Tag Archive for 'Blankets'

$130 Million Donated to Bangladesh… Anonymously

Wow. $130 Million. Dollars…. $130 million. That’s the amount donated to Bangladesh anonymously by an individual earlier today to the Islamic Development Bank to help rebuild after the damage done by Cyclone Sidr.

Let me put it this way. If you donated $500 you could provide for all the nuts and bolts to rebuild 50 homes in Bangladesh (sound like a good idea? here’s the charity that does that). $130 million could help build 13,000,000 homes. Or build schools. Or roads. Whatever it will be spent on it will help families recover, rebuild, and help to resume their lives.

I would like to think I made a difference in the Cyclone Sidr relief efforts. But, in reality, I was only able to spend about $200 in my personal out-of-my-pocket on that three day trip to Bagerhat. Imagine what $130 million could do? It boggles my mind.

Here’s the original story by the Associated Press. and thanks to my friend Mo back in Toronto for making me aware about this story.

Exploiting Misery: The Pornography of Poverty

Belinda Meggitt is someone I met here in Bangladesh through Mikey Leung. In one of her recent blog posts, Belinda asks the question if candid photographs of third world suffering constitutes a form of voyeurism. One thing I’ve learned since going to the cyclone disaster area is that, when it comes to cameras, the poor are often be treated like zoo animals.

There is a right way and a wrong way of taking photographs. If you want to be respectful of those you are photographing or filming, you sometimes have to risk coming back with horrible shots or horrible footage. Filming and photographing should come second – being respectful should come first. This was exactly what my experience was with Save the Children. When I was handing out my blankets, filming was done in a corner away from the kids. A lot of the footage didn’t turn out that well – but all of it was gathered in a unobtrusive and respectful manner.

Unfortunately, not every cameraman is that respectful.

A lot of people gathering footage and photos would sometimes setup their shots – asking aid recipients to stand, pose, and look at the camera. Sometimes this can be unobtrusive and just a simple request. Other times – and I’ve actually seen this – people would be tugged at, pulled, and placed into position. One time I saw a kid who was hiding her face by tightly hugging her mother. Staff members from a charity wanted to take a photo of her – so an aid worker came and stuck his hand under the kid’s chin and lifted her head so that her face could be visible.

But even if you aren’t manhandling your subject – there are other concerns as well.

As someone rich enough to have four walls around me and a roof over my head – if I want privacy, I close the door. What about those too poor to own a home? Or, as with Cyclone Sidr, have recently lost their home? Their private moments are made public by the simple fact they have no place to call their own. As someone who is behind the lens, I can tell you it’s a very tough call. There is always this feeling that if you are able to take a good photo or get good footage – it just might be what inspires others back home to start giving a damn. I think a lot of charities which gather footage and photos feel the same way.

Whether or not someone receives your charity – they always deserve your respect.

This Photo Kills Me

Left in the Cold

My parents always told me I tend to focus on the negative. I had given over 30 blankets on the day this photo was taken (not the 30 I gave with Save the Children – that was another batch of blankets I had bought).

Some kids, like the one on the right, were lucky enough to get one. Others, like the other kid in the photo, were left shivering in the cold. Why is it that I can sometimes forget the faces of the kids that I’ve helped, but manage to never forget the ones I couldn’t?

Brrr…. Cold Bangladesh

Cold Bangladesh? I never thought I’d be writing that. But it’s true. I have a little space heater running a full blast, I’m wearing the thickest winter socks that I have, and I’ve borrowed a housecoat.

Bangladesh gets cold. Would have thunk it?

It’s not technically Canadian winter cold, but if you stay here long enough your body adapts to the local climate. When I first came here, if I wasn’t standing right next to an air conditioner, I would be sweating like a pig. A few months later, I could manage with just a ceiling fan. Now that I’ve been here for nearly six months, what’s cold for Bangladeshis is cold for me. So, even though its plus 16 Celsius (or over 60 Fahrenheit), I’m kinda treating this as winter.

What makes me real happy is the 70 blankets I was able to give away. These blankets do their job. How do I know that? I’m sleeping in the same kind of blanket that I gave away. If its good enough to give, it should be good enough to use yourself.

Site Changes, Personal Changes

When I first started this blog, I didn’t have much to show for this project. In fact, the day I wrote my first blog post I was stuck in a relatives’ home because all of Bangladesh was under military curfew.

