This isn’t the story of how donations built a school. Donations don’t build school. Watch the video to see what I mean.
Haphazardly Trying to Make the World a Better Place. Inspired by my time as a student at the University of Notre Dame.
As a Muslim, I feel personally ashamed at what happened on September 11th, 2001. I know I shouldn’t be – I wasn’t (nor any Muslim I could possibly personally know) involved in that heinous act. But Islam emphasizes unity. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Canadian Muslim, Arab Muslim, or a Bangladeshi Muslim. It makes me think: the 9/11 hijackers probably prayed in the direction of Mecca and fasted for Ramadan just like me. Yet, the first thing that most Muslims around the world did was point out that the perpetrators of 9/11 don’t represent them or Islam. As if distancing ourselves ...
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. [caption id="attachment_3748" align="aligncenter" width="499" caption="Toilet paper, antibiotics, soap, and pajamas - not taking a salary from ...
Dear Supporters of Invisible Children, A lot of you may be confused at all the criticism that Invisible Children (IC) has faced as of late. Perhaps you feel that this criticism is coming from people who fail to understand the mission and nature of IC. Alternatively, perhaps, you may feel that this criticism - while having some merit - has been unfairly blown out of proportion. What I think needs to be understood is that there is no such thing as black and white. Invisible Children, as an organization, isn't some nefarious evil group robbing people of their money. But, at the ...
Hello from Plano, Texas! I’ve got some great news. First, I got to meet Hank & John Green. They are even more amazing in real life than they are online. If you want to see them, they are going on a Cross-America trip called the Tour de Nerdfighting. Check this map to see when and where they will be next – you can even RSVP by clicking on the city location.
Second, if you’ve ever wanted to make a donation but 1) Can’t or don’t want to use PayPal and 2) Don’t like how PayPal takes a cut of every donation – than there is a great opportunity for you to get involved in this project in a way that guarantees 100% of your donation is used. And best of all? I don’t ever have to touch a dime.
Hank and John will be accepting donations at every stop of their tour up until November 12th. On November 12th, they’ll be in Westport, Conneticut – the home town of Save the Children USA. If all goes according to plan – they’ll be handing over the donations directly to Save the Children. That money will be spent based on how you guys vote in my Challenge Poverty video. Voting is still open – so please do get involved! 🙂
I don’t have to touch your money, 100% of the funds raised go straight to helping the poor, you get to decide how it’s spent, and it all helps one of the world’s greatest international charities. How more awesome can it get?
Click the jump for some photos from the Plano event…
A few months back, I made a blog post saying I don’t like to flaunt my religious beliefs. Part of the reason for that is because it doesn’t matter what my beliefs are. What matters is that – no matter our differences – we unite under a common goal: to fight (and eventually end) extreme global poverty.
In fact, I had written:
In my opinion, peace on Earth will come when we stop hating what is different among us and start loving what it is we have in common. When we finally do that, I think we will find that we share the same wisdom – though we may find it in different places and from different books.
This little project may not have changed the world – but it seems to have created a little bubble of the kind of world that a lot of us would like to see. I started to realize this when I started going over those who had made donations to this project. Take a look at some of the countries people have been donating from:
What makes this even more interesting is that it seems that virtually every race, religion, and ethnicity has contributed to this project. Corresponding with a few of the donors I know for a fact that atheists/agnostics, Jews, Christians (and not just Catholics from Notre Dame), Muslims, and Hindus have all contributed to this project.
I used to think Mahatma Gandhi’s phrase “be the change you want to see” was just cliché beaten to death by countless charities, fundraisers, and organizations. But, I gotta say… I’m starting to become a believer in that saying.
(Photo Credit: Flag Icons Made by IconDrawer.com)
After the second meeting, I had a list of all the grandmothers and what animals they chose to receive. It is probably the most interesting shopping list I’ve ever had:
My co-worker Joseph and I got to the village of Buwaiswa on Wednesday afternoon, and were immediately greeted by Mama Lillian, who helps out at the orphanage. Mama Lillian conveniently had eight piglets ready to be sold, we could have first pick if we so chose. Done.
This gave us time to go around on foot (anything else was impossible) and visit some of the grandmothers who wanted goats. Three of them had even done shopping on their own and found goats for us to buy.
That night we went into the trading center of Busota to see if we could find an animal salesman named Dadi. He supposedly had a bunch of goats waiting to be sold. After we arrived in Busota and were mobbed by kids who hadn’t seen a white person before, we eventually found his assistant. He confirmed that Dadi had some goats ready to sell; the only problem was that he wasn’t in town. We would need to come back tomorrow. We exchanged phone numbers and then hitched a ride back to Buwaiswa.
The next morning, we took an early tea and then ventured up to Busota again. Dadi was still missing. His phone wasn’t getting any reception (no surprise), so we just had to wait. And wait. After repeated attempts, we finally got Dadi on the phone long enough to find out that he was technically sold out of goats at the moment, which was why he was frantically driving around trying to find more.
Back to square one. This was going to be a long day. Our boda-boda driver told us that he had an idea, which was as good as anything, so we pulled a u-turn and headed back past Buwaiswa. Along the way, we found a chicken farmer and made his day. He finished the transaction sixteen chickens lighter and 105,000 shillings richer.
