Tag Archive for 'Blog'

The Importance of Twitter

When I first heard of Twitter, I couldn’t ever imagine myself using it. I already have a blog, so why do I need to go beyond that by posting short messages about what I’m doing at every little moment?

I tended to agree with people who suggested that Twitter is nothing more than “inane twaddle” and more akin to a “glorified messenger service”. But that was before Matt started integrating Twitter into this project.

As Matt explained to me, the internet connection in Uganda is worse than Bangladesh. So, not only is video blogging out of the question, but also even regular blogging is sometimes hard. Each photo he uploads to this site, he told me, takes about half an hour.

That’s how he got involved with Twitter. Thanks to Twitter, I’ve been able to keep track of the ups and downs of his micro-finance project to help over 180 Ugandan grandmothers earn an income. When you guys stepped in by offering to help finance his work, we were able to see how he did things every step of the way – practically in real-time.

After being inspired by Matt, I started to use Twitter myself. Sure, sometimes I do talk about inane things, like the new Star Trek movie posters that came out or the difficulties in making a background layout for the YouTube channel. But, I’ve also been able to share important experiences I wouldn’t have blogged about.

As those following me on Twitter know, I recently came back from a trip outside of Dhaka City that involved an overnight boat ride. Although such boats can be safe, there are also a lot of risks. One of the colleagues I went with, in fact, had lost her cellphone after being robbed at the docks.

If it wasn’t for Twitter, I would never have talked about the warning I got from someone reminding me the importance of locking my cabin door and then – after docking – how I had to stay inside the cabin for three extra hours while we waited for the robbers and thugs along the docks to lose interest.

After Cyclone Sidr hit Bangladesh, I was one of the few (or perhaps the only person) live-blogging during disaster relief work. Most of the personnel in the field (from various NGOs and charities) simply didn’t have time to do much more than send a quick email or SMS a friend. I could very easily see the importance of Twitter in providing quick, accessible, and important information in a situation like that.

The way I see it, Twitter has a lot of potential – maybe even more than blogs itself. But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be “inane” stuff on there. For me, my biggest limitation to untapping that potential with Twitter is the equipment I have. I usually have to pull out my MacBook, boot it up, and then use Twitter. The keypad on my old Motorola cellphone isn’t very Twitter-friendly.

With this project, I’m trying my best to make important issues (like global poverty) accessible to a global audience by using blogs and video blogs in a way that no one has before. I can very easily see Twitter adding another dimension to making this issue accessible to others. And all it would take is an iPhone (or other smartphone) and use of the ubiquituous cellular (but slow) internet that is cropping up here in the developing world.

Friend From Notre Dame Comes to Bangladesh!

Wow – when I first came to Bangladesh, I never thought I’d be staying here for so long. I definitely never expected to be able to see any of my friends until I went back home. But, as fate would have it, one of my friends from Notre Dame is actually coming to Bangladesh. Her name is Alicia and she’s going to be studying for her Master’s in Public Health at BRAC University.

In many respects, I feel that Alicia and I have come to the same destination by the same inspiration – but on different paths. Notre Dame is a huge part of that inspiration. Before I came to Notre Dame as a graduate student, I was able to experience what it is like at other universities and colleges. What makes Notre Dame unique is that it really does inspire you to want to make the world a better place.

It was thanks to Notre Dame – and the cancellation of classes for a day as part of its Campus-Wide Forum on Global Health – that allowed Alicia and I to hear Dr. Jeffrey Sachs for the first time. It was Dr. Jeffrey Sachs who inspired us to believe that poverty can be eliminated in our lifetime. And it was Dr. Sachs’ work that instilled in us an importance on global health as a key to ending extreme poverty.

I’m going to try and encourage Alicia to try and blog (and video blog) as much of her experience as possible. But, I seriously doubt that can happen. The reason I put my academic life on hold to do this project is because it is really hard to blog and video blog when you are in demanding Masters program. This Masters of Public Health program at BRAC University (that Alicia is in) requires extensive field work in remote rural villages.

I don’t mean to sound like an advertisement for ND, but – seriously – if everyone was as committed as the people I’ve met at Notre Dame to try and make the world a better place, can you imagine how much better the world would be?

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.

The Sound of Normal in Dhaka

The difference between Dhaka today and the same time yesterday is like the difference between night and day. The sun has come out – no more gloomy storm clouds casting their shadows over the city. But more importantly than that – the city is noisy again. Hammers banging away at nearby construction sites, street vendors yelling about the sales they are having, and the rings of rickshaws as they pedal by. The city is alive again.

I was awake at midnight last evening and what struck me was the utter dark and silence. I had only experienced this kind of dark and silence once before – when I was in the rural village of Modhipur. But in Modhipur, there wasn’t a soul nearby. But, last night in Dhaka, surrounded by tightly packed apartments with thousands of people – I couldn’t hear a peep and couldn’t see my hand in front of my face.

With things so bad now – I desperately want to make a difference. I brought certain items with me as part of this project – like water purification straws called “LifeStraws” donated to me by the manufacturer Vestergaard Frandsen. I also have insecticide treated sheeting that can be used for housing called “ZeroFly” donated by the same company. I also have recently purchased 70 blankets to give away. I don’t want to just give them away by the roadside – for they then maybe taken and merely resold (as I have been warned by many people).