Since then I have a lot to show: I’ve given away two cases of water during the summer flooding season. I’ve given over fifty mosquito nets (including one long-lasting insecticide treated mosquito net called PermaNet) to rural villagers. I’ve given wind-up flashlights to low-income students trying to study without electricity as well as one to a low-income disaster relief volunteer. I’ve helped to pay for a large group of poor children to have a balanced and healthy meal. And, recently, I’ve distributed 70 blankets (30 of which I did with Save the Children, another 30 with Muslim Aid UK, and 10 I gave out one-on-one) to victims of a Cyclone Sidr.

So it’s about time I tweak the look of the site a bit. Gone is the static photo of my Notre Dame hat and Dr. Jeffrey Sachs’ book. I’m still using that photo – but the main picture on my site now changes randomly every few minutes (you’ll have to reload manually) to shows some of the things I’ve done and interesting people I’ve met. This change also reflects a decision I’ve made.

When I first came to Bangladesh, I thought I would stay here for a couple of months and then go. But since coming here, I’ve kept changing my departure date. September departures became October departures – and so on. I don’t know when exactly I am going to fly home – but I know I will be here in Bangladesh Christmas and the New Year. For the first time in my life – I’ll be spending Christmas and New Years away from both my Mom and Dad.

It’s not easy staying here. There are bugs, germs, and it’s easy to get sick. I’m far from my friends and I am kind of getting homesick. This has also had a cost on my family (in particular my mother who had contracted Dengue Fever during the time she was accompanying me on this project). But, despite all this difficulty, I have a unique opportunity. I’m doing something no one has ever done before (at least in terms of how I’m sharing my experience and work online with others through Flickr, YouTube, and blogging). And I’m helping others while I do it. How many people can say that?

I also want to share a message and inspire others. It’s hard to do that if I’m just uploading old footage and photos from my home in Canada. Hopefully by staying this project can grow and perhaps inspire others.

Disaster Area: I’m Starting To Remember More Details

They say when you see such suffering and devastation first hand, you’re mind goes into shock. I didn’t believe them until I experienced it myself. I kind of feel like a weakling for reacting like this. I mean, I wasn’t harmed by the Cyclone – my family is safe thousands of miles away – what is there for me to be in shock about?

But, here I am just now – reviewing some footage I took during my time in the disaster area – and all of a sudden I vividly remember something I must have blocked out. And, now that I remember it, I kind of remember why I would have wanted to block it out in the first place.

As I mention in the last youtube episode (or see below, after the jump), I spent the third day with Nick Downie with Save the Children. We had to walk among endless rows upon rows of make-shift housing from people displaced by the cyclone. I had forgotten until now, but a group of people raced up to me and asked me in Bengali if I was a television reporter.

They wanted to tell the world how improperly aid was being given in their part of the disaster area. They were explaining to me how they were waiting and some people were getting aid and relief for the second time and they hadn’t received any at all. Unfortunately, we were on a tight schedule and I was falling behind – we hadn’t even reached the abandoned school yet to test its water. After explaining to them I wasn’t with any Bangladesh TV station – I left them behind. I’m just starting to remember how sad the looks on their faces were.

I also understood why they were complaining about how aid was be distributed. Technically, aid hadn’t fully reached this region yet. My sparse 30 blankets were some of the first aid of its kind in that area. There were also far more pressing concerns. For starters, there was no clean water anywhere in sight. I had brought with me my Notre Dame Nalgene water bottle. In such intense heat, I finished the water in the bottle very quickly. I spent the rest of the day parched. Because, although there were tube wells everywhere we went – the cyclone left them too contaminated to drink from. Water from every tube well was yellow with chunks of dirt in it. Yet, that’s exactly what everyone else was drinking who was stuck there. One day in that area and I was tempted to risk drinking from it.

Imagine having to live there.

[UPDATE 1: Somebody submitted this blog post to digg. I am really flattered. If you want, you can digg it here.]

[UPDATE 2: Welcome to those who came here by Stumbleupon.]

Continue reading ‘Disaster Area: I’m Starting To Remember More Details’

Update: I’m Not Going, But Family Blankets Still Are

Turns out I won’t be going afterall. If I got a dollar for every time a plan fell through, I’d be making a profit on this project. But don’t worry – the blankets are still going. All 2,000 of them.

It turns out that these will be distributed with the help of the Bangladesh Coast Guard and Bangladesh Army. My uncle, as I mentioned before, is an ex-military colonel and apparently still has some connections. Unfortunately, the reason I can’t go is because I am a foreigner. As someone without Bangladeshi citizenship, I was not (and still am not) security cleared to go along.

Bummer. I always to ride in a military speedboat – without the whole having to join the military part.