An Example of Why Education and Experience Should Never Be Separated

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog and meanwhile so many amazing things have happened. I’ll try to keep this brief. The best decision I made last year was to come to Bangladesh and attend BRAC University. I had two incredible semesters and just finished up my final exams for my last semester there. Just a few notable mentions about my professors: all of the professors in the Economics and Social Science department are so passionate and knowledgeable about what they teach; I was humbled to be able to learn from them over the past 9 months. Most of them completed their Master’s or Doctorate’s in the U.S.A. and they literally speak better English than any of my professors in California community college do. The first couple weeks of class I had a hard time understanding what they were even saying (and they were speaking English with a slightly British accent!). The reading material they assigned was equally as challenging. We read authors such as Max Weber, Karl Marx, Michael Foucault, Talal Asad, Franz Boas, Emilie Durkheim, and many others. As a student from the United States studying in a post-colonial state, I was challenged on so many levels. I was able to weed out a lot of my own stereotypes and ignorance on a variety of issues. Prashanta Tripura, a prestigious anthropologist here in Bangladesh was my professor for three courses this semester: History of Anthropological Thought, Biological Anthropology, and Research Methodology. Prashanta Sir belongs to an ethnic minority group that has been marginalized by the rest of mass Bangladeshi society. He taught me so much about what it means to be human, how scientifically useless the term “race” is, and how ignorance of variation among humans can cause a plethora of problems. My course History of Anthropological Thought with Prashanta Sir opened my eyes to how theories about the unilinear evolution of mankind from “primitive” to “civilized” societies that were prominent up until the 19th century, along with eugenics, led to horrors such colonialism, the Holocaust, and many other genocides that followed. In this course I also studied a lot of Franz Boas’s works, who after a life of activism through scientific study, his last words were “One must never tire of repeating that racism is a monstrous error and impudent lie.” Before catching the plane to attend BRAC University, a lot of people were questioning my idea of getting my higher education in Bangladesh. To everyone who thinks that so-called “third-world” countries have nothing to offer but ready-made garments, cheaply made stuff you buy at Wal-Mart, and corruption, I beg to differ. The education I have gotten here has been exceptional and I would recommend anyone who wishes to become a truly global citizen to study in a country that is as different from your own as possible. Even some of the Bangladeshi students I had the joy of meeting along the way, seriously speak clearer and more advanced English than I do. It was all-around a mind-blowing and enlightening experience for me.
Another reason I wanted to study here was so that I could continue working with underprivileged children while I continued my education. Every day on the way to school I traveled through a few different slum areas, seeing how colonialism, capitalism, and the idea of the modern nation-state being pressed upon this country’s beautiful, resilient people has made life completely miserable for a large chunk of their population. The opportunities to use my education for social change were presented to me daily through the children who come everyday to beg in front of BRAC university. I got to sit with them during my breaks between classes and teach them English and provide a simple lunch of rice and curry at the small “illegally” built shops near my anthropology department building. I was greeted every day with huge hugs and smiles from around 10-15 children saying “Susie Apu!” and continuing on to tell me all about their quarrels with the other beggar kids. Most of them live in a slum that is located directly behind my university, which is ironic because the BRAC head office is also located just a two minute walk down the street. It makes me wonder why they have such a giant head office (approx 20 stories, beautifully built and landscaped) when there are still thousands of marginalized people — the people they claim to be assisting — living in squalor right nearby. BRAC is the world’s largest Non-Governmental Organization in regards to the amount of services and people they reach and has been voted the #1 NGO in the world for the last 2 years straight. Anyway, it is all just quite perplexing to me.
Since I have been very busy studying the likes of Marx and Weber and haven’t been able to dedicate as much time to the kids as I would like (preferably 24 hours a day) but I know that there will come a day soon where I will be able to. I have basically been giving them food to take home to their single-moms who also make a living through begging. When I can, I give them things like soap, toothbrushes, shampoo and other necessary personal hygiene items just so they can feel a bit more confident. People treat them horribly wherever they go and no matter what they are doing. When people see them with me they assume they are begging from me or disturbing me so they either yell at them or hit them as we walk by. Anytime I try to take them in to a restaurant to sit and study English they are immediately turned away when they walk in the door. I have to explain over and over that they are my students wherever we go. These kids experience socio-economic barriers in each and every area of their life and I hope somehow together we will be able to overcome some of the major ones. When people see the kids skateboarding with me there is a completely out-of-the-norm response. People want to talk to the kids and ask them questions, take their picture, etc. It is like they go from being completely disregarded to becoming celebrities all of a sudden with all eyes on them. This is why I think skateboarding will be a useful tool in helping them overcome some of these mass society stereotypes and exclusions from anything and everything. Not only do the kids gain more confidence while they skate, they get along with each other much better and get all the health benefits that comes with participating in a sport. Mass society will only start to see their potential through something radical like skateboarding.
This is getting long. I am hoping I will have more time over the next few months to keep writing. Thank you for following!