I’ve been working desperately trying to partner with a reputable and trustworthy NGO or charity to help me distribute these items. NGOs and charities, having established a long-term presence here, are better able to assess genuine need and would best be able to help me direct my efforts. Unfortunately, to my surprise, many NGOs don’t want publicity. After about a month’s worth of negotiation, I had managed to secure assistance from a very big and prestigious NGO to distribute the LifeStraws. They would help me distribute them to a needy group of people in rural Bangladesh. I was even given permission to film the whole thing. But, apparently, they did not realize that I was filming it as part of a video blog. When they understood the purpose of the filming – the entire distribution got scrapped. A month of discussions, giving items for testing, and preparation all down the drain.

I’m left back at square one at a time when I should be on the ground making a difference.

Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt Creep In

I would like to say that everything is okay – but it really isn’t. Lately – for about the past few weeks – I’ve had this nervous feeling at the pit of my stomach. Am I doing the right thing? Is this project – at least the part of it that is online – making a difference?

I guess this feeling first started to creep in after I was able to meet Mikey Leung. Mikey is another fellow Canadian blogger trying to make a difference in Bangladesh. But, instead of coming here by himself, he joined with the Volunteer Service Organization. I actually had a chance to meet up with Mikey in person a few weeks ago and meet some of his fellow friends from the VSO.

How would be the best way to describe my feeling when I met these people? Have you ever run around – when you were really young – with a blanket tied to your neck pretending to be Superman? Now, imagine yourself meeting the real Superman. That’s kind of how I felt. There was no doubt in my mind who the real heroes were. In comparison to them, I felt like a fraud.

While I am walking around with one of my various Notre Dame t-shirts, these guys are wearing t-shirts they designed themselves promoting the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. That’s how hardcore they are. They also have none of the advantages I do. They don’t have family here or relatives here to lend support. They don’t have knowledge of the language before arriving. And, if they get sick (as many of them have), they just keep toughing it out and don’t stop working.

To put things into perspective, these are highly educated people who could have had successful high paying jobs anywhere in the world they wished. I met one of Mikey’s friends who happens to be educated from one of Britain’s best schools (and has a Masters degree), but is working here (like all other volunteers) for 9,000 taka a month. Let me put that into perspective: that’s about $130 dollars US a month. All of them work full time so that averages to about 50 cents an hour.

I wasn’t the only one at Notre Dame inspired by Dr. Jeffrey Sachs. On the Notre Dame facebook, I’ve found tons of people that have since gone off to Africa and other parts of the world to build schools, provide clean water, and make a difference. In fact, Notre Dame recently made a TV commercial featuring Tyler Stavinoha’s work with people in Haiti. You can watch that amazingly inspiring video on youtube at this link.

This isn’t the first time I’ve doubted myself or this project. I also know that this project is a lot about making a difference in just a few lives – and I have been able to do that thankfully. But, I can’t help but wonder how much more I could have done if I wasn’t trying to blog or make youtube videos while I’m here. There are tons of volunteers like Mikey – but very few of them blog. There is a very simple reason for that – when you are working to make a genuine difference, it’s actually very difficult to do much else (like blog or video blog).

As true as that is, that’s one of the reasons I want to be blogging and making youtube videos while I am on this project. Although there are already so many people trying to make the world a better place, there are even more that would love to be able to do so but can’t. Blogging and video blogging can be a way to share this experience. There are also those out there who might be the kind of person who would want to make a difference – but have not yet been inspired or informed on how to do so. If I can inspire others like Dr. Sachs inspired me – all the better.

In many ways, I guess meeting up with some real heroes has made me question my own project because their work is so unambiguous. You can’t question the humility, dedication, and purpose of someone who works for next to nothing (in a country he or she doesn’t know) all while doing it all in relative obscurity. They can also take pride in their work in a way I can’t. My project is a bit more ambiguous. I am trying to make a difference on the ground while trying to make a difference to others online. But, when it comes to the internet, it’s hard to tell whether you are making an impact or just talking to yourself in the dark.

Technical Mumbo Jumbo – Accidental Comment Filtering

Like most blogs on the internet, this one exists in a great deal of obscurity. But I am fortunate that the few readers that do come by take the time to write thoughtful comments. Some of those readers maybe wondering why their recently submitted comments haven’t shown up.

Apparently, my comment spam filter was auto-deleting comments it had labeled as spam. Usually it lets me double check before deleting – and in the past I’ve found many false positives. If your comment was one of the ones that was accidentally blocked because of this – I apologize. Unfortunately, there is no way for me to recover those already deleted comments.

Because of the small readership this blog has, I’ve left comments unmoderated. If you leave a comment it should post right away. The only reason it won’t is unless it’s been identified as spam. Apparently, a blog can never be too small to be targeted by spammers.

First YouTube Video Posted

So where have I been these past few days? Been pretty busy. But also because I’ve been going through the footage I’ve shot to create this little summary/montage to show what I’ve been up to while I’ve been here. Take a look:

My goal since the start of this project was to be video blogging this whole experience. But, this has been a bit slow going. Hopefully this video will be a good start in changing that. This project is short term and I’m glad I was able to upload some videos while I’m still in the country.