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 ...
Okay, so it’s not the Matt from this blog. We know where that Matt is – Uganda. This video is about Matt Harding and I just love it. This is actually the latest version of this video – he’s traveled around the world doing this twicebefore.
It’s such a simple, heart-warming, and touching video. It says so much without saying a word. It’s actually Matt’s videos that were a source of inspiration for my first YouTube episode. What does dancing around the world have to do with ending global poverty? Well, as Dr. Sachs said (and I quoted in my first video), we share a common human bond. You can overcome the barriers of race, religion, and language with simple generosity.
Did you know that one day’s worth of Pentagon spending ($1.5 Billion US Dollars) would be enough to protect every man, woman, and child in Africa from malaria for five years? Don’t take my word for it – Dr. Jeffrey Sachs was the one who did the math on that. We can create a world free from malaria. It is never been easier to achieve and the need has never been more pressing.
In this latest episode I go into further detail about some of the mosquito nets I distributed in episode one. I also show excerpts of my interview with a Catholic Priest who got infected with malaria 38 times (twice of which was cerebral malaria). This is the same footage I was trying to mail out of the country for use by an advocacy organization based in Switzerland. Incidentally, I was finally able to send that footage to Switzerland afterall. I was able to give the tape to one of my uncles who was flying to Singapore. He then mailed it to Switzerland from there. Take that evil Draconian export laws of Bangladesh!
I also go into more detail about the PermaNets donated to me by Vestergaard-Frandsen. I’ve talked about PermaNets before and I can’t recommend them enough. These nets do work. The PermaNet over my bed has scrapped up against splinters and nails – but it hasn’t ripped. These nets are also treated with a long-lasting insecticide which is harmless to humans but kill mosquitos when they come into contact with the net. The reason the insecticide is long-lasting is because it is manufactured into the net in a way that won’t wash away. Rather, it will stay at an effective concentration level for years.
This World Malaria Day why not consider donating a PermaNet? You don’t even need to give me a dime to do so. Just check the recommended charities section of this site for a list of charities that distirbute PermaNets. And, as always, I was not paid or required to endorse any of the companies that I talk about (including Vestergaard-Frandsen).
I’m glad I stayed home last Friday because riots broke out yesterday in Dhaka City and dozens were injured. There hasn’t been riots for a while in Bangladesh. The last time this happened was around when I first started this blog. Unfortunately, unlike the previous riots, these ones were religious in nature. Religious extremists were (violently) protesting plans to give women equal rights in regards to inheritance (equal rights for women? For shame! /sarcasm).
The simple fact is – especially when it comes to Islamic extremists – such protests are nothing but an exercise in hypocrisy. Because there is supposed to be “no compulsion in Islam”. If these religious extremists were truly following their religion – they should not have been trying to forcibly impose their particular interpretation of Islam on others. God gave us all free will and I – for one – will be damned if I accept the attempts of some of his more extreme followers to try and take away that gift.
As disturbing as these developments are this is proof of what Dr. Jeffrey Sachs has been arguing. There is a connection between religious extremism, terrorism, and poverty. It should be no surprise that these religious extremists were able to mobilize during a time of severely rising food prices. These food prices have already caused a lot of people to protest and riot. It’s very easy to redirect one’s anger when they are hungry – and that’s what the extremists have been doing.
To fight Islamic – hypocritical – extremism we need to fight poverty. It’s just that simple.
“Have you looked into micro-credit?” is the question I get asked most frequently. I actually got to meet Professor Yunus – a Bangladeshi and Nobel Peace Prize winner for his work in micro-credit. Micro-credits are basically small loans to those poor who wish to use that small loan for entrepreneurial purposes with the goal of pulling themselves out of poverty. Grameen Bank (founded by Professor Yunus) has had incredible results and amazing success stories. The reason I have somewhat shyed away from focusing on micro-credit in my work here in Bangladesh is because I believe there is an overemphasis on micro-credit back in the developed world. Micro-credit is part of the solution to ending poverty. It is not the solution to ending poverty in and of itself.
