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Using YouTube with a Purpose

I titled this video “Using YouTube with a Purpose” because, really, this couldn’t have been done without the help of a little website called YouTube and the community that is part of it (in particular the Nerdfighter community). From the donors Hank and Pat – both of whom are YouTubers – to the musicians who lent their music for free in this video such as Jamison Young, Brad Sucks, and Josh Woodward. And, here in Bangladesh, if Rick Davis never found my videos on YouTube – I would have never thought to make this trip nor would I have been able to meet the amazing children in this rural village.

If you notice in this video, I use a clip from one of my sadder videos – The Hard Lessons of Aid Work. That’s because, even though I don’t talk much about it in this video, I did learn a lot from this experience. I now have a better understanding about why big name charities need to have large overhead and infrastructure. I also have a better understanding of how help can sometimes come with a risk and how even trying to help can sometimes have it its pros and cons.

All that plus some photos from the field after the jump.

Continue reading ‘Using YouTube with a Purpose’

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.

World Malaria Day

Did you know that one day’s worth of Pentagon spending ($1.5 Billion US Dollars) would be enough to protect every man, woman, and child in Africa from malaria for five years? Don’t take my word for it – Dr. Jeffrey Sachs was the one who did the math on that. We can create a world free from malaria. It is never been easier to achieve and the need has never been more pressing.

In this latest episode I go into further detail about some of the mosquito nets I distributed in episode one. I also show excerpts of my interview with a Catholic Priest who got infected with malaria 38 times (twice of which was cerebral malaria). This is the same footage I was trying to mail out of the country for use by an advocacy organization based in Switzerland. Incidentally, I was finally able to send that footage to Switzerland afterall. I was able to give the tape to one of my uncles who was flying to Singapore. He then mailed it to Switzerland from there. Take that evil Draconian export laws of Bangladesh!

Mosquito Killed by PermaNet

I also go into more detail about the PermaNets donated to me by Vestergaard-Frandsen. I’ve talked about PermaNets before and I can’t recommend them enough. These nets do work. The PermaNet over my bed has scrapped up against splinters and nails – but it hasn’t ripped. These nets are also treated with a long-lasting insecticide which is harmless to humans but kill mosquitos when they come into contact with the net. The reason the insecticide is long-lasting is because it is manufactured into the net in a way that won’t wash away. Rather, it will stay at an effective concentration level for years.

This World Malaria Day why not consider donating a PermaNet? You don’t even need to give me a dime to do so. Just check the recommended charities section of this site for a list of charities that distirbute PermaNets. And, as always, I was not paid or required to endorse any of the companies that I talk about (including Vestergaard-Frandsen).

Coming Full Circle – Back in Rural Bangladesh

“I’m writing now from a rural village in Bangladesh (called Madhupur). There is no electricity, no running water, and the diesel generator that was powering a ceiling fan and light bulb died earlier this night.”

That’s what I wrote exactly five months and a week ago. Now here I am, back in the same rural village, in the same house, at the same desk, and in more or less the same situation. I’m kinda feeling a bit nostalgic right about now..

Five months and a week ago, I wasn’t sure anyone outside of my family was reading my blogs. I didn’t have a single YouTube video up and I had very little to show on my Flickr page. It was only after I wrote that article here in Madhupur that I learned I actually had an audience. Mikey Leung was one of my first readers. I later found out he was actually another crazy Canadian who was trying to help the poor here in Bangladesh. I had an audience – and I wasn’t alone in what I was doing. That article also got picked up by Rezwan of The Third World View. I had never heard of that blog before, but now I read it religiously.

I was also extremely disheartened back then. I had already been in the country for three months, and had very little to show for it. I had so much to give away but nothing major had been done so far. Instead, my project got detoured as my mother (who came here to help me with translation) got hospitalized for Dengue Fever. I was about ready to pack up and quit. That previous trip to Madhupur was a turning point for me. In that trip, I was able to give away over fifty mosquito nets. The footage I gathered here helped me make my first episode on YouTube. I was also able to help hands on with one family in particular. Those who’ve been reading this blog for a while will know about the single mother of two who I gave a net, a windup flashlight, and some money for school for her eldest son. That son just graduated Grade One and is now in Grade Two.

I had to re-read that last sentence. Wow. This was a mother who, according to the locals, was seriously considering dumping her two children in an orphanage and abandoning them. She couldn’t afford to keep a roof over their heads. Heck, she couldn’t even afford clothes for these kids. Now, thanks to my family and I, one of her kids just finished one school level, the kids have clothes on their backs, food in their belly, and a loving mother who isn’t forced to abandon them. You want to know what is the most surprising? This only cost me a few bucks. The windup flashlight cost me $5, the mosquito net was courtesy of Vestergaard-Frandsen, and the school and other costs added up to about $10 USD. Yes. Ten bucks. You know those ads where they say “just for the price of a cup of coffee”? They aren’t kidding apparently. Why aren’t more people doing this?

Here’s a photo of them when I first met them. I’ll try and visit their house and have a follow-up photo later on….

