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Official Honoree of the Webby Awards!

honoree_black_high

Wow! What can I say? If you’re familiar with The Webby Awards, you’ll know that they aren’t big on long acceptance speeches. So let me keep it short and sweet: this means a lot. It’s one thing to think that your doing something groundbreaking – but it’s completely different to be formally recognized for that. Becoming an Official Honoree for Outstanding Work in Experimental Online Film is proof that something special is going on with this project.

What makes this honor especially unique is that The Uncultured Project is the only one in this category (honoree or nominee) to not be owned by a corporation or media agency. All the others were created and/or funded by names like Sony, MTV, FremantleMedia, DECA, and The Sundance Channel. It’s also (technically) one of the few online film pieces that was created, filmed, directed, edited, and produced by just one guy. But anyone following this from the start knows that, if it wasn’t for you guys, this project would have been a small 2 month footnote in my life.

(P.S. If I seem to not be updating this blog as often as I used to – it’s because you can find me on Twitter more often than on this blog.)

A Day of Stress

If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you know these past few days have been rather stressful. Here’s why:

First, now that a site has been selected for the Pond Sand Filter (which is what you guys voted for by leaving comments and video responses on the video I made called “Challenge Poverty”), the task is now to get this done on-time and on-budget. Save the Children is trying their best of course – but Murphy’s Law is always in-effect for this kind of work 🙁

The other big thing I’m stressing about is that it appears that YouTube is now blocked in Bangladesh. This isn’t the first time that Google services have been inaccessible from Bangladesh. I’m not going to jump the gun and say it’s government censorship. But, thus far, I’ve confirmed that YouTube is inaccessible in two different cities in Bangladesh through numerous internet service providers includingL the ISP I use while in Dhaka, GrameenPhone which I use while in the field, and even the internet service that Save the Children uses for its offices here in Bangladesh.

This could be a glitch or a temporary block. But, if indeed the government is restricting access to YouTube, this definitely puts a kink in this project. There are still tons of (legal) ways to make sure I can get new videos onto the UnculturedProject YouTube channel, but this makes everything harder. And YouTube is more than just a place to upload or watch videos – it’s about access to a community. And it’s that community that has been a huge source of support for this work.

Finally, I’ve been stressed a lot lately because, even if everything goes according to plan – there is no such thing as “perfect”. When it comes to providing safe and clean drinking water to rural villages, verything has its pros and cons. A deep tube well has the risk of arsenic, iron, and (depending on where you are in the country) of salt water. A pond sand filter, on the other hand, only works as well as the community that is maintaining it. If they don’t maintain it – it will just gather dust. And even if they do maintain it, they are only designed to last 3 or so years at normal use.

Hopefully I’ll catch a break somewhere: be it restoring access to YouTube or getting this Pond Sand Filter done on-time and/or within-budget.

The Final Year?

I plan to make a new video in the next few days – which will be more of a vlog. In it I’ll be mentioning that, unless I can find a way to make my project financially sustainable, by this time next year I will (most likely) have to end this project.

With the exception of Vestergaard-Frandsen‘s help getting me to Kenya for a couple of weeks, all the expenses of this project (airfare, living expenses, equipment, etc) have been paid by my life savings and by borrowing from my family. I ran my life savings dry halfway through last year and, to keep going, I’ve been borrowing from family to do this project. My dad has been the biggest source of financial support but it looks like he’s planning to retire in about a year’s time.

It was two years ago – almost to the day – that I filed my withdrawal papers at Notre Dame. Back then, I never thought this project would for go on for so long. Now, I don’t want it to end. There are so many exciting ideas rolling around in my head. I’d need more than a year just to do even half the stuff I’m dreaming of. But honestly? Not many people have parents as supportive as mine. Even if I can only do this for another twelve months, I should still consider myself a lucky guy.

Over the next twelve months, I’m going to go ahead full-steam and I’m still accepting donations (which continue to be for the poor – not for my living expenses, equipment, or airfare). But, on top of it all, I’m going to be keeping my eyes out for ways to keep this project going into next year. So far, YouTube partnership money has been ridiculously small – not even enough to cover a single month’s expenses. But, I’m hoping if there is a will there will be a way. I mean, Matt Harding was able to get the support of a gum company to help him dance around the world – twice! Surely, there is a way for me to keep this journey of fighting global poverty going 🙂

Community Powered: Matt (booshoe37)

This project is less about me and more about the online community that is supporting this journey every step of the way. Here’s a new video from a friend of mine by the name of Matt. He votes for the pond sand filter part of Challenge Poverty in a really creative and passionate way. I have to admit I never thought of the issue like that until I saw Matt’s video.

“How Can I Get Involved?” – An Answer

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.

I Get Interviewed by a UBC Student

Dave Semeniuk is a student at the University of British Columbia and writes for a UBC publication called Terry.

This interview answers some questions like: Where did I get the name “Uncultured Project” from? How has my experience been with aid efforts in this country? What is particularly inspiring to me about Dr. Sachs work?

You can read the full interview here. A summary and excepts of this interview are syndicated on the Terry website and on NowPublic.

Episode Three Online at YouTube

I hadn’t made a separate post about this earlier because Cyclone Sidr kind of took precedence over everything else, but Episode Three of The Uncultured Project is now online at YouTube. In Episode Three, I talk about a kid whose just 15 years old but is in business for himself. He goes around collecting water bottles and gives people vegetables in exchange for them. He then recycles these bottles and makes a profit. The profit isn’t much though – it’s about $2 a day on a good day.

As amazing as this story is, I kind of felt sad because I know $2 a day isn’t enough to pull one out of extreme poverty. It’s very easy to fall back into extreme poverty if a catastrophe struck which would make it hard to work or add additional expenses. It looks like I spoke with an unfortunate bit of prescience – as Cyclone Sidr hit Bangladesh days after the filming of this episode was complete.

If you haven’t already, please consider checking out Episodes One and Two. If you like what you see please consider rating the videos, commenting, or subscribing to The Uncultured Project YouTube Channel.