, as the mother who bathed her child behind some discarded straw bags made into a “shower curtain” can probably attest, they like to keep their dignity just like us.

The challenge for me is turning this sentiment into something that can benefit those living in (or trying to get out of) urban slums. Fighting poverty in slums is a lot harder than fighting poverty in rural villages. Slums are home to criminal gangs, drug dealers, and people ready and willing to steal any aid you give. Adults and children in slums also are at a higher risk of facing problems such as drug addiction, human trafficking, and violence.

As some of my more charity-centric family members can attest, trying to lend a hand in a slum can be a risky and dangerous experience. But, after my recent experience, it is definitely something I want to look into.

Thank You YouTube

For this year’s Project for Awesome, I decided to pull out all the stops and show you guys a lot of the stuff I’ve been doing but haven’t had the time to put into individual episodes or videos. I keep saying that this project is less about me and more about the community behind it – hopefully this latest video helps convey that.

And, yeah, this video does use copyrighted music by Coldplay (part of EMI Records). I did enough research into YouTube’s agreement with EMI Records and am fairly certain this video won’t be taken down. But, of course, I also had to forfeit any chance of earning any ad revenue and (as I later found out) any reasonable chance of having this video being featured or promoted. EMI can also reserve the right to take down this video, region lock it, or place ads on it where they can earn all the ad revenue from it (just like the Counting Crows & Universal Music have region locked my Cyclone Sidr video and take all the ad revenue from it).

But that’s cool. This was a kind of video I wanted to make for ages. I just never could find the right match of visuals and music until I heard “Life in Technicolor ii” by Coldplay.

What I Was Doing In Kenya

So what was I doing in Kenya? I had mentioned before that I had tagged along with Vestergaard-Frandsen. It turns out that the CEO of Vestergaard Frandsen decided to single-handedly create the world’s largest privately funded global health campaign.

It was so big, in fact, that even CNN decided to cover it:

The way I see it, the CEO of Vestergaard Frandsen basically packed his bags, liquidated a huge part of his personal savings, and went to Kenya to see how he could make a difference. Why does that sound familiar? 😉

I definitely feel a kinship with Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen – and his willingness to spend his own dime to do this is one of the many reasons I am proud to support these guys in whatever way I can.