I was invited to speak to class in Indianapolis by John Clark, who runs a very cool organization called Provocate that seeks to connect Indianapolis to the world.
I was trying out some new material on being a glocal (think globally, act locally). The more I travel and the more I come into contact with extreme poverty, the more I realize that it is Bangladeshi’s that are the most capable of helping other Bangladeshi’s, just as it is Hoosiers who have to help other Hoosiers.
So now I donate money to organizations that I feel do a good job of supporting Bangladeshi’s helping other Bangladeshi’s. And where I’m a local – Muncie, Indiana – I’m donating time to fight poverty in my community.
I think that it’s important that each of us thinks about our place in the world and in our local community. I’ll hash these thoughts out more in a future post. This is something I really want to work into my new and improved “Where Am I Wearing?” presentation this fall.
Anyhow, during the Q&A after the talk someone posited, “Wouldn’t it be better for countries like Bangladesh if instead of traveling there you just donated the amount of money you would have spent and stay home?” I like the question. It kind of reminds me of this one that Wall Street Journal asked me. The audience turned a bit on the poor fella who was really just playing devil’s advocate and lobbing up a softball for me to knock out of the park.
I answered it similar to my answer in the Journal:
That’s misguided, says Kelsey Timmerman, a 28-year-old Muncie, Ind., scuba-diving instructor and author. If he’d never been to the Great Barrier Reef, he wouldn’t care as much that it is dying from rising ocean temperatures. Decisions he makes as a consumer and a voter offset emissions resulting from his travels, says Mr. Timmerman, who visited Bangladesh, Cambodia and China last year. “Travel helps us care more about our world.”
My answer was okay, but nowhere near the answer that came from the next hand that went up. Anwar Khan and his wife were planning a trip to Bangladesh with the intention of helping one family. They went and couldn’t do it. There was just too much suffering to help only one family. They founded OBAT Helpers an organization that gives hope to Pakistani refugees in Bangladesh.
Soon as Anwar told his story, I knew that some Tuesday in the very near future I would be giving OBAT $10. Today is that Tuesday. Here’s how to join me.
A letter from Anwar is below the break
I hope at least a few of you would have already heard about the sad plight of the stranded Pakistanis in Bangladesh. Some of you may have always been providing some help to this suffering sea of humanity on a regular basis. How ever, my first visits in July 2004 to the different camps has been an eye opener. Suddenly, the gravity of the problem at hand was before me in full show!
I began to understand the virtue of the old dictum that poverty is often self-perpetuating. No amount of relief and charity work in piecemeal doses will bring a permanent solution to such grave tragedies. What we need is a visionary roadmap with a broader long-term perspective. OBAT Helpers is determined to take up the challenge and hence our emphasis on involvement and empowerment of the affected communities in all our programs.
These forgotten people commonly known as Stranded Pakistanis / Biharis, have a population of almost 250 thousand. They are settled in more than 66 camps in different cities of Bangladesh. The history goes back to the partition of India in 1947. They are mostly from the Indian state of Bihar, who moved to East Pakistan (present Bangladesh) during partition in 1947. In 1971 after the creation of Bangladesh, due to the law & order situations these people compelled to accommodate in 66 temporary camps across the country. They never thought that this will be their permanent home for couple decades. Almost four decades later, they are still waiting for a solution that can bring a hopeful future of their upcoming generation who are growing in the camps.
Almost all camps lack basic amenities, privacy and social life. They have lived in these camps since 1971. An entire generation has lost their identity. They are suffering from severe demographic stresses. Even in misery they held their heads high, and were driven by the hope that they would be able to start life afresh, sooner than later. They never dreamt that these temporary shelters would become their cursed homes for eternity.
The Governments of Pakistan and Bangladesh did wake up with occasional sound bytes on this human calamity of unbound proportions. But the efforts were always scratchy and it was always a case of too little, too late.
The silver lining is that these people still have hopes; they dream of a better tomorrow. Luckily, all is not lost yet and we still have time to put our acts together. Let us salute their fighting spirits; let us rekindle their hopes; let us give them good water, sanitation, health care, education; let us empower them to follow their dreams of a better life.
TOGETHER, we can make the difference!
With Best Regards
Anwar Khan (Akmal)
Reach me at AnwarKhan@Obathelpers.org