 

Advertisements

Evolution of what it means to help

20160923-111224.jpg

For me, no other work could ever be as fulfilling as working with the kids here in Bangladesh. Throughout the years, I’ve basically got it down to a social science. The main realization I’ve acquired so far is that, depending on the ways I want to “help them” I can either have a positive effect on their lives or a negative one. My overall attitude towards them has evolved over the years and with it my ideas about how I can be a good influence on them. A lot of my Bangladeshi friends have shown me the light as far as not giving hand-outs and not letting the kids cross any advantage-taking boundaries with me. To them I am forever grateful because I would never have gotten to this point without their priceless advice.

With this advice my attitude towards the kids have changed almost completely. I used to think that they were all so needy and not so teachable. Thank God I can speak Bangla pretty fluently now and can get my ideas across to them and discipline them a lot more than I could at the start of working with them. Now I see how rewards and also penalties for listening or not listening can work so effectively that I hardly need to say anything to make them understand what needs to be changed in their behavior. Constantly giving them things because I see their needs quite plainly isn’t the best approach at all. It’s hard to resist directly giving an impoverished kid a hot meal or a bar of soap; that being said, because I’m such a light-weight when it comes to discipline, it’s incredibly easy for them to do something to earn it. Just seeing them put forth effort in skateboarding or English learning is something to be praised and awarded. Yes, giving a cold drink puts a smile on their faces, but earning it lets them walk away with a lesson learned as well as a reward.

These kids are in school only 3 hours a day, if they even bother to go and the rest of the day they do kid stuff without any adult supervision. Some of them spend their spare time either selling things for a few taka or simply go around begging. With the parents away from the home during the day, they simply don’t get fed lunch, and here in Bangladesh, people don’t eat dinner until about 9 at night or later. There’s no extra food lying around the house like I had growing up with a house that was always as well-stocked as a mini-mart.

One of the reasons I chose to finish my studies in Bangladesh was so that I could work with these kids while I read about issues like poverty. The roads lined with slums on the way, along with the presence of these kids in front of my university are a constant reminder of the work that needs to be done still to bring social justice to these people. They are also an opportunity for me to make a difference and really, bring fulfillment to my own life. You can almost say I’m selfish in the sense that this kind of work brings me so much happiness. I get happy when I see poor people because it means there is still a purpose to my life. Spending time with these kids is rewarding in and of itself because they truly amaze me in so many different ways. Every one of them is so different from the others and have their own unique way of expressing themselves. I really think I get more out of spending time with them than they do. So now, I realize how important it is to not give hand-outs. The material will come and go as I’m able and unable to provide for them, but the life lessons will stay with them forever. Giving of material things has usually made me end up feeling emotionally and financially spent. The giving of my time, talents, and knowledge leaves me feeling like a good steward of all that God has blessed me with. Ultimately, I feel like I’m doing what is best for them in the long-run.

In conclusion, I know I’m still in the midst of a long process of learning. I’ll continue to change, evolve, and adapt my helping methods to all the new developments and changes occurring daily here in Bangladesh. It would be helpful to learn from a person who is doing this kind of work here but honestly, I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who tries to help these kids where they are at instead of putting them behind the walls of existing institutions and organizations. Allowing these kids to be free in every sense of the word and adding a bit of discipline and challenge, in my opinion, is the perfect trio to be utilized in “helping” them. It’s a win-win situation; I’ll walk away satisfied with the work I’ve done, and they’ll walk away with more confidence, health, and knowledge.

image

Back in Bangladesh indefinitely :)

