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 ...
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 🙂
“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.
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.
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.