Thursday, September 04, 2008

September 3----change the world

We went from talking about time and watches to changing the world!

OK, so watches are still a major part of our life if for no other reason they tell a story about us... we are well off or we are sporty... or we are practical... vain....

Shawn Ahmed www.uncultured.com took us to a totally different place as we spoke about his work to make a small change for a few people in Bangladesh.

Go and check out his site... here is a piece!

My name is Shawn and The Uncultured Project is the name of my work inspired by my time as a graduate student at the University of Notre Dame. While there, I got to meet Dr. Jeffrey Sachs (author of the book “The End of Poverty). Shortly after meeting Dr. Sachs, I put my dreams of getting a graduate degree on hold and came to Bangladesh to start this project.

My <span class=Madhupur Gang ;-)" border="0" height="375" width="500">

Who else is involved? I couldn’t do this project if it wasn’t for the help of others. Since starting this project, I’ve received assistance from family, friends, YouTube users, Nerdfighters, as well as help from compassionate and like-minded NGOs, socially responsible companies, charities, and development agencies.

Nick <span class=Downie and Me" border="0" height="291" width="500">

As of May 2008, my friend Matt from Notre Dame joined this project as part of his two month internship to Uganda.

Me and the kids

Why Bangladesh? I have relatives here that make it easy to stay in this country on my shoe-string budget. And, with over 80% of the 150 million people in this country earning less than $2 a day - a large chunk of the global poor live in Bangladesh (even though poverty in Africa often gets more attention in the media).

Hungry, Homeless, Young, and Poor


Why is it called “uncultured”? Uncultured is the description for my background and my approach. I have no previous experience with this kind of work (field work, aid work, or even video editing) nor did I come to Bangladesh with a set plan. I just voluntarily withdrew from Notre Dame (in good academic standing), packed my bags, grabbed my computer, bought a camcorder, and flew to Bangladesh.

I Actually Fell onto the Ground

Where is the project? This project consists of work on the ground and my attempts to share as much as I can while I am still in Bangladesh. I have a photoblog on Flickr, a channel on YouTube, and a Facebook group. Additional material maybe written for (or syndicated with) either NowPublic.com and/or MOLI.com (in their section called Worthy Causes).

Buying School Supplies

Is this a charity or international organization? This is not a charity, this is not an NGO, and this is definitely not an attempt at fame or fortune. It’s just a project that will hopefully inspire others to ask the same question I’ve been asking myself: “are we doing enough to make the world a better place?”

A Community Full of Love

Content Licensing and Sharing

All online content from this project (unless specified otherwise) is free for you to share, distribute, and modify as long as you follow this license.

Contact Information

If you would like to contact me directly, you can email me. I apologize in advance as I may not be able to reply to every email I receive.

How and Why This Project Began

There is a difference between caring about an issue - and actually doing something about it. There is also a difference between wanting to do something about it - and actually doing it. When it comes to global poverty, it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t care about this issue and isn’t aware about how serious the problem is. I don’t believe the problem is a lack of awareness or concern about this issue. I believe the problem is that a lot of us see this problem to be so distant, so immense, and so overwhelming - that most of us don’t know what to do. In fact, many people feel global poverty can never be solved - or worse, blame the global poor for their own poverty.

I believe extreme global poverty can be solved in our lifetime - the lifetime of my generation. This can happen if my generation takes its role in history as the generation that not only cares about global poverty - but also actually does something about it. I was inspired to believe in this message while a graduate student at the University of Notre Dame. On September 14th, 2006, Notre Dame decided to close all of its classes so students could attend a forum on global health. It was here that I got to meet and listen to Dr. Jeffrey Sachs - a Harvard economist and professor at Columbia University.

Jeffrey Sachs and Me at the <span class=Notre Dame 2006 Forum on Global Health" border="0" height="354" width="474">

Dr. Jeffrey Sachs is also the author of the book “The End of Poverty”. The message in that book is simple, powerful, and compelling. It was that same message that he conveyed to students in his speech at the University of Notre Dame. According to Dr. Sachs, extreme global poverty can be ended in our lifetime - not in the distant future. Most importantly, we don’t need to have a revolution, turn into communists, or become selfless like Mother Theresa. Simple changes to our global priorities can make the world a better place for the world’s worst off. And making the world a better place for others, makes it a better place for us all.

I don’t claim to have all the answers. In fact, this project has really been a learning experience for me. It has also been a lot harder than I anticipated. I’ve had to deal with corruption, floods, riots, military curfews, food poisoning, and the hospitalization of one of my family members due to the deadly mosquito-transmitted Dengue Virus. I’ve also seen a lot of things which have changed my life forever - including both the immense suffering caused by poverty but also the suffering caused by tragedies such as Cyclone Sidr. It’s for that reason - and my desire to make an honest and lasting difference in this country - that I keep extending my stay in Bangladesh. What was originally a two month project is now approaching its one year anniversary.

I know this project cannot single-handedly end global poverty. But, hopefully, those who see this project will be inspired to ask themselves “are we all doing enough to make the world a better place?”.

Project Map



Changing the Conversation about Global Poverty

Part of the reason I started this project is because I want to make the issue of global poverty as accessible to my generation as possible. Because - and I do this as well - most of us simply change the channel when we see images of suffering of the developing world (or “third world”) on TV. More often than not, such images in the media are tailored to evoke our pity or guilt in the hopes of soliciting a donation. I believe such a one-dimensional approach of this issue not only does a disservice to the global poor but also a disservice to the issue of ending global poverty.

I also believe that the big name charities and big name organizations are not fully utilizing the power of the internet when it comes to talking about important issues like global poverty. Most of the videos on YouTube made by the big name organizations and charities are nothing more than static documentaries - nothing different than what you would find on television. But the power of the internet - and websites like YouTube - is the community interaction. I don’t consider my videos on YouTube to be documentaries. They are video logs (or “vlogs”) of this project and my work.

I believe this personal approach maybe the reason why The Uncultured Project is more popular on YouTube (in terms of subscribers) than every single Save the Children, CARE, UNDP, UNICEF, UN World Food Programme, Concern Worldwide, and Oxfam channel on YouTube - combined.

My Expenses, Funding, and Support

My plane ticket here and my video camera have been the two biggest single expenses during this entire trip. That’s the point - it doesn’t take that much to make a difference in the lives of the poorest of the poor.

Up until April of 2008, much of what I spent on the ground came from some limited personal savings (saved up from my time as a graduate research assistant and teaching assistant at Notre Dame) as well as family donations. This project is also made possible in large part by my supportive family (aunts, uncles, mom, dad, and grandmother) who have all helped as much as they can.

As of April 2008, I have opened up a PayPal account and have started to accept donations. Even though I have started accepting donations - this project isn’t about fund raising. I just want to be able do for those who donate what I have been able to do for my family - that is to show them where their money can do and what it can do. I’m also just a private citizen and donations to me aren’t tax deductible. I am still encouraging everyone who can only donate to one place, to consider donating to a registered charity.

I would also like to give my heartfelt thanks to Vestergaard-Frandsen for their donations of their award-winning portable water purification straws called LifeStraws, durable long-lasting insecticide treated mosquito nets called PermaNet, and insecticide treated sheeting suitable for low-income housing called ZeroFly. I am also thankful to the various NGOs, charities, and development agencies that have provided logistical assistance from time to time.

Coverage of The Uncultured Project

I never thought that other people would be writing or talking about me or my work. I’m both honored and flattered to have sparked this kind of interest. Here are a few places that mention my work:

The Uncultured Project has also been mentioned in the blogosphere - click here for the list compiled by Technorati.com.

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