The past couple of years have been a huge time of growth for me as an individual. I am super excited to be able to put everything I have been learning throughout my Global Studies degree program into real life context. The respect I have for different cultures and understanding of international policy making has grown immensely. I see how the underlying respect for ways of life different than my own will and has helped me in getting people to assist and cooperate with me as I try to make Stay Overnight Skatepark a reality. To further the understanding and respect for this country I deeply care for the well-being of, I have decided to complete a Bachelor’s in Anthropology here in Bangladesh at BRAC University. The bounty of interesting courses they offer within this program have got me as stoked to study as. I am to teach the kids how to skate here. Some examples are: Rural Society Sociey and Culture, Gender and Islam, Anthropology of Corporate Culture, Globalization/Transnationalism and Migration, Human Rights and Justice: Anthropological Perspectives, and SO many more gems! I’ll also have opportunities to travel out into the least reached places of Bangladesh as well as intern with BRAC, the world’s largest national NGO (non-governmental organization). Keep your eye on the Facebook Page (link is ont he right-hand side of this page) for pictures and weekly updates, or subscribe to receive updates by e-mail (also on right-hand side). Love you all and hope to have good news about S.O.S.’s huge progress over my extended stay here!

20160630-040920.jpg

Still Growing

Hey Stay Overnight Skatepark followers!  Just taking the opportunity to give a quick update about S.O.S’s progress and let you know what’s up for the near future.

The last trip to Bangladesh was August through November last year (2014).  During that trip this project gained quite a bit of publicity.  A documentary was made and aired on Bangladesh’s national T.V. station by Shuvo Susanto.  Here’s a link to it if you haven’t seen it yet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jl9l3RNZkV0 An inspiring article along with beautiful photos was put together by a bright young man by the name of Md Saifullah Riad in Bangladesh’s largest newspaper. Every time I went out in public after the documentary aired someone would recognize me and tell me how the documentary moved them and that they admire my work.  It was an awesome feeling experiencing first-hand how much the people of Bangladesh appreciate anyone who helps their underprivileged kids.

The publicity isn’t quite finished as a couple of other filmmakers have contacted me and would like to document the work of S.O.S.  My plan is to go back for a short visit in December this year and do a few days filming, but for the most part I’ll be making sure my students are doing ok and get them set up for the new school year.  I’ll be finding an ear doctor for Alla Uddin who has been suffering with major ear infections for most of his life. I’ll also be doing my thing, handing out goody bags to the street kids that I skate with.  I’m hoping to incorporate more art and music along with the skate lessons this time around too.  There is a drop-in center for street kids that live in the slums that line the railroad tracks in downtown Dhaka that I would like to volunteer at as well, and also see how I can help support their already awesome safe haven for street kids..

As some of you know I’ve currently got my head in the books and am working on my degree in International Relations joint with a Master’s in Public Administration.  This will allow me to get my foot in the door of the major NGOs such as Save the Children and SOS Children’s Villages or even UNICEF or the United Nations.  From my past experiences I now know it is a little too risky to try and do anything from the ground up in Bangladesh and it would be wise to work within an already established organization.  For this reason, my visits to Bangladesh will be short but sweet until my education is complete (3 more years!).  Can’t thank you all enough for the support and I hope you will see S.O.S. become a reality in the near future.  If you’d like any more info about the trip in December feel free to e-mail me at: stayovernightskatepark@gmail.com

Living out your dreams – satisfaction guaranteed

Curled up on the coach at the end of a satisfactory day

Why am I satisfied? You might question…

Because today I felt I’m one of them

accepted just  as I am

not above or below, just a living being

walking beside the kids

Satisfied knowing I’m accepted by these people, whom I care so much for

Satisfied seeing I’m protected by God from morning till night

whether traveling by land or sky

Satisfied because I saw a smile light up on the face

of a boy who was so happy with the food I gave

Because the sky was so blue and the wind’s timing was perfect

And while skating today, my whole heart was in it,

the kids are learning new things,
image
and everyday I’m getting to live out my dreams.

