Tag Archive for 'Bangladesh'Page 2 of 22

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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The Nexus of Aid Work & Islamic Extremism

Hartel (Strike) in Bangladesh

With less than a month before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, violence, protests, and strikes have erupted in Bangladesh. Much of this is fueled by an Islamic political party called Jamaat-e-Islami. This is a political party that exists both in Bangladesh and Pakistan. Their goal? To advance the Islamization of Muslim countries (with the goal of ultimately ruling by Sharia Law).

When acts of violence and religious extremism occur in a far-away country, we usually don’t think of it as having anything to do with the charities we donate to, how NGOs operate in these countries, or how the attitudes and approaches of aid workers affect these issues. But the two are closely interlinked.

What surprises me the most is that aid workers are often the ones least willing to admit that such a connection exists at all. The impression I get from many of my friends and colleagues in the humanitarian sector, is that many see themselves as Starfleet officers operating on their own version of Gene Roddenberry’s Prime Directive.

Unfortunately, while there is a great deal of nobility, selflessness, and self-sacrifice in the aid industry, the notion that one can provide humanitarian aid and development while being impartial and above the fray of local conflicts is science fiction.

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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.

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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 I Made a Video about “Eve Teasing”

My dad probably forgets saying this – but I never did. Years back, he confessed to me that one of the reasons he left Bangladesh and settled elsewhere is because he never wanted my mother to be mistreated. Until I heard what these women had to say, I never knew how real my dad’s concern was:

Eve teasing is a euphemism to describe forms of verbal and physical abuse by men against women. Verbally it can range from simple cat calls and overzealous wooing to really nasty and sexually explicit and derogatory comments. Physically it can range from grabbing a girl’s hand to groping and molesting them in public.

What got me is that – despite this being well known amongst aid and development professionals – no one has really done a decent job of covering this issue on YouTube or other “social media”. I don’t mean to say there aren’t videos with tons of views about this issue.

But most of what is online is usually G-rated re-enactments of eve teasing which make it seem like childish flirting. There are also heavy handed PSAs by police and local media which makes it seem like it’s being treated with prejudice and zero-tolerance… which would be nice but doesn’t reflect reality.

Despite all these videos online about eve teasing, I really didn’t find one where women could just talk about this problem and share their opinions. And it’s not like Bangladeshi women are a homogeneous group – as you can see in the video – there is a diversity of thought on this problem.

Right now, this video has about 3,500 views. That may not seem like much but that’s nearly twice the views that UNICEF was able to gather on this issue over the past eight months. Maybe this issue won’t go viral – but at least I could give this issue a slightly bigger platform than it had yesterday.

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.

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“Lying” in Aid & Development

Last month, I wrote a blog post about negatives attitudes to NGOs in Bangladesh. I’ve also talked about how these negative attitudes can be avoided by being a “free agent”, emphasizing blood ties, and respecting and understanding Islam.

I’d like to elaborate on that last point because I recently stumbled on this video:

Before you click play, I should probably point out this video is not for everyone. At the very start of this video, the Imam suggests that all non-Muslims (with a particular emphasis on Israelis) are liars.

It’s also important to note that this particular Imam, has got in trouble in the past and has been accused of hate speech. But, honestly, what he’s preaching would not be out of place in many conservative villages in Bangladesh.

Traditional Islam has a strict standard on what is and is not considered a lie. There is no such thing as an “innocent white lie”. Moreover, the penalty for lying is severe and can incur the wrath of God (including the afterlife – Qu’ran 4:145).

“Fear Allah, and be with the truthful.” (Qu’ran 9:119)

In the strict interpretation of Islam, even hyperbole is considered a grave lie (i.e. “I called you a million times!”). In fact, as the Imam points out, even wearing colored contacts or dying your hair is a form of dishonesty.

But how does this pertain to aid and development? And why does not being a NGO or charity seem to help foster greater trust in more conservative villages in Bangladesh? Find out after the jump

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