Tag Archive for 'school'

Last Update Before P4A

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.

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.


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 from this minority within a minority makes it all better.

I probably don’t represent many (if any) Muslims when I say this but, pointing out that people who do violent and horrible things in the name of Islam don’t actually represent Islam isn’t enough.

At the same time, 9/11 isn’t something that can be “counter-balanced” through an equally sized positive act. It’s a scar that will live on in history. At least that’s what I feel. Many Muslims reading this are probably rolling their eyes right now.

I think, as a Muslim who feels like I do, all that one can really do is live their lives in the way that best represents one’s most sincere interpretation of the goodness, positivity, and peace-making that is within Islam.

These children in rural Bangladesh currently study in an open field (or, when attendance is lower, a small cramped Church building the size of a parking spot for a car).

It’s that belief that, for me, has brought me to this remote rural village in Bangladesh – where I am potentially the first Muslim to ever build a Christian (Catholic) School. In fact, I was able to come to Bangladesh to do this on a plane ticket paid in part by a Rabbi.

Me with Avraham Berkowitz in Brooklyn prior to flying to Bangladesh – partly on the Rabbi’s dime.

I don’t claim this modest school will change the world. It’s not meant to. Rather, all I want to do is create a tiny piece of the world I’d like to see. It’s a world where people embrace each other for their differences and get strength from diversity.

Bangladesh – in fact any Muslim nation – is better off with strong, protected, and thriving minority groups. This diversity enriches the Muslim world. Only through diversity, can we understand that which is different from us. And those differences curb our own personal extremes.

A Priest with the Catholic Church coordinates with villagers on construction of the school building, funded by people who have supported me and my work. This particular congregation’s approach to aid and development is well respected enough that they are the implementing partner for many major NGOs – including World Vision.

But beyond this village, beyond just Bangladesh, and beyond Islam – fundamentally, we enrich each other in this life not by merely co-existing but by seeing the value in each other’s existence. And, by helping each other grow, thrive, and prosper, we enrich ourselves.

Future students of this school participate in the ground-breaking ceremony. This school will serve Bangladeshi Hindus, Muslims, and Christians. And, given my family’s personal experience with the Catholic School System in Bangladesh, no student will ever be pressured or required to convert to Christianity.

Ultimately, this Catholic School will only serve a small handful of Catholics. It will mostly be helping local Bangladeshi Hindus. As the school teacher put it, “I’m Hindu, I plan to stay Hindu, I just want to teach”. You know what? I want to help her.

And so does the Priest who is helping to build the school.

And so does the Rabbi who sent a Muslim to Bangladesh.

And so does the Muslim who was insane enough to hatch this crazy idea.

And by helping each other, we’ve hopefully helped and enriched ourselves.

I couldn’t think of any other way I’d want to live my life on September 11th.

Challenge Poverty (with Save the Children)

The Pond Sand Filter (Save the Children USA)

Choosing has always been the hardest part of this project. I’ve tried my best to share all the emotions I’ve had during this project like the joy of helping children in the Hill-Tracts, or the anguish and sense of powerlessness during Cyclone Sidr disaster relief, or the craziness involved in reaching some remote rural village. With this latest video, I’m sharing the toughest reality of this project: being forced to choose.

With this video, there is no wrong answer – only tough choices.

More after the jump.

Continue reading ‘Challenge Poverty (with Save the Children)’

Paying It Forward

Paying It Forward

“This maybe the day that I finally pay it forward” I said to a group of students just minutes ago. I’m writing this at a desk inside the American International School in Dhaka. I was invited to talk to the students here and, after a very long day, I just finished talking to over 200 students in both classroom and large auditorium settings. The photo above is a one I took after spending about an hour and half talking to a group of high school science students about my work and the work of Dr. Jeffrey Sachs.

It is a strange reversal of roles. It wasn’t long ago that I was a student listening to a man passionate about ending poverty. That man was Dr. Jeffrey Sachs and I was then a grad student at Notre Dame. Fast forward nearly two years – and over 8,000 miles away – and here I am (a passionate guy about ending poverty) talking to a group of students. I got to talk to middle school and high school students of virtually every race, ethnicity, religion, and nationality. It doesn’t get more amazing than that.

It was also the first time in my life I got recognized off YouTube by a stranger. One of the students in the first class I was speaking to asked me if I make videos on YouTube (I was so nervous with my first talk that I entirely forgot to mention that my work involves YouTube). Apparently, this student had searched for Bangladesh on YouTube before his family moved here and found my Christmas Day video. It was surreal. What was even more surreal was how amazed some of the teachers are about my work.

“He’s the only one in the world that’s doing something like this right now!” exclaimed High School Science Teacher Rick Davis to his students. Hopefully, whether it’s by a someone inspired here at AIS Dhaka or somewhere else in the world, I won’t be long before I am not the only one doing a project like this.

(And if anybody at AIS is reading this – why not add me as a friend on facebook?)

Working to Help the Poor in Rural Bangladesh

Before you can help – you have to listen. That’s exactly what I did in my latest episode on YouTube. This video is essentially part two of my video on The Young Hardworking Poor of Rural Bangladesh.

Some photos and details after the jump.

Continue reading ‘Working to Help the Poor in Rural Bangladesh’

The Young Hardworking Poor of Rural Bangladesh

Child Labor - Welding in a Garage

If poverty could be eliminated solely by the hardwork and determination of the poor, then third world poverty would have ended a long time ago. The poor in the developing world are some of the hardest working people on the planet. In my latest episode on YouTube, I once again point out something I learned long ago: the poor aren’t lazy.

More photos and details after the jump.

Continue reading ‘The Young Hardworking Poor of Rural Bangladesh’