Archive for the 'Poverty' Category

Seven Years of Awesome

Seven years ago I packed my bags and flew to my parents’ homeland of Bangladesh. I was just some guy with a camera and a laptop with a lofty goal of “making a difference”. A lot of people do a whole lot of nothing that way – sometimes doing more harm than good. I’m very lucky that things didn’t turn out that way. This is thanks, in no small part, to the YouTube Community and The Project for Awesome.

Over the past seven years, collaborating with both secular charities (like Save the Children), faith based groups (like the Holy Cross Congregation), and local NGOs, I’ve been able to do more than I could ever have dreamed of. This includes responding to multiple natural disasters and providing emergency disaster relief, reconstruction a school damaged by a cyclone, providing a community with clean water, helping a Buddhist orphanage and school, and building a Catholic school (with some help from a Rabbi).

I’ve also been lucky enough to win The Project for Awesome once in 2012. With that money I’ve helped to build a school in a small community that had to wall itself off from because of religious differences. I hoped to overcome those differences by being a Muslim that crossed the wall to build this Christian community a Catholic school. Along the way, I also helped create a slum school with a local NGO. That slum school will need funding again in 2015. That’s part of the reason I want to win the Project for Awesome again this year.

If you’d like, you have about a dozen hours left to vote here. No login or account required. Just click the vote button 🙂

The Foreign Pornographer

“What are you doing? Making poverty porn?” I asked.

It was a Sunday night here in Dhaka. I was drenched in sweat having nearly completed a 50 mile bike ride around the city. I was passing by the upper class part of town when I had to stop.

In the middle of the street, stood a foreigner taking a photo of the most crippled street beggar he could find – an elderly man with stubby deformed legs roaming around in a wheelchair.

Armed with a DSLR and lighting rig, worth more money than this beggar would see in his entire lifetime, the foreigner had the beggar pose with a photo of Ronald Regan in front of his face.

“Why Ronald Regan?” I asked the foreigner. He ignored me – pretending I wasn’t there.

I pedaled right next to him – putting myself between him and the expensive luxury SUV he had rode up in. I didn’t notice it at the time, but the car sported yellow license plates: a privilege reserved for diplomats and dignitaries.

“Excuse me – why Ronald Regan?” I asked again. The foreigner coyly shrugged. “Because why not?” he asked. “But why Ronald Regan? What are you trying to do? Besides make poverty porn?” I asked. He turned to me and smirked.

“That’s exactly what I’m doing” he replied.

His flippancy was astounding. It only got worse.

Continue reading ‘The Foreign Pornographer’

Last Update Before P4A

The Project for Awesome (aka P4A) is an annual charity event done on YouTube. It’s organized by Hank and John Green. This was the video – quickly done with me and Jory – before that event. It was unscripted and basically showing another side to this school construction.

Just a reminder that The Uncultured Project has been nominated for a Webby Award. Please help it become the People’s Choice by voting for it here.

Money Doesn’t Build A School

This isn’t the story of how donations built a school. Donations don’t build school. Watch the video to see what I mean.

 

A Hindu Rave?

Controversial Comments on Circumcision

When I decided to start an ambitious interfaith project in collaboration with Christian and Jewish support, I knew I’d have to start being more vocal about my own Muslim beliefs and opinions. Some, like my criticism of Germany’s banning of infant and childhood circumcision, has stirred a heated debate.

Let’s see if I can bridge the gulf on this issue a little bit…

Continue reading ‘Controversial Comments on Circumcision’

Poverty Makes Bangladesh Look Bad?

I recently received this comment from a Bangladeshi who is wealthy enough to live in the United States:

I understand that this guy is helping the people in Bangladesh, but honestly is it that hard to shoe [sic] the good part of Bangladesh and not the part that’s poor because not everywhere in Bangladesh is like that. [emphasis mine]

I’m sharing this comment because many wealthier Bangladeshis equate anything that has to do with poverty (whether or not that focus embraces guilt-free positivity and eschews poverty porn) as automatically “bad”.

There’s nearly 150 million people in this country and, according to the United Nations, over half of them are living in extreme poverty. It would be nice if wealthier Bangladeshis could acknowledge we can have a conversation about Bangladesh’s poor without it being seen as “showing the bad”.

I’m not saying this based on one lone YouTube comment. This point-of-view is actually fairly commonplace among wealthier Bangladeshis and has actually been the focus of a thorough academic analysis in the book “Elite Perceptions of Poverty in Bangladesh” by Dr. Naomi Hossain.

As Dr. Hossain points out, wealthier (or “elite”) Bangladeshis “do not feel threatened by the extent of poverty, or by poor people”. Rather, they feel that poverty threatens “the wealth or international stature of the nation”. So for many Bangladeshis, talking about the poorer half makes Bangladesh look bad.

We need to get over ourselves.