Tag Archive for 'Cyclone Sidr'Page 2 of 6

The “Expat Bubble” vs. The “Aristocratic Dome”

“What about the taxes?” asked one of the students. It was my last day of talks at the American International School in Dhaka. I was in the middle of recounting my experience doing Cyclone Sidr Disaster Relief. Everything seemed to be going well – but this question kind of threw me off.

“Uhh… taxes?” I asked. Before the student replied, I quickly gave him one good look and realized that he – unlike most of the students in the classroom – wasn’t an expatriate. Rather, he was among the small percentage of Bangladeshis that were actually rich enough to be able to send their children to this school. Judging by the expensive and fashionable Western clothing, perfectly matching accessories, and perfectly styled hair – he was from a rather well-to-do family.

“Yeah, you see,” he started to explain, “if local families wanted to give aid to the Cyclone victims using their own name – they weren’t allowed to do so. They had to give it to the military to distribute instead. And, anything we gave could be taxed. Don’t you think that’s a problem? A lot of people didn’t give aid because of that,”

I made a slight groan underneath my breath. Find out why after the jump…

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The Howling Winds

Minutes after I posted the previous post, a storm seems to have come to this part of Dhaka City. Fierce winds and rain have reduced visibility to almost nothing. The power got knocked out and I’m writing in the dark now.

I’m feeling a bit of deja-vu. The last time I wrote about a storm during a blackout, it was when Cyclone Sidr hit Bangladesh. I certainly hope Monsoon Season isn’t coming early. There are still people recovering from the damage left by Cyclone Sidr – it’s too soon for another disaster.

…… Not that there is ever a good time for a disaster. 🙁

[UPDATE: There’s also a lot of thunder now. The winds must be stronger than I thought because the heavy gate at the entrance to the building I am currently staying in is rattling like mad. Rain is actually getting heavier. Usually, if it rains for more than a few hours, my grandmother’s home gets flooded. I will have to give her a call and check up on her first thing in the morning.]

$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.

The Hard Lessons of Aid Work

Kid Clings Onto Our Boat

When it came to Cyclone Sidr and disaster relief – I thought I knew it all. I knew I couldn’t help them all. I knew the media would be coming. I knew the local population knew the area better than foreigners. I knew aid work was more than just giving stuff away. I knew things could go wrong. I knew the blankets I was giving away could be used to keep people warm during this cold season. I thought I knew it all….. I was wrong.

In this latest episode I talk about the lessons I had to learn – the ones that were tough for me to learn. I’ve tried to keep this project positive. This episode is an exception to that.



Click the jump to read more.

Continue reading ‘The Hard Lessons of Aid Work’

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.

Notre Dame in the Cyclone Disaster Area

In many ways, I feel that I have the spirit of Notre Dame with me wherever I go in Bangladesh.

Here I was, in the cyclone disaster area, walking along this broken road surrounded by destruction. People all around me had just lost their homes and were waiting in a line hoping to be able to get relief or aid. Then, from the crowd, someone yells at me “NOTRE DAME!”. I turn around and there is this guy sitting on the road smiling at me. He couldn’t speak any English and most likely couldn’t read or write. But he could recognize the famous N-O-T-R-E  D-A-M-E anywhere.

Apparently, wearing a shirt that says Notre Dame counts more for a shirt that says Save the Children.

Notre Dame has a huge presence in this country. My dad used to go to Notre Dame College in Dhaka. This college was founded by the same Catholic organization that founded my alma mater back in South Bend. They do some amazing work which I hope to feature in an episode sometime in the future. Until then, check out my photos that I took of Notre Dame College Dhaka.

It’s both touching and makes me homesick to be so close – and yet so far – from Notre Dame. Go Irish.

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?