Tag Archive for 'Poverty'

The Foreign Pornographer

“What are you doing? Making poverty porn?” I asked.

It was a Sunday night here in Dhaka. I was drenched in sweat having nearly completed a 50 mile bike ride around the city. I was passing by the upper class part of town when I had to stop.

In the middle of the street, stood a foreigner taking a photo of the most crippled street beggar he could find – an elderly man with stubby deformed legs roaming around in a wheelchair.

Armed with a DSLR and lighting rig, worth more money than this beggar would see in his entire lifetime, the foreigner had the beggar pose with a photo of Ronald Regan in front of his face.

“Why Ronald Regan?” I asked the foreigner. He ignored me – pretending I wasn’t there.

I pedaled right next to him – putting myself between him and the expensive luxury SUV he had rode up in. I didn’t notice it at the time, but the car sported yellow license plates: a privilege reserved for diplomats and dignitaries.

“Excuse me – why Ronald Regan?” I asked again. The foreigner coyly shrugged. “Because why not?” he asked. “But why Ronald Regan? What are you trying to do? Besides make poverty porn?” I asked. He turned to me and smirked.

“That’s exactly what I’m doing” he replied.

His flippancy was astounding. It only got worse.

Continue reading ‘The Foreign Pornographer’

Money Doesn’t Build A School

This isn’t the story of how donations built a school. Donations don’t build school. Watch the video to see what I mean.


Poverty Makes Bangladesh Look Bad?

I recently received this comment from a Bangladeshi who is wealthy enough to live in the United States:

I understand that this guy is helping the people in Bangladesh, but honestly is it that hard to shoe [sic] the good part of Bangladesh and not the part that’s poor because not everywhere in Bangladesh is like that. [emphasis mine]

I’m sharing this comment because many wealthier Bangladeshis equate anything that has to do with poverty (whether or not that focus embraces guilt-free positivity and eschews poverty porn) as automatically “bad”.

There’s nearly 150 million people in this country and, according to the United Nations, over half of them are living in extreme poverty. It would be nice if wealthier Bangladeshis could acknowledge we can have a conversation about Bangladesh’s poor without it being seen as “showing the bad”.

I’m not saying this based on one lone YouTube comment. This point-of-view is actually fairly commonplace among wealthier Bangladeshis and has actually been the focus of a thorough academic analysis in the book “Elite Perceptions of Poverty in Bangladesh” by Dr. Naomi Hossain.

As Dr. Hossain points out, wealthier (or “elite”) Bangladeshis “do not feel threatened by the extent of poverty, or by poor people”. Rather, they feel that poverty threatens “the wealth or international stature of the nation”. So for many Bangladeshis, talking about the poorer half makes Bangladesh look bad.

We need to get over ourselves.


3 Reasons Charities Need to Drop the Guilt

A Charity Guilt-Ad Currently Airing in Canada

It’s 2011 and we still live in a world where many charities think that the best way to raise funds to help those in need is by using guilt.

This needs to stop and here are three reasons why:

Continue reading ‘3 Reasons Charities Need to Drop the Guilt’

From Riots to Aid: The Impact of the Social Lens

Nathan Kotylak - Water Polo All Star

Meet Nathan Kotylak. A few weeks ago Nathan was a rising star. He was the best water polo player in his school, he was training with the Canadian national water polo team, he earned a scholarship to one of Canada’s best universities, and he was on track to be one of Canada’s Olympic athletes in a few years time.

But that all changed in about the time it takes to make a tweet.

Continue reading ‘From Riots to Aid: The Impact of the Social Lens’

When the poor speak for themselves

We need to bridge the digital divide because the people who can best speak for the poor are the poor themselves. What does that look like? Well, meet Eric Sheptock. He advocates for the needs of the homeless in America. Is he some expert or aid worker? Nope. He’s actually homeless himself. He’s able to connect with the world (and has way more fans and friends on Facebook than I do) thanks to a donated laptop and some free wifi.

What struck me the most when I uploaded this video is that so many people leaving comments were actually homeless themselves. Which brings me to another point. When the poor in developing countries start speaking for themselves as easily as you and I are able to upload something to YouTube, you can be sure that some of them might have a thing or two to say about charities which use guilt-based advertising.

Controversial Thought of the Night

A couple of weeks before Christmas, I had the honor of lecturing about my work to students at Kansas State University. It was only a few days ago, that I discovered someone by the name of Kristine wrote this about my visit to the school newspaper:

Can anyone say an Islamic terrorist gaining dupes???? I am sure that he as an agenda, like most Islamist. But we are not hearing about that. Sort of like how Hitler was the biggest contributor to the ASPCA of Germany, but that never comes out till after the dupes have adopted his programs. Islam is devil worship, an authoritarian system of governance, and evil. Those are the facts. Now if you want to go around being a Stockholm syndrome victim, as in “they must hate me because of me, so I must be like them”, wake up. The JIhadist and Islamist want you to either submit, or join. Sort of like being in gang. Either you a Crip, or you an enemy.

I met a lot of amazing and kind people at Kansas State University. And I know everyone reading this will say this comment is just one person – but it hurt. It’s painful to think that someone can be genuinely alarmed just because I’m brown and have the last name “Ahmed”. And they probably aren’t alone in that thinking.

I have to admit, shortly after reading this comment, I kind of decided to curl into bed and sleep a bit for a good chunk of the day. So, clearly I don’t have as thick a skin as I hoped. And maybe, what I’m about to say next, is not something I’d be saying if I wasn’t hurt.

But, it seems to me, the more prominent, more distinguished, and more successful anti-poverty “speakers”, “advocates”, and “champions” (coming from my generation and my age group) are those who racially, religiously, and ethnically resemble the “Western donor” than those who racially, ethnically, and/or religiously resemble the recipients.

I have no doubt that if I went on stage not as brown-skinned “Shawn Ahmed” but as a paler-skinned “Shawn Adams” there wouldn’t be comments like the above sent to the school newspaper. And who knows? Maybe the idea of helping those in need in distant countries would have been more palatable to people like Kristine when it’s coming from people who are more like her and less like me.