Tag Archive for 'Sidr'

This Takes Time

Jason Sadler

Inspired by some recent comments on this blog and tweets, I’d like to talk about the direction I feel this project needs to be going. And it starts with the story of Jason Sadler.

Jason Sadler is an entrepreneur who has successfully used social media to generate fame, attention, and wealth for himself through his business called I Wear Your Shirt. Hoping to use his momentum on social media, Jason decided to form his own non-profit organization.

Jason’s non-profit was about providing free clothes to people in Africa. He called his organization “1 Million Shirts” with the goal of getting people to donate 1 million used shirts which he would then ship to needy families in Africa.

A lot of us donate our gently-used clothing to local good-will. And, when I’m overseas, I often find myself parting with some of my favorite shirts because I find people who could benefit from them more than I could. But, on the scale Jason was aiming to do, this could do more harm than good.

Click the jump to read more…

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Lost in Translation

These past 14 hours have served as an example of one of the many frustrating challenges a project like this faces.

What many non-Bangla speakers sometimes don’t realize, is that there are many variations of Bangla. There is city Bangla, Bangla used by those who emigrated away from Bangladesh, and rural village Bangla. Each one comes with different accents, meanings, and translations.

This can be a lot of trouble when trying to translate words I’ve heard for the first time in rural villages. This was exactly what happened when a local villager tried to explain to Paul that Cyclone Aila had destroyed many “bhitas”:

In many ways, I relate to this villager a lot. I often throw English words into my Bangla when I don’t know what the Bangla equivalent is. And this villager, while explaining the damage caused by Cyclone Aila, had to throw in “bhita” because he didn’t know the English equivalent.

The problem is that there is no direct English translation for “bhita”. And thus began my 14 hour struggle to find a translation.

The first people I turned to were those from the American-Bangladeshi community. This consists of Americans who originally were born and raised in Bangladesh. To my surprise, many of them told me their Bangla was too poor to properly help with any translation. This includes people who still do business in Bangladesh! I was shocked and surprised.

Those in the American-Bangladeshi community that did try and take a stab at translating each came up with different words. One suggested it means “embankment”, another suggested it meant “landscape” or “property”, someone else suggested it meant “home”, finally one of them suggested it meant “mud hut”. How could one word mean so many different things?

Well it turns out they were all wrong… and right at the same time. Click the jump to find out what the word “bhita” means.

Continue reading ‘Lost in Translation’

The “Expat Bubble” vs. The “Aristocratic Dome”

“What about the taxes?” asked one of the students. It was my last day of talks at the American International School in Dhaka. I was in the middle of recounting my experience doing Cyclone Sidr Disaster Relief. Everything seemed to be going well – but this question kind of threw me off.

“Uhh… taxes?” I asked. Before the student replied, I quickly gave him one good look and realized that he – unlike most of the students in the classroom – wasn’t an expatriate. Rather, he was among the small percentage of Bangladeshis that were actually rich enough to be able to send their children to this school. Judging by the expensive and fashionable Western clothing, perfectly matching accessories, and perfectly styled hair – he was from a rather well-to-do family.

“Yeah, you see,” he started to explain, “if local families wanted to give aid to the Cyclone victims using their own name – they weren’t allowed to do so. They had to give it to the military to distribute instead. And, anything we gave could be taxed. Don’t you think that’s a problem? A lot of people didn’t give aid because of that,”

I made a slight groan underneath my breath. Find out why after the jump…

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This Photo Kills Me

Left in the Cold

My parents always told me I tend to focus on the negative. I had given over 30 blankets on the day this photo was taken (not the 30 I gave with Save the Children – that was another batch of blankets I had bought).

Some kids, like the one on the right, were lucky enough to get one. Others, like the other kid in the photo, were left shivering in the cold. Why is it that I can sometimes forget the faces of the kids that I’ve helped, but manage to never forget the ones I couldn’t?

Site Changes, Personal Changes

When I first started this blog, I didn’t have much to show for this project. In fact, the day I wrote my first blog post I was stuck in a relatives’ home because all of Bangladesh was under military curfew.

