... Maybe Next Year
Santa’s not putting anything underneath the tree this year unfortunately. In fact, this past year, there have been no birthday presents, nothing for the holidays, and definitely no surprises. Between my parents helping me replace my busted external harddrive, helping provide the airline points so I could meet Hank and John in Texas, and helping me return to Bangladesh in the new year – they have been supporting me as much as they can.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things on my wish-list. In this blog post, I’ll list some of the things that would make a huge difference in this project. However this isn’t a ploy at Christmas-time cyberbegging because the most of the things on this list require a Christmas miracle (or two).
Click the jump for the list…
Continue reading ‘Christmas Wish List’
It’s very easy for blogs to be nothing more than words on a screen. It’s especially easy for a blog focused on important issues like global poverty to come off sounding like meaningless rhetoric. Paying it forward! Changing the conversation! These things are meaningless unless there is action, events, and changes attached to them. It’s thanks to Kathy Ward and her non-profit organization (Nari Jibon) that I’ve been able to see first hand the power of the words that I type on my computer screen.
A few months back, my video about the Young Hardworking Poor of Rural Bangladesh got featured on the YouTube.com global website. Thousands of people started looking at my site – some wondering how to get involved. I wrote a quick post and recommended a few places people could go (Nari Jibon being one of them). As much as I’d hoped that someone might be inspired to “pay it forward”, the pragmatist in me didn’t think it very likely.
Boy was I surprised.
That video eventually made its way to Shaina. Shaina is an undergrad at Florida State University. Little did I know that she had checked out my website, found the post about how to get involved, and got in touch with Kathy at Nari Jibon. Shaina came to Bangladesh on her own dime – and like me – is staying in Dhaka with help from her family in Bangladesh. Unlike me, her two month stay in Bangladesh is definitely a two month stay. FSU awaits her back in August.
The day I met Shaina and learned about how she was inspired to come to Bangladesh was also my opportunity to meet Kathy Ward for the first time. Kathy has been reading this blog for the longest time. I think she was reading this blog before there was even a single video up on YouTube. Meeting her was especially significant for me because not only has she been a long time supporter, but she’s also been able to see how this project and how I have changed over time.
It’s friends like Kathy that have made it possible to see how my blog can make a real difference. It’s also friends like Kathy that keep me honest and make sure – no matter how many YouTube honors, website hits, and video views I get – I never forget why I came here and started this project.
[And as a sidenote, there were also a lot of weird coincidences which kept reminding me of Matt during my meeting with Kathy. Kira (the lady in the far right in the picture) used to live in Uganda before coming to Bangladesh. She was delightfully surprised when she found out this blog was expanding to Uganda. And Shaina is from Florida just like Matt. Small world, eh?]
“So what did the doc say?” asked Rick as he put down his book and I re-entered his car. Rick had driven me to the doctor’s office so I could find out what the results were of my malaria test. “Well, I don’t have malaria” I said unsurprised. “So the doctor gave me some antibiotics to take for the next six days” I said as I held up the pack of 12 pills the doctor had given me.
I was happy to get this all sorted out and – hopefully – start to get better. But, I couldn’t also help but feel a bit sad. Literally, a five minute walk from the doctor’s office was my aunt’s apartment (the one that owns the European Standard School). Not only did this aunt not give me a place to stay while I sorted these medical issues out; but also, despite knowing how sick I was, they didn’t even bother to call to see how I’m doing.
My other aunt (the one who wistfully said “we’ll see” when I asked for a ride to the doctor’s office – but never got back to me) never even bothered to call back to see if I eventually did make it to the doctor. And my uncle who owns his own newspaper and his well-to-do children? Well, lets just say that I wouldn’t count on any of them to even bother showing up to my funeral.
I know this is all may come off as a bit melodramatic. Normally, I wouldn’t think about such issues. Normally, I’d be focusing on my project and my work here in Bangladesh. But, ever since I’ve been sick, I haven’t got much work done. And the lack of support I’ve been getting from most of my family here has kind of shaken me up. Fortunately, the kindness of strangers and the support I have back home means this project is in no danger anytime soon
… or how much of my family in Bangladesh doesn’t give a damn about me.
I try and avoid writing about negative family issues because it kind of feels like I’m airing dirty laundry. Although I’ve tried my best to minimize how much I talk about this issue, the fact is the single biggest emotional toll I have had on this trip is discovering that most of my family here simply doesn’t give a damn about how I’m doing here or if I need their help. That’s not universally true of course. My grandmother has completely blown me away with her endless compassion and generosity despite her unemployment and her limited fixed income. But, as she often points out, “big wallets don’t always mean big hearts”. This also connects to what I’ve been saying earlier about many wealthy Bengalis living in an “aristocratic dome” (something thicker than just a bubble).
This ended up being a much longer article (rant?) than I imagined. So the complete article is after the jump.
Continue reading ‘The Kindness of Strangers…’
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.]
I’m a city-boy at heart. I panic if I’m more than a few blocks away from the subway. I’m also used to living in a nuclear family and the hemisphere of relatives that usually come with it (immediate aunts, uncles, and cousins). Since coming to Bangladesh, I’ve had to change some of those conceptions and expand my horizons. My trip to Jamalpour – a rural remote village in Bangladesh – was one such experience for me.
My grandmother on my mother’s side is my last surviving grandparent. In turn, she has only one last surviving sibling – a brother who lives in a rural village not far from where I was doing some work related to my latest YouTube episode. In fact, before I was able to visit that school for working kids – my grandmother insisted that I go see her brother (and his children and grandchildren) first. Time is precious and opportunities like this come up rarely. In my family, no one appreciates that fact more than my grandmother.
Here are some photos I took on that trip. See them after the jump or you can check even more of them out on my Flickr photoset titled “My Trip to Jamalpour”.
Continue reading ‘Photos: My Trip to Jamalpour’
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.