 

“All Sides of Paradise” continued…

(I’ve been really short on time now that I’m in work mode back in the USA but here’s some more of the story I’m writing)

 

Chapter 3

 

Wake Up and Smell the Cha

IMG_0098

With eyes burning from the dust and bright sun that accompanied them on the previous day’s journey, Mamun and Mitu are the first to awake and go look for water to freshen up in. Mitu runs straight towards the ocean and splashes around in the warm, muddy waters of the Bay of Bengal. Mamun just watches and yawns, then looks around for a water faucet. He finds a little outdoor restaurant that sells fresh roti and daal for breakfast and receives permission to wash up using their water supply. He asks the manager if he’d like to trade a little snake mongsho for some daal, roti and cha (tea) for him and his family. “Sounds like a fair trade to me”, says the restaurant manager, “as long as I get to try a small piece first.” Mamun rushes back to get a sample, eager to see what their first customer thinks of the mongsho. “Oh wow, I’ll take one kg. It’s unbelieveable. Where’d you catch it?” “From the mangrove forests of the Sundarbans near Gosaba.” Mamun replied. “Everything that lives and breathes in our village is so pure and always in its natural state. Have you ever tried modhu (honey) from the Sundarbans?” “Yes, by far the best and richest tasting modhu I’ve ever tried. Thank you for bringing this delicious mongsho from such a wonderful place in our country. You and your family can have your fill of any food you want here at my restaurant to start your day out. I’m guessing you will be working hard trying to sell all that meat at the bazar today?” “Yes.” Mamun replied. “We would like to sell it fast so we can buy new furniture for our home and get back to our village to sleep in a real bed for once.” “My friend down the road will buy some. I will call him and tell him to find you at the bazar later. Good luck to you.”

Everyone ate and drank tea then headed to the bazar. They were the first vendors there. Mrs. Rahim smiles, knowing that there won’t be any competition for selling the snake mongsho. “Great, looks like we’ve got some time to set up.” “We should make a sign with a snake on it,” Mitu said. Mitu was a pretty good artist since the very time she could hold a pencil. Now she draws pictures anywhere and everywhere she can; on trees, in the dirt, on the walls of the house. Guests are in awe when they learn the wall art is Mitu’s. Mrs. Rahim gets frustrated trying to make her stop drawing when she needs to be doing Math. But her pictures are so realistic and creative so she lets her finish most of the time before continuing with her school work. “Ok, let’s find a paint store and trade some meat for paint, brushes and some wood to paint on” suggests Mamun. Mrs Rahim tilts her head to the side in agreement and flags down a rickshaw driver. “Ekta rong dokan jan. (Go to a paint store.)” Mrs. Rahim tells the driver. Off they go down a dirt road full of pot holes, Mrs. Rahim holding Mitu on her lap as tight as she can while trying to absorb some of the bumps as much as possible. “Why did they even invent these stupid electric rickshaws?” Mrs. Rahim complains. The old fashioned ones are much smoother. This thing and this road are going to give me neck pain for the rest of the week!” “Women in Bangladesh like to complain about the roads a lot because it makes them feel smart.” –anonymous. “Mamooni, don’t worry ekta rong dokan oikhane ase.” (there’s a paint store over there) Mamun points to the left side of the road. “Rakhen.” (You-formal stop.) Everyone dismounts the rickshaw, and Mrs. Rahim hands the driver 15 taka. “Aro dosh taka den” (give me another 10 taka) says the rickshaw driver. “Apni pagol na ki? (Are you crazy or what?) You drove us just one kilometer” replies Mrs. Rahim as she walks away feeling disturbed. The rickshaw driver makes a U-turn to the other side of the road and waits for another opportunity to find out-of-towners near the port that will pay more than usual.