The goat dealer we found didn’t have any either, but he at least knew where to get some. We found a tree for some shade and sat down as he took our boda driver off into the bush. Over the next hour, he came back four times with a goat on his lap, tied it to a stump, and headed off in another direction. On the fifth trip, he hopped off, tied up the last goat, and walked over to us.
“That’s all I could find.”
I was impressed. Five goats in an hour. That’s twelve minutes per goat!
After this stroke of luck, things were looking good. In war, what we did next is called “mopping up.” For the rest of thursday and friday, we just meandered around on foot and found the last four goats.
Our shopping was over. We called the grannies. They needed to help bring in groceries.
So what’s involved in helping Matt in Uganda? The most important thing is making sure I do this in a way that’s both transparent and has the consent of those who have donated money to this project. In order for Matt to help these 187 grandmothers, he will need a total of $500 US Dollars – that’s the total amount needed after all the transfer fees, PayPal fees, and conversion fees are done with.
There is enough donated funds to meet this need. But this operation may not be what some of the donors signed up for. So, over the next couple of days, I am going to try and contact a few donors to see if they would be interested in letting me divert some or all of their donations to Matt’s project in Uganda. This is also the first time in this project we will be doing something called microfinance.
Dealing with other people’s money has brought out the control-freak in me. I admit – I really gave Matt a hard time on this one. Here’s some of the details/requirements I got Matt to agree to as part of this Uncultured Project funded microfinance operation:
While the first two points were always part of Matt’s plan, the later two were things I insisted upon. It actually took a bit of creative account on Matt’s part to agree to these conditions. But, at the end of the day, the 187 grandmothers will receive $500 worth of assistance through microfinance. In turn, these grandmothers will have to repay $500 – and not a cent more.
So between now and when Matt distributes these $500 worth of farming equipment and livestock, I’m going to have to get in contact with enough donors to pull together $500. If you are someone who has donated and think this is something you’d like to help with – let me know. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying this as an appeal for more donations. There is already enough funds to do this – I am just not sure which donors would be comfortable (or uncomfortable) with such an operation.
[Updated] In the first 72 hours of officially starting PayPal donations, there have been over 152 separate donations totally over $3,400. Wow.
Let me put it this way. More money has been raised in just the past 72 hours than I have directly spent on helping others during my entire project to date. If our political leaders were as conscious and considerate about third world poverty as those who read this blog than global poverty would have ended ages ago.
This experience has also shown me just how hard it is to make sure every dollar reaches those in need. Even though I have yet to touch a single penny that has been donated, PayPal has already taken 3.2%. [Update June 12th, 2008 – PayPal charges a variable service charge. For large donations, the percentage seems to be around 3.2%. But, for smaller donations such as $1, the service charge is over 30%] That means of the $3623.30 donated within the first 72 hours – PayPal already scooped up $156.49 for themselves.
Assuming I withdraw this money the same way I have been withdrawing donations from my family (through the local ATMs) there will be a 1% currency conversion fee for every dollar I withdraw. So that means – before any money gets to help anyone – between the banks and PayPal – over $190 never reaches it’s destination.
This is part of the reason I was suggesting everyone seriously consider donating to one of my recommended charities. Many of them use their tax exempt status to negotiate better rates with online donation services and banks. Although, even these charirties have to pay some fees – and some of their money goes to PR and paying their staff.
I’m starting to wonder just how much of “a cup of coffee a day” actually reaches the final destination…
This project was never about fund raising – and it never will be. But I’ve talked to a lot of friends and they have all asked for the same thing: they want to be able to see where their money goes in the same way that my relatives get to see how I spend their family donations.
This kind of begs the question – why aren’t charities doing this? Even back in the 1980s (or earlier) you could sponsor a child and they would send you a picture along with some letters written by them. But come on, it’s 2008 – why can’t they send a vlog instead of a picture?
Heck, I can donate my money to my old alma mater and have a plaque on a chair in some auditorium – so I can see exactly where my money went. But if I were to donate the same amount to a charity to help build a school in the third world – I’m really left with nothing more but generic promo videos.
I believe that this is an important step in changing the conversation about global poverty. It’s in that spirit I’ve setup a PayPal account to accept donations. But please keep in mind that I’m just a private citizen and not a charity or NGO – donations to me aren’t tax-deductible.
Also, I am just one guy, your money will definitely go farther with a registered charity than with me. If you are having a hard time choosing which registered charity to give to – I have a recommended list of registered tax-deductible charities you can donate to. I’d be just as happy – if not happier – if you donated to them instead of me.
But, please, don’t take all this talk about charity and donations to mean that they are the single solution to ending extreme poverty. Political action, debt relief, and fairer trade agreements can do more than all the individual fund raising in the world.
[Full Disclosure: I should have pointed this out earlier, a few people are assuming I will be using these donations to help cover my day-to-day expenses (food, internet connection, DV tapes for filming, etc). I really – ethically – do not feel I can spend money donated to me for those purposes. It also doesn’t make sense to ask others to subsidize such living expenses. At most, I may need to spend this money on travel costs if my work takes me outside of Dhaka City. I realize that most charities and NGOs use donation money to cover their food and living expenses – but like I said, I’m neither a charity or NGO.]