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

The Uncultured Project – Diaster Relief Items

I came to Bangladesh with no training and no aid or development experience. My only real assets are my enthusiasm and my compulsion to try and make a difference. Here’s where things are for me now: I have things to give away, but am trying to find a way to get them to those who need it the most:
Uncultured Project Cyclone Relief

  • A) LifeStraws – portable water purification straws capable of filtering deadly bacteria from any surface water source. Estimated lifetime: 1 year on average use. Number of items: 45 (used to be 50). Donated to me by Vestergaard Frandsen.
  • B) ZeroFly – long-lasting insecticide treated sheets. Can be used as roofing for low income housing. It is water proof and it’s insecticide is the same used in insecticide treated mosquito nets (safe for humans). If a mosquito comes into contact with the roof – it will die. Helps protect against malaria during the night and Dengue Fever during the day. Estimated lifetime: 2 years for the insecticide, but the sheets themselves remain waterproof forever. Number of items: 25. Donated to me by Vestergaard Frandsen.
  • C) Blankets – locally made, locally purchased. I count that as a two-fold impact because the money goes into the local economy. Number of items: 70. The cost to me was 14,000 taka or over $200 USD.
  • D) Water Bottles – ever since I met “Mo” (featured in Episode Three of my YouTube videos), I now know the importance of water bottles in this country. Especially now, water bottles can be used to store purified or boiled water. It can also be given in bulk to an individual because – for many industrious people like Mo – these items are as good as cash.

Not visible but also part of my equipment to give away:

  • Two hand-cranked LED-based flashlights – brought from Canada.
  • One remaining long-lasting, insecticide treated mosquito net. Donated to me by Vestergaard Frandsen.

I tried distributing items myself and that really only works out when you know the people in the area and can get to an area yourself. When I distributed 50 mosquito nets, I was shocked and angered to find that some rich people (i.e. they own a car, a brick house, and even have servants) came and pretended to be poor to get a free net! They essentially robbed from the poor to help themselves. I only found out a month or so later – when a resident familiar with the area was looking over my footage. Even I gave out water bottles during the floods – I was kind of sad that the 4×4 I was in couldn’t head deeper into the flood zone.

I really do need to partner with an NGO of some kind to make a meaningful difference. The problem is most NGOs laugh when they are talking about such low quantities. “Fifty water purification straws? Ha!” “70 blankets? LOL.” has been pretty much the reaction I have been getting. I know NGOs deal in massive quantities – but the way I see it, these 50 items could save fifty lives and 70 blankets could keep 70 families warm. I’m not capable of saving lives in bulk. But so far, finding a like-minded NGO has been hard – although I am still making inquiries. But I definitely feel the clock ticking on this one.

The Sound of Normal in Dhaka

The difference between Dhaka today and the same time yesterday is like the difference between night and day. The sun has come out – no more gloomy storm clouds casting their shadows over the city. But more importantly than that – the city is noisy again. Hammers banging away at nearby construction sites, street vendors yelling about the sales they are having, and the rings of rickshaws as they pedal by. The city is alive again.

I was awake at midnight last evening and what struck me was the utter dark and silence. I had only experienced this kind of dark and silence once before – when I was in the rural village of Modhipur. But in Modhipur, there wasn’t a soul nearby. But, last night in Dhaka, surrounded by tightly packed apartments with thousands of people – I couldn’t hear a peep and couldn’t see my hand in front of my face.

With things so bad now – I desperately want to make a difference. I brought certain items with me as part of this project – like water purification straws called “LifeStraws” donated to me by the manufacturer Vestergaard Frandsen. I also have insecticide treated sheeting that can be used for housing called “ZeroFly” donated by the same company. I also have recently purchased 70 blankets to give away. I don’t want to just give them away by the roadside – for they then maybe taken and merely resold (as I have been warned by many people).

I’ve been working desperately trying to partner with a reputable and trustworthy NGO or charity to help me distribute these items. NGOs and charities, having established a long-term presence here, are better able to assess genuine need and would best be able to help me direct my efforts. Unfortunately, to my surprise, many NGOs don’t want publicity. After about a month’s worth of negotiation, I had managed to secure assistance from a very big and prestigious NGO to distribute the LifeStraws. They would help me distribute them to a needy group of people in rural Bangladesh. I was even given permission to film the whole thing. But, apparently, they did not realize that I was filming it as part of a video blog. When they understood the purpose of the filming – the entire distribution got scrapped. A month of discussions, giving items for testing, and preparation all down the drain.

I’m left back at square one at a time when I should be on the ground making a difference.

One Difference at a Time

Over ten days ago, I asked the question, “what do I have to show for all this?“. Things have been tough here. A few days ago, I waived a family member goodbye at the airport. Having come along to help me with this project, this family member ended up being hospitalized for both Dengue Fever and Typhoid. It was just too risky for her to continue to stay here. I haven’t got sick – but with the Muslim month of Ramadan (a period where Muslims don’t eat or drink any liquids during daylight hours) now in full swing, it is hard to move around the city. Dhaka seems to shut down way too early to really go anywhere.

But, I finally do have something to show for all this. And it starts with this photo:

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

This is a photo of a single mother of two I met while visiting a rural village in Bangladesh. Her husband died of a stomach related illness. She was not only left with two kids to raise on her own but also was left with loans from her husband’s medical expenses. When I went and saw where she was living – a small straw mudhut – I was taken aback. People in North America have more garage space for their cars than this lady had for her family of three. Not only that – but there was no electricity and only a small window near the floor which only served to prove how dark the inside of the house was.

I wanted to make a difference in her life. I knew I had money and stuff that I could give her that would help her. But making a difference is more than just being a parachute Santa Claus. I started talking to her. How is she doing? How is she paying for her son to go to school? Does she have medical expenses from her husband left over? How can your kids read in such a dark house? I tried my best not to tell her what she needed – and tried to figure out from her what I could do to help to make a difference in her life.

Maybe it’s the Fighting Irish in me, but the first thing that I decided to do was come up with a game plan.

More after the jump… Continue reading ‘One Difference at a Time’