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Congratulations John Green! (Now a NY Times Bestselling Author)

I couldn’t be happier even if this happened to someone in my own family. I recently, learned that John Green (Nerdfighter, vlogbrother, and biggest supporter of this project) is now a New York Times bestseller! He’s been on tour promoting his new book Paper Towns. Want to catch him on his cross-America tour? Check out the map and see when he’s coming to a town near you!

If you know John Green, you probably know him as a great vlogger, amazing writer, and all around awesome guy. But, with this project, I’ve been able to see another side of him. He’s been a great source of personal and emotional support for me. Even though he’s been a busy guy (and soon to get busier), he’s always made the time for me.

Whether I was ranting about how the well-to-do in Bangladesh sometimes look down and scorn me and this project, the challenges and hurdles I’ve had to overcome to do this project, or how I wish my relationship with my brother was as close as the relationship he has with his brother – John’s always been there with sage words of advice and support. This is his project as much as it’s mine and he deserves all the success that’s coming his way right now.

A Year in Review – Part One

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

Me and the kids

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.

Matt had eventually resigned himself to the fact that the big impact he wanted to make wasn’t going to happen. But, thanks to you guys, we were able to fund his microfinance project ourselves. In fact, and this still surprises me, within 48 hours of announcing that I would be helping Matt – two fans of this project stepped up and decided to fully fund Matt’s project.

Because of that, over 180 grandmothers will be getting the livestock that is needed to move beyond subsistence level agriculture. This was done via an interest-free microfinance loan funded by you guys – and supervised by a government approved and registered NGO in Uganda.

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

PermaNet (Mosquito Net) Given to a Single Mother of Two

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.

Hank, John, and a Journey Through the Chittagong Hill-Tracts

This is what I mean when I say I want to “YouTube with a Purpose”. If it wasn’t for YouTube, most of you wouldn’t be reading this. If it wasn’t for YouTube, I’d never get to meet Hank and John Green. If it wasn’t for YouTube, Hank would never have thought to donate to some guy with a crazy idea for a project in Bangladesh.

Photos, deleted scenes, and much more after the jump.

Continue reading ‘Hank, John, and a Journey Through the Chittagong Hill-Tracts’

Murphy’s Law

Today was one of those days when I am kind of in awe at the international scope that this project seems to be taking.

Just hours ago, Matt boarded a plane to Uganda. Before heading out, Matt had informed me that a shipment of mosquito nets (PermaNets) donated by Vestergaard-Frandsen hadn’t arrived at his home in Florida. After touching base with a friend at the company, I found out that unfortunately the shipment had been delayed at customs in Geneva. So now I’m looking into having something donated to Matt from Vestergaard-Frandsen’s Kenyan office which could then be shipped to where Matt will be staying in Uganda.

Meanwhile, back here in Dhaka, I’m stuck with this cold, flu, or whatever it is that I have. It doesn’t seem to want to go away. That’s what has been making it hard for me to make new videos. I was, fortunately, able to keep my friend John Green up-to-date about what I’ve been doing though. He was able to make a video about it on his channel which he filmed in his backyard in Indianapolis. If you’ve seen that video than you already know that I’ve been able to spend the money donated by his brother Hank (who lives in Montana).

Those trying to visit uncultured.com earlier today might have noticed the site was dead. I noticed this as well but I wasn’t sure if the problem was on my end – the internet connection I have here in Bangladesh isn’t that great afterall. After checking with a cousin in Ottawa, I realized the site was actually down. So I had to fire off an email to the California-based company that hosts this website. Looks like everything is back to normal now though. Although, that wasn’t the only problem I’ve been having to deal with today.

I also was shocked to find that my savings account had been frozen by my bank back home. I know everything I’ve been doing with my work in Bangladesh (and my bank back home) is 100% legal – so why on Earth would it be frozen? Turns out there is a rule pertaining to how many times you can transfer money to/from your savings account in a given month. The limit seems to be six times. I had always sent any money from PayPal to my savings account before transferring it to checking before withdrawing it. So, unless, I create a different setup – I might bump into this problem again.

So, at the end of the day, my work with this project has in some way, shape, or form involved people or things happening in Geneva, California, Dhaka, Florida, Ottawa, Indianapolis, Kenya, Montana, and my family and bank back home. While that’s really amazing… it’s also a nightmare because Murphy’s Law is apparently internationally scalable.

A Deluge of Awesome

I’ve been very blessed lately. Not only is my recent video getting a lot of views (almost 20,000 right now), but I’ve also been flooded with many positive emails, messages, and comments. There are two reasons for this. The first reason being that I was recently featured on Nerdfighters.com by John Green. Don’t know what Nerdfighters or John Green are? Than, quite possibly, you might not be made out of awesome 😛 The other big reason being that I was recently spotlighted in the News & Politics section of YouTube.com.

npyoutubespot.jpg

The deluge of positive and supportive comments mean a lot to me because it hasn’t been the easiest time for me here. Most people in Bangladesh – including my relatives – have never heard of YouTube. Most don’t own a computer and most have never been on the internet. Despite my best attempts to explain what I’m doing, they think I am just “wasting my time” in front of the computer everday (interspersed with trips where I do some filming and charity work).

In fact, in the nine months that I have been in Bangladesh, I have been literally criticized and/or scolded at least once by every single relative living in Bangladesh (starting from my grandmother along with every aunt, uncle, and cousin). They don’t see the point in the work – since my work neither earns me an academic degree nor pulls in a paycheque. Conversely, every aunt, uncle, and cousin I have living in the USA or elsewhere in the developed world has given me nothing but praise, complements, and support. The contrast can sometimes be maddening.

It’s supportive comments from the YouTube, Nerdfighter, NowPublic, and blogging communities that help bring a touch of sanity and composure. I can’t thank you guys enough.