Archive for the 'Save the Children' 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.

5 Steps for NGOs to Move from Guilt to Empowerment

My thoughts on how charities need to drop the guilt is getting tons of views. But the question remains: how does a charity drop the guilt? Can they do it overnight? Cold turkey?

As I mentioned some charities, like the US-branch of Save the Children, have already stopped using “poverty porn”. I’d like to share something I’ve talked to them about behind closed doors.

I guess you can call it a 5 Step Program for NGOs using guilt:

Continue reading ‘5 Steps for NGOs to Move from Guilt to Empowerment’

3 Reasons Charities Need to Drop the Guilt

A Charity Guilt-Ad Currently Airing in Canada

It’s 2011 and we still live in a world where many charities think that the best way to raise funds to help those in need is by using guilt.

This needs to stop and here are three reasons why:

Continue reading ‘3 Reasons Charities Need to Drop the Guilt’

From Riots to Aid: The Impact of the Social Lens

Nathan Kotylak - Water Polo All Star

Meet Nathan Kotylak. A few weeks ago Nathan was a rising star. He was the best water polo player in his school, he was training with the Canadian national water polo team, he earned a scholarship to one of Canada’s best universities, and he was on track to be one of Canada’s Olympic athletes in a few years time.

But that all changed in about the time it takes to make a tweet.

Continue reading ‘From Riots to Aid: The Impact of the Social Lens’

Female Aid Worker Harassed in Bangladesh

Earlier this week, I got a letter from a young lady who had interned with an NGO in Bangladesh. With her permission, I am sharing excerpts of her email below:

I’m a female Canadian who spent a summer in Dhaka and it took me over 2 years to regain my ability to think and function like the typical North American female. Even still, it’s a challenge.

Your youtube videos on Eve Teasing & Purdah, especially the conversation with Nirjhar, were all too familiar.  No one prepared me for this aspect of my trip to “volunteer/intern” for [OMITTED] in Dhaka.  I knew I was going to a largely Islamic nation, with a great deal of modesty expectations for females.  I had no idea that because I was young (21), unmarried, and female, (and the coveted white-skinned!), that [OMITTED] would pretty much hide me away in a room for the duration of my 90 day visa because it was too much of a hassle to escort (felt like babysit) me around to go anywhere at all, and it seemed as though they also somehow considered me incapable of doing anything.  At the end of my stay in Dhaka (which felt like a lifetime spending 80% of it in a single room), I was told to come back someday after I was married and maybe they would have work for me.

I returned to [OMITTED] being unable to go out in public places without this overwhelming fear of men staring at me, with vivid memories of males pointing and talking about me in words I couldn’t understand but could sense were not exactly kind-hearted, and taking millions of photos of me with their mobiles. I was unable to bare my shoulders or ankles. To this day, I still wear scarves 75% of the time to add an extra layer of coverage to my front because I otherwise feel so incredibly indecent and ashamed. It is a constant battle to look males in the eye when I talk to them. It took over a year before I actually felt safe while going out after sundown by myself.

The Dhaka experience was incredibly… oppressive. It killed my heart to know that Bangladeshi women live through even worse every single day of their lives. I wish I knew of something I could do. I would go back if I had some sense that I could be of any use; but the result of my last trip gave me the impression that my presence is only a burden and therefore not wanted, only my money. Which as a student, I still have very little of.  So in the meantime I fund a Kiva loan every month, am slowly finishing my education, and ultimately aspire to get a decent enough job so I can give half my money away to the most respectable NGOs/foreign aid organizations I can find. But this plan leaves me feeling like I’m copping out, and just handing over money for other people to do the hands-on work.

Needless to say, I have more respect for Nirjhar the aid worker than words can describe.  And I hope and pray that maybe someday I, too, will have even a small portion of the courage that she has.

I asked for her permission to post this letter because, while I am sure there are tons of women who have had great experiences interning in Bangladesh, this is by no means an outlier.

There is a lot I like about Bangladeshi culture and tradition. For example, I believe local non-NGO ways and approaches to helping the poor are just as valid (if not more so) than foreign institutional and professional methods.

But not every facet of Bangladeshi culture, habits, and tradition need to persist. And this is a prime example.

P.S. Check out my friend (and personal hero) Anika Rabbani. As a guy, I will never fully understand the kind of hurdles she faces in her job.