“What can I help you with today Ma’am?” asks the paint shop keeper. “Just some paint, brushes and a small slab of wood if you have it please.” “If you’d like I can have my assistant paint you a sign , unless one of you is a good artist.” “I am!” exclaims Mitu. “HAHA you are just a little girl. I’d like to see what you can do, being so confident and all though,” says the shop keeper. “I’m going to paint a giant snake!” Mitu says excitedly. “You can use my easel in the back if you’d like” offers the shop keeper. Would you all like to have some Sprite and relax in the shade under the fan while she paints?” Mrs. Rahim, feeling uncomfortable from the heat and the bumpy rickshaw ride, agrees and sits with Mamun and Wahkim in the paint shop while Mitu works. Mitu sketches in pencil first then paints a beautifully detailed snake on the sanded piece of mango tree wood. Her hands are covered in green paint and her face has a few dabs of brown paint that make her look like she made a mess of a painting. The shop keeper walks slowly, with his hands entwined behind his back over to where Mitu stands to see what she painted. His jaw drops and he puts his hands on the sides of his head in disbelief. “You, little girl, are gifted. A new museum is going to be opened in a few months just near the cricket stadium over there” the shopkeeper says as he points diagonally across the street. “Mrs. Rahim, if it interests you, I could tell the painters who have been buying paint from me for the museum’s displays about your daughter. They might be interested in having her help paint the pictures in the rooms where the animal bones are displayed. They pay good money I’m sure.” “Wow, I thank you for your encouragement to her and for the chance to use her talent for something so important for our country.” Just as Mrs. Rahim was about to say yes, Mitu nudges her and looks up shaking her head in disagreement. “What’s wrong baby?” Mrs. Rahim asks. Mitu stands on her tip toes and whispers in her ear… “I just want to stay with you. I don’t think this man is good.” “Oh, she’s too shy I think. We should be heading back to the bazar now. We have a lot of mongsho to sell.” Mrs. Rahim tells the shop keeper. “Well, if you change your mind here is my card. Ta ta.” As they get up to leave, the shop keeper lights a cigarette and blows the smoke from his first drag right at Mitu’s face and laughs, exposing his nasty yellow and black teeth.

The rickshaw driver across the street signals to them as they begin walking down the street but Mrs. Rahim isn’t interested in being over charged or a kink in her neck this time. She walks over to a near-by wood shop and asks for a driver for a flatbed rickshaw to take them to the bazar. They all pile on and Mitu sits on the bags of snake mongsho, holding the sign and Mrs. Rahim holding onto her with one arm and the side of the flatbed with the other.

The bazar is now full of vendors selling everything from Tupper ware to socks. They see a clear spot. Lay a blanket down, prop the sign up and immediately people flock to the vendor with the awesome snake sign. They sold 20 kgs of meat within one hour. They were even raising the price as the meat started to sell out. By about 2 pm the bazar was empty because people all rushed home for namaj (Muslim prayer) and lunch. But the Rahim family’s pockets were full of taka and their hearts full of gratitude. “I’m going to buy more land for growing veggies and bananas. And of course I’ll be buying a new bed for us to sleep on and a table and chairs. What about you guys? What will you do with your share of the money?” Mrs. Rahim asks her children. “I’m buying a fishing boat,” said Mamun. “I’m getting my very own bicycle and lots of new clothes,” Wahkim said smiling. “I’m going to use all of money to buy a camera,” said Mitu. With their hopes and dreams shining in their eyes as a close reality they all start walking back towards the bus station to find a hotel to sleep in for the night.

In Seattle for an Earth Ship Conference

Man I am starting to think trash is a natural resource the way this guy talks about building these earth ships all over the world. But really there are tires, plastic bottles, glass bottles, cans, rebar and cement ALL over the world. He built one in the tropical climate of Jamaica and I’m learning all about how these things naturally convect heat so I know it’s going to work great in Bangladesh. Stoked to be here seeing that this is the real deal.

20130922-013824.jpg

20130922-013849.jpg

20130922-013901.jpg

Back to the USA for now…

I really am going to miss serving the kids here. Spending time with them has taught me a lot about how unique and special each human being is. I really hope to do something big for them someday. Every day that I spend in the USA working, they will be on my mind. The joy we shared together will give me the courage and strength to work hard even in the dark times. I’ve never experienced such a radical purpose for living until I came here. Every time I hop on a rickshaw to go skate with the kids here my heart starts pumping like I’m at a night club and the DJ’s mixing up all my favorite songs. Nothing has filled me up more in this life than being able to meet these kids where they’re at and being able to share what I’m passionate about with them. Skateboarding is a big part of why I came here but the joy that comes along with it is what I really came to share. I’m glad I could share some of it in small ways. Can’t wait to have a skate park for them someday! I’m still learning and growing and figuring out how the heck this is going to work out. But when SOS becomes a reality I’ll be the most joyful person on earth!

20130908-161930.jpg

Video

Got a skating part in the theme song and commercial for Bangladeshi Idol

Video

S.O.S. 2013

Footage of some of the new kids I’ve been teaching how to skate this past month.