As a Muslim, I feel personally ashamed at what happened on September 11th, 2001. I know I shouldn’t be – I wasn’t (nor any Muslim I could possibly personally know) involved in that heinous act.
But Islam emphasizes unity. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Canadian Muslim, Arab Muslim, or a Bangladeshi Muslim. It makes me think: the 9/11 hijackers probably prayed in the direction of Mecca and fasted for Ramadan just like me.
Yet, the first thing that most Muslims around the world did was point out that the perpetrators of 9/11 don’t represent them or Islam. As if distancing ourselves ...
Have To Be Poor To Help The Poor?
If you follow me on Twitter, you already know I'm back in Bangladesh. When I'm Dhaka, I live with my maternal uncle and aunt. Lately, I've been noticing a trend.
Just a few days ago, when I came back home carrying a bunch of groceries, my uncle chastised me saying "you better not have used any donations to pay for those groceries!". In his mind, using donations - however small - for my own food, clothing, or anything that benefits me would be tantamount to stealing.
[caption id="attachment_3748" align="aligncenter" width="499" caption="Toilet paper, antibiotics, soap, and pajamas - not taking a salary from ...
An Open Letter to Invisible Children Supporters
Dear Supporters of Invisible Children,
A lot of you may be confused at all the criticism that Invisible Children (IC) has faced as of late. Perhaps you feel that this criticism is coming from people who fail to understand the mission and nature of IC. Alternatively, perhaps, you may feel that this criticism - while having some merit - has been unfairly blown out of proportion.
What I think needs to be understood is that there is no such thing as black and white. Invisible Children, as an organization, isn't some nefarious evil group robbing people of their money. But, at the ...
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.
What Dr. Easterly is referring to is the fact that, even if you had the power to control billions of aid dollars, this really can’t be about what “we” (in the developed world) can do to help “them” (those in the developing world).
And we can only help “us” if we understand “us” and talk to “us” and not second guess what will help “us”. This, of course, is what any good charity or NGO says they are already doing. But I believe we can do much more on this front.
For example, take the very medium in which Dr. Easterly is espousing his views on aid. Even if “we” derive an online consensus on what is and isn’t “good aid”, it is a consensus made without the inclusion of the poorest of the poor.
If the poor don’t even have a say in a “free and open” platform like the internet, what chance do they have of having a strong say anywhere else? In the classrooms of Western universities? In NGO boardrooms? In government?
“What can we do?” is really the only question that needs to be asked – but only if “we” is redefined.
My work with this project has always been unpaid, unemployed, and (for the most part) unplanned. It’s probably now that I should talk about the fact that I’d like to one day earn a living doing this.
What do I mean by “earning a living”? Well, in the near term, I would like to be able to stop borrowing from friends and family to pay for things like meals, clothes, and even basics like getting a haircut. In the long term, I’d like to one day live that “American Dream” somewhere in suburbia.
At the same time, I want to be able to follow my passion. Helping others – especially in ways that connect people using technology – is a dream come true. Even though I believe we can end extreme poverty, I want to be able to continue to help others for the rest of my life.
The desire to earn a living from your passion maybe a no-brainer for many people reading this. But it deserves discussion because not everyone agrees that you should be able to earn a living if your passion is fighting poverty.
Okay, so it’s not the Matt from this blog. We know where that Matt is – Uganda. 🙂 This video is about Matt Harding and I just love it. This is actually the latest version of this video – he’s traveled around the world doing this twicebefore.
It’s such a simple, heart-warming, and touching video. It says so much without saying a word. It’s actually Matt’s videos that were a source of inspiration for my first YouTube episode. What does dancing around the world have to do with ending global poverty? Well, as Dr. Sachs said (and I quoted in my first video), we share a common human bond. You can overcome the barriers of race, religion, and language with simple generosity.
“This maybe the day that I finally pay it forward” I said to a group of students just minutes ago. I’m writing this at a desk inside the American International School in Dhaka. I was invited to talk to the students here and, after a very long day, I just finished talking to over 200 students in both classroom and large auditorium settings. The photo above is a one I took after spending about an hour and half talking to a group of high school science students about my work and the work of Dr. Jeffrey Sachs.
It is a strange reversal of roles. It wasn’t long ago that I was a student listening to a man passionate about ending poverty. That man was Dr. Jeffrey Sachs and I was then a grad student at Notre Dame. Fast forward nearly two years – and over 8,000 miles away – and here I am (a passionate guy about ending poverty) talking to a group of students. I got to talk to middle school and high school students of virtually every race, ethnicity, religion, and nationality. It doesn’t get more amazing than that.