In terms of borrowing money, the poor in the developing world are very much like people in the developed world: what makes sense for us also make sense for them. It makes perfect sense, for example, to take a loan so you can attend a college. But does it make sense for you (or your parents) to take a loan so you can go to grade school? It also makes perfect sense to take a loan to buy a car. If you took a loan to buy a car, for example, you could start a delivery/transport business. But, would it make sense to constantly have to take subsequent loans because your car keeps breaking down because of the lack of proper roads? It’s also understandable that people sometimes need to to take loans to pay for medical expenses. But imagine if you could avoid getting sick in the first place simply by having a community with basic sanitation and the simplest of protection against diseases.
There is nothing wrong with micro-credit. It’s the developed world’s attitude toward micro-credit which is the problem. Aid and micro-credit isn’t an either/or proposition. They can work together. Many of the Millennium Development Goals advocated by Dr. Sachs and the United Nations are really a good basic support. Completing the MDGs will put people in a position of 1) being able to take full advantage of any micro-credit loans they ask for as well 2) helping people avoid unnecessary loans. Why take a loan for malaria treatments in a hospital when you can avoid getting infected by sleeping in an insecticide treated mosquito net? Imagine how far someone can go with a micro-credit loan if they have had the opportunity to gain even the basic of literacy skills to tap their full potential and ingenuity.
If there was a one sure fire solution to ending extreme global poverty – we’d already have this problem solved. Reaching a real solution means having to break our romantic belief that there is a holy grail to ending poverty.
With a first name “Shawn”, a family heritage in a predominately Muslim country, and the second in my family to go to a place called “Notre Dame” – I am sure I have left a few people wondering what exactly it is that I believe in.
If you read some of the comments I leave on YouTube – I’m sure it gets even more confusing. When I am responding to someone who makes it clear they are Muslim – I often cite the Qu’ran. When I am responding to someone who references Jesus Christ – I respond by quoting the Bible. When I believe someone is agnostic or atheist – I stick to facts, figures, and keep faith out of the picture.
The reason for this is simple – though our beliefs differ, our goals should be the same: We. Must. End. Poverty.
It also speaks to my belief on how we can achieve peace on Earth. 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.
Hey to everyone who have recently stumbled upon this site. The number one comment/inquiry I have been getting is: “How can I get involved?”. Since it’s becoming harder and harder to respond to every email and comment personally – let me answer that question in this blog post:
1) Volunteering and/or Seeking a Position?: I might have given the wrong impression with some of my videos. I’m just one guy – I’m not an organization, NGO, or charity. I am honored that people are asking for “a position in my organization” or to “volunteer for my cause” – but what I’m doing isn’t really anything on that kind of scale. Volunteering is important though – and I highly recommend those interested in checking out both Save the Children and the VSO (that is the VSO UK site – but they have branches in many countries).
2) Sending Supplies?: I’m kind of weary of people sending supplies from abroad given my previous bad experiences with corrupt bureaucrats at the customs office. A very supportive company (Vestergaard Frandsen) had donated some water purification straws (called LifeStraws) and insecticide treated sheeting (called ZeroFly) and had it shipped to me here in Bangladesh. But, when it came to picking it up at the customs office – the local bureaucrats wouldn’t release it without over a $100 in trumped up fees and bribes (or “commissions” as they put it). I’ve even heard of a Canadian NGO/charity which had trouble having their water purification equipment released during the deadly floods of last year. Whether its non-profit charity work or time-sensitive disaster relief – the corrupt bureaucrats at the customs office don’t seem to care.
3) Making a Donation?: I ended the very first video on YouTube with “Don’t worry – I’m not asking for your money”. But, ever since then, I’ve been asked repeatedly if I would consider setting up a PayPal account and start accepting donations. My work in Bangladesh is admittedly very small scale. The big name organizations like Save the Children and smaller (but more personal) organizations like Nari Jibon operate with a greater economy of scale. Donating to them makes more sense because your donation can go further with them. But, given the frequent requests, I am in the process of setting up a PayPal donation system. I will keep you posted. Although even when that is setup – I’d still recommend you donate to one of the recommended charities. They are tax deductible and I won’t be unfortunately.
Above all – more than volunteering, more than making a donation or sending supplies – the most important thing you can do is to make this a priority in your life. Too many people ignore these pressing issues using rhetoric or apathy. Making the world a better place for others – makes it a better place for us. As Dr. Jeffrey Sachs said, “eveywhere we share the same common human bond”. Dr. Sachs (my inspiration for this project and author of the book “The End of Poverty”) believes we can end poverty in our lifetime. I believe him. But in order for that to happen – we have to make it a priority in both our lives and in the political realm.