Archive for the 'Poverty' Category

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.

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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…

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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.

 

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.

Toilet paper, antibiotics, soap, and pajamas - not taking a salary from donations is not enough for my Bangladeshi uncle. I also can't use donations to buy personal necessities.

I was able to put the matter to rest by explaining that my groceries were paid for with an allowance from my parents. Besides, if I bought something such as computer or video equipment that I could benefit from outside of charity work, I have a fund specifically for equipment. No donations to help the poor have been “stolen”.

The next day, after having dinner, I pulled out a small snack I had brought to Bangladesh with me from Canada. I brought it with me because it’s a small little treat you can’t find here. As I was eating in front of my aunt, my aunt looked at me and asked: “if you’re helping the poor, why do you eat such expensive food?”.

Eating this protein bar (about two bucks) is a "betrayal of my principles to help alleviate poverty" according to my Bangladeshi aunt.

The snack cost me less than $3. But, when 80% of Bangladeshis earn less than $2 and day (and about half earn less than $1 a day), I could see how this snack (a protein bar) could be seen as an opulent indulgence. “If you help the poor” my aunt elaborated, “you should live a very modest life – or it goes against your principles of wanting to alleviate poverty”.

I bring this up because many aid experts, aid bloggers, or aid professionals simply don’t get what it is I’m trying to do with this project. Some see me as a fundraiser – raising funds for charities I like. Others see it as online promotion – getting lots of tweets, retweets, and YouTube views for my favorite charities.

That’s not it at all. At best, you could call all that stuff a side-effect of my work.

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