It was also the first time in my life I got recognized off YouTube by a stranger. One of the students in the first class I was speaking to asked me if I make videos on YouTube (I was so nervous with my first talk that I entirely forgot to mention that my work involves YouTube). Apparently, this student had searched for Bangladesh on YouTube before his family moved here and found my Christmas Day video. It was surreal. What was even more surreal was how amazed some of the teachers are about my work.
“He’s the only one in the world that’s doing something like this right now!” exclaimed High School Science Teacher Rick Davis to his students. Hopefully, whether it’s by a someone inspired here at AIS Dhaka or somewhere else in the world, I won’t be long before I am not the only one doing a project like this.
I’m glad I stayed home last Friday because riots broke out yesterday in Dhaka City and dozens were injured. There hasn’t been riots for a while in Bangladesh. The last time this happened was around when I first started this blog. Unfortunately, unlike the previous riots, these ones were religious in nature. Religious extremists were (violently) protesting plans to give women equal rights in regards to inheritance (equal rights for women? For shame! /sarcasm).
The simple fact is – especially when it comes to Islamic extremists – such protests are nothing but an exercise in hypocrisy. Because there is supposed to be “no compulsion in Islam”. If these religious extremists were truly following their religion – they should not have been trying to forcibly impose their particular interpretation of Islam on others. God gave us all free will and I – for one – will be damned if I accept the attempts of some of his more extreme followers to try and take away that gift.
As disturbing as these developments are this is proof of what Dr. Jeffrey Sachs has been arguing. There is a connection between religious extremism, terrorism, and poverty. It should be no surprise that these religious extremists were able to mobilize during a time of severely rising food prices. These food prices have already caused a lot of people to protest and riot. It’s very easy to redirect one’s anger when they are hungry – and that’s what the extremists have been doing.
To fight Islamic – hypocritical – extremism we need to fight poverty. It’s just that simple.
Hey to everyone who have recently stumbled upon this site. The number one comment/inquiry I have been getting is: “How can I get involved?”. Since it’s becoming harder and harder to respond to every email and comment personally – let me answer that question in this blog post:
1) Volunteering and/or Seeking a Position?: I might have given the wrong impression with some of my videos. I’m just one guy – I’m not an organization, NGO, or charity. I am honored that people are asking for “a position in my organization” or to “volunteer for my cause” – but what I’m doing isn’t really anything on that kind of scale. Volunteering is important though – and I highly recommend those interested in checking out both Save the Children and the VSO (that is the VSO UK site – but they have branches in many countries).
2) Sending Supplies?: I’m kind of weary of people sending supplies from abroad given my previous bad experiences with corrupt bureaucrats at the customs office. A very supportive company (Vestergaard Frandsen) had donated some water purification straws (called LifeStraws) and insecticide treated sheeting (called ZeroFly) and had it shipped to me here in Bangladesh. But, when it came to picking it up at the customs office – the local bureaucrats wouldn’t release it without over a $100 in trumped up fees and bribes (or “commissions” as they put it). I’ve even heard of a Canadian NGO/charity which had trouble having their water purification equipment released during the deadly floods of last year. Whether its non-profit charity work or time-sensitive disaster relief – the corrupt bureaucrats at the customs office don’t seem to care.
3) Making a Donation?: I ended the very first video on YouTube with “Don’t worry – I’m not asking for your money”. But, ever since then, I’ve been asked repeatedly if I would consider setting up a PayPal account and start accepting donations. My work in Bangladesh is admittedly very small scale. The big name organizations like Save the Children and smaller (but more personal) organizations like Nari Jibon operate with a greater economy of scale. Donating to them makes more sense because your donation can go further with them. But, given the frequent requests, I am in the process of setting up a PayPal donation system. I will keep you posted. Although even when that is setup – I’d still recommend you donate to one of the recommended charities. They are tax deductible and I won’t be unfortunately.
Above all – more than volunteering, more than making a donation or sending supplies – the most important thing you can do is to make this a priority in your life. Too many people ignore these pressing issues using rhetoric or apathy. Making the world a better place for others – makes it a better place for us. As Dr. Jeffrey Sachs said, “eveywhere we share the same common human bond”. Dr. Sachs (my inspiration for this project and author of the book “The End of Poverty”) believes we can end poverty in our lifetime. I believe him. But in order for that to happen – we have to make it a priority in both our lives and in the political realm.