Why Save the Children Sucks

Haha – April Fools! Anyone who knows me knows I’d be the last person to say that Save the Children sucks. In fact, I didn’t have the heart to even fake trash talk them for April Fools’ Day. So, instead, I’d like to write about why I’m such a big believer in what Save the Children does.

Continue reading ‘Why Save the Children Sucks’

Negative Attitudes to NGOs in Bangladesh

Earlier today, Shahnur Alom (a 25 year old Bangladeshi) wrote me this:

Fuck you Shawn, and fuck those chinky basterds you’ve come to help and molest during the night (that’s what aid workers do around the world in the name of charity). you dirty mother fucking Americans can fuck off from our land and suck some Jewish Israeli cocks.

To a Westerner, this guy is just a troll and a hater. However, to a Bangladeshi, this is an attitude which is sadly quite commonplace in Bangladesh. It’s attitudes like this which have made it difficult for NGOs to exist in Bangladesh, for aid workers to do work, and for potential donors to trust whom to give money to.

Anti-NGO attitudes are even worse if you're perceived as being a Christian NGO. Sadly, level of education does not change negative perceptions. The above comment was sent to me be a Bangladeshi whom I discovered had studied at the London School of Economics.

This is why I do things the way that I do. When I’m in Bangladesh, in virtually every village, I end up having to emphasize three things. And only by emphasizing these three things do I avoid sentiments and attitudes like those from people like Shahnur:

  • I have to emphasize that I am not an NGO. What I’m doing is as just a guy.
  • I have to emphasize that I have blood ties to Bangladesh.
  • I have to prove and emphasize that I respect Islam.

With a population of over 150 million people, Bangladesh is by no means a country of uniform consensus. But, prevalent negative attitudes and perceptions towards NGOs and aid workers is something I feel has been under-reported, insufficiently documented, and poorly-studied.

"Elite Perceptions on Poverty in Bangladesh" by Naomi Hossain is one of the few academic pieces that delve into Bangladeshi attitudes towards NGOs and poverty. However, it focuses primarily on Bangladesh elites. Many anti-NGO attitudes, I have discovered, are prevalent amongst all social classes in Bangladesh.

Granted, there has been one notable study on Bangladeshi elite perceptions on NGOs and poverty. And, on a rare occasion, a non-Bangladeshi aid blogger traveling in Bangladesh will encounter this and blog about it. But the majority of aid & development professionals and scholars don’t focus on this.

This is because, at least of late, there is a focus on quantitative data and a dismissal of anything else as “anecdotes”. But, as any anthropologist will tell you, not all knowledge and insight can be gained from a quantitative approach. Sometimes a small, individual, and ethnographic approach is needed.

A blogger interviews a director (pictured above) from "Alternative Movement for Resources and Freedom Society (AMRF)" in Dhaka. In this interview the AMRF director says that "Aid is an industry... and it's not the poor people who profit.", "NGO is the main impediment to development", "NGO jobs depend on perpetuating poverty," and "When I see an NGO with very good paperwork about all the amazing work they are doing, I know they are a fraud." Not even including the years I've been doing this project, I can attest these are VERY common beliefs in Bangladesh.

I don’t believe the solution to this is for NGOs to go away and for aid and development to be done just by individuals. But I do believe that NGOs and charities can benefit from independent individuals who work alongside NGOs as “bridge-makers”. I’ve already talked about how I try and do this.

In fact, everything I’ve done: from not incorporating, to not using donations to give myself a salary to stipend, to raising funds for overhead separately, to saying no to lucrative job offers with UN agencies and NGOs, and to leveraging technology to directly connect donors and villagers has been with this goal in mind.

These two village women have been trained by Save the Children to be village health workers. I, as an individual and not an NGO employee, collaborated with Save the Children to make sure these health workers have stipends. In addition to some paperwork, everything was captured on video and photos. Donors and villagers both know exactly where the money came from and exactly where it went. Save the Children also got double the administrative and overhead funds it requested thanks to donors who donated specifically for that (which was collected separately from donations designated to help the poor). By the end of 2011, these two women will have helped an estimated 300 to 400 kids - almost all of them Muslim. This was part of a larger project I did with Save the Children that will ultimately help over 10,000 children in Southern Bangladesh. Oh, and the specific donations helping these two village health workers came from the Jewish community in Haifa, Israel. If this causes cognitive dissonance for people like Shahnur Alom than everything is going according to plan.