Since then I have a lot to show: I’ve given away two cases of water during the summer flooding season. I’ve given over fifty mosquito nets (including one long-lasting insecticide treated mosquito net called PermaNet) to rural villagers. I’ve given wind-up flashlights to low-income students trying to study without electricity as well as one to a low-income disaster relief volunteer. I’ve helped to pay for a large group of poor children to have a balanced and healthy meal. And, recently, I’ve distributed 70 blankets (30 of which I did with Save the Children, another 30 with Muslim Aid UK, and 10 I gave out one-on-one) to victims of a Cyclone Sidr.

So it’s about time I tweak the look of the site a bit. Gone is the static photo of my Notre Dame hat and Dr. Jeffrey Sachs’ book. I’m still using that photo – but the main picture on my site now changes randomly every few minutes (you’ll have to reload manually) to shows some of the things I’ve done and interesting people I’ve met. This change also reflects a decision I’ve made.

When I first came to Bangladesh, I thought I would stay here for a couple of months and then go. But since coming here, I’ve kept changing my departure date. September departures became October departures – and so on. I don’t know when exactly I am going to fly home – but I know I will be here in Bangladesh Christmas and the New Year. For the first time in my life – I’ll be spending Christmas and New Years away from both my Mom and Dad.

It’s not easy staying here. There are bugs, germs, and it’s easy to get sick. I’m far from my friends and I am kind of getting homesick. This has also had a cost on my family (in particular my mother who had contracted Dengue Fever during the time she was accompanying me on this project). But, despite all this difficulty, I have a unique opportunity. I’m doing something no one has ever done before (at least in terms of how I’m sharing my experience and work online with others through Flickr, YouTube, and blogging). And I’m helping others while I do it. How many people can say that?

I also want to share a message and inspire others. It’s hard to do that if I’m just uploading old footage and photos from my home in Canada. Hopefully by staying this project can grow and perhaps inspire others.

Disaster Area: I’m Starting To Remember More Details

They say when you see such suffering and devastation first hand, you’re mind goes into shock. I didn’t believe them until I experienced it myself. I kind of feel like a weakling for reacting like this. I mean, I wasn’t harmed by the Cyclone – my family is safe thousands of miles away – what is there for me to be in shock about?

But, here I am just now – reviewing some footage I took during my time in the disaster area – and all of a sudden I vividly remember something I must have blocked out. And, now that I remember it, I kind of remember why I would have wanted to block it out in the first place.

As I mention in the last youtube episode (or see below, after the jump), I spent the third day with Nick Downie with Save the Children. We had to walk among endless rows upon rows of make-shift housing from people displaced by the cyclone. I had forgotten until now, but a group of people raced up to me and asked me in Bengali if I was a television reporter.

They wanted to tell the world how improperly aid was being given in their part of the disaster area. They were explaining to me how they were waiting and some people were getting aid and relief for the second time and they hadn’t received any at all. Unfortunately, we were on a tight schedule and I was falling behind – we hadn’t even reached the abandoned school yet to test its water. After explaining to them I wasn’t with any Bangladesh TV station – I left them behind. I’m just starting to remember how sad the looks on their faces were.

I also understood why they were complaining about how aid was be distributed. Technically, aid hadn’t fully reached this region yet. My sparse 30 blankets were some of the first aid of its kind in that area. There were also far more pressing concerns. For starters, there was no clean water anywhere in sight. I had brought with me my Notre Dame Nalgene water bottle. In such intense heat, I finished the water in the bottle very quickly. I spent the rest of the day parched. Because, although there were tube wells everywhere we went – the cyclone left them too contaminated to drink from. Water from every tube well was yellow with chunks of dirt in it. Yet, that’s exactly what everyone else was drinking who was stuck there. One day in that area and I was tempted to risk drinking from it.

Imagine having to live there.

[UPDATE 1: Somebody submitted this blog post to digg. I am really flattered. If you want, you can digg it here.]

[UPDATE 2: Welcome to those who came here by Stumbleupon.]

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Update: I’m Not Going, But Family Blankets Still Are

Turns out I won’t be going afterall. If I got a dollar for every time a plan fell through, I’d be making a profit on this project. But don’t worry – the blankets are still going. All 2,000 of them.

It turns out that these will be distributed with the help of the Bangladesh Coast Guard and Bangladesh Army. My uncle, as I mentioned before, is an ex-military colonel and apparently still has some connections. Unfortunately, the reason I can’t go is because I am a foreigner. As someone without Bangladeshi citizenship, I was not (and still am not) security cleared to go along.

Bummer. I always to ride in a military speedboat – without the whole having to join the military part.