Recently, a donor raised concerns about the quality of the construction work being done on a new school I'm helping locals build. His concerns were all raised by a single instagram.
From this single photo, the donor concluded that the rods were not joined properly. Therefore, this building is being built improperly. Therefore, this school won't last. Etc etc etc.,.
I'd like to address this and I'd like to start by sharing a classification system I've developed as an educational tool to explain to others how various charities build schools.
The Latest Chapter
A Muslim’s Thoughts on 9/11
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 ...
Have To Be Poor To Help The Poor?
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 ...
The Project for Awesome (aka P4A) is an annual charity event done on YouTube. It’s organized by Hank and John Green. This was the video – quickly done with me and Jory – before that event. It was unscripted and basically showing another side to this school construction.
Just a reminder that The Uncultured Project has been nominated for a Webby Award. Please help it become the People’s Choice by voting for it here.
Meet Mindaugas Voldemaras. Mindaugas is one of the many people who submitted a video as part of the 2011 Davos Debates. Of all the efforts by applicants to get votes, Mindaugas was one of the more successful.
Mindaugas, a blogger from Lithuania, campaigned around the slogan: “Vote for Lithuania in Davos!”. He was appealing to his most salient constituency: Lithuanians.
Appealing for support from your constituency is really the best way to mobilize support on an issue. It’s a group that can be diverse but has a shared identity, kinship, and a sense of collective benefit.
From a "campaign poster" made for Mindaugas
Appealing to a salient constituency also makes it easier to find others who can help mobilize others. Mindaugas was able to find support from prominent Lithuanian tweeters, bloggers, and even Lithuanian sports fans.
The only hurdle in Mindaugas’s mobilization efforts was that everyone in Lithuania, being in the same time zone, went to sleep at more or less the same time and could only vote for him during waking hours.
When Mindaugas saw my efforts to get votes, he assumed I too was appealing to my constituency. He assumed my constituency was Canada. And, like him, he assumed I’d be limited to when Canadians were awake.
This assumption is why, thanks to you, we were able to take the #1 spot.
For this year’s Project for Awesome, I decided to pull out all the stops and show you guys a lot of the stuff I’ve been doing but haven’t had the time to put into individual episodes or videos. I keep saying that this project is less about me and more about the community behind it – hopefully this latest video helps convey that.
And, yeah, this video does use copyrighted music by Coldplay (part of EMI Records). I did enough research into YouTube’s agreement with EMI Records and am fairly certain this video won’t be taken down. But, of course, I also had to forfeit any chance of earning any ad revenue and (as I later found out) any reasonable chance of having this video being featured or promoted. EMI can also reserve the right to take down this video, region lock it, or place ads on it where they can earn all the ad revenue from it (just like the Counting Crows & Universal Music have region locked my Cyclone Sidr video and take all the ad revenue from it).
But that’s cool. This was a kind of video I wanted to make for ages. I just never could find the right match of visuals and music until I heard “Life in Technicolor ii” by Coldplay.
Following-up on my blog post about the Tour de Nerdfighting – here’s my video from that event. There is also lots of deleted scenes and bonus footage from this event up on my secondary channel. Hope you check it out!
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…
How do you measure success? Even though I’m not an NGO, should I measure success by the aid I’ve been able to give? Even though I’m not a charity, should I measure success by the money I’ve been able to raise? Or, since I have a blog and a YouTube channel, should I instead measure success by view counts, website hits, and number of subscribers?
I won’t lie – those are all very important measures of success. But I’m not a NGO – this isn’t about doing things at the same scale as those big guys. I’m also not a charity – this isn’t about pulling in the big dollars. And, especially given the subject matter that I’m focusing on, I’ll never be able to develop a cult-like aurora of celebrity (although I think that’s probably for the best).
Rather, the more time I spend doing this project, the more I realize what matters the most is not the things I give, nor the funds I raise, nor even the popularity this project receives. What matters the most is the lives that this work has been able to touch – both here on the ground and online. And, by that measure – and by that measure alone – this project stands to eventually have (or already has) a success that is second to none.
Having been here in Bangladesh for over a year, and with the one year anniversary of my first blog post coming up, I thought I would share some of the most memorable moments of this project to date…
Most Memorable Game Changing Experience: Matt Joins the Project
I can’t take credit for Matt’s decision to fly to Uganda to try and make a difference. Anyone who has had the privilege of getting to know Matt would realize he was bound to do something like this sooner or later. What I can – or rather, what all of those following this project – can take credit for is making Matt’s trip to Uganda a lot more meaningful than could have otherwise been possible.
Matt had gone to Uganda with the expectation he’d be helping some family move beyond subsistence level agriculture. What, instead, he found is that things are always harder than it seems. Much of his two months there were spent trying to reconcile disparities in what various funding agencies wanted and what the locals there were the most comfortable with.
The only thing I’m debating is who is the most grateful: Matt for the assistance he was able to get, the grandmothers for the help they received, or me for Matt joining this project in the first place.
Most Memorable Online Community Experience: Nerdfighters
To the outsider, the whole concept of Nerdfighting might seem a bit.. childish? Made of Awesome? In your pants jokes? DFTBA? But the fact of the matter is that the Nerdfighting community has been – by far – the most important community I have had the honor of being a part of.
And I say that not because of the help John and Hank have provided in helping to spread the word and raise funds. Rather, Nerdfighting is important because of what it represents. On YouTube, it is very easy for “community” to be nothing more than a fan club centered around a charismatic celebrity-like personality.
Nerdfighting – on the other hand – is centered around an idea, not a person. It’s about having fun, making friends, and doing good (aka decreasing “worldsuck”). Although all this was started by John and Hank Green, since its inception, it’s extended far beyond just being about them.
John and Hank Green have been able to show what a genuine YouTube community can be like. And, by being able to team up with them, this is an opportunity to show what kind really tangible on-the-ground impact such a community can have.
Most Memorable Impact: Helping Single Mothers
When it comes to my single most memorable impact – I actually have a hard time narrowing it down to just one. There are actually two experiences that distinctly stick out in my mind. Both of them, actually, deal with helping single mothers as they struggle to support their children with little or no money.
The first one was helping a widow support her children (seen in the photo above). That is definitely the single most tangible impact I’ve had on any person’s life. There is also the single mother I met during my return to the Cyclone Sidr disaster area. That was really my emotional high point and – by far – the biggest emotional impact I’ve had on any one person’s life.
Both experiences actually highlight something else I’ve learned over the course of this past year. While I may not be able to compete with the sheer scale of big NGOs and charities, the approach I’ve taken with this project has allowed me to give a special attention to detail that charities aren’t able to do. I’ll have more on that in Part Two.
I titled this video “Using YouTube with a Purpose” because, really, this couldn’t have been done without the help of a little website called YouTube and the community that is part of it (in particular the Nerdfighter community). From the donors Hank and Pat – both of whom are YouTubers – to the musicians who lent their music for free in this video such as Jamison Young, Brad Sucks, and Josh Woodward. And, here in Bangladesh, if Rick Davis never found my videos on YouTube – I would have never thought to make this trip nor would I have been able to meet the amazing children in this rural village.
If you notice in this video, I use a clip from one of my sadder videos – The Hard Lessons of Aid Work. That’s because, even though I don’t talk much about it in this video, I did learn a lot from this experience. I now have a better understanding about why big name charities need to have large overhead and infrastructure. I also have a better understanding of how help can sometimes come with a risk and how even trying to help can sometimes have it its pros and cons.
All that plus some photos from the field after the jump.