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Archive for January, 2013

Have you noticed just how much people swear these days?! It’s everywhere! Especially in comedy. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not sitting on my high horse and preaching to the choir. I am just as fallible in succumbing to the odd expletive thrown in to add oomph to a sentence. But since when did we begin favouring four letter words as emphasisers over good old adjectives?

And it’s become so commonplace that it wasn’t till I went to watch Aziz Ansari’s show at the Opera house end of last year that I realised JUST HOW MUCH COMEDIANS SWEAR! The guy that came on before Aziz was a one Matt Okine, great bloke from Queensland with a wicked sense of humour but every second word that came out of his mouth was an expletive. ‘I just **** want a ****toaster!’

And then Aziz came on and as much as I love the guy, as much as he made me laugh, my head had already started whirring with the amount of expletives flying around and he added a fair few to the mix! His topic for the night was marriage and yet within it he cleverly managed to deal with issues such as family relationships, religion, cultural stereotypes, racism and paedophilia. Matt Okine through his simple ‘I just want a toaster’ gave a great insight into the materialism that our society is steeped in today and yet for me the swearing just ruined everything.

I love comedy. I find it so useful and appealing at the same time. Comedy is a great vehicle for discussion, debate and socialisation without offending anyone. Everyone understands that comedy is just that so you can say what you like how you like with the nice disclaimer of it being a comedy show or a stand up performance. So if the disclaimer exists and the vehicle is appealing – why do comedians use swearing? I’ve been reading up on the history of swearing and that took me to some articles on swearing reducing pain courtesy of the mythbusters and finally an article similar to what I am writing right now!

The question is why? Why are talented and professional comedians using profanity to spice up what is an already witty and thought provoking delivery? Some say it’s because there are some lines that just can’t be delivered without a swear word, some say it’s the boldness of the act of utterance itself and some just say it’s the social norm. Some are even consciously veering away from swearing – whatever the case may be, with increasingly younger children having access to ipads and youtube and clips of shows online, I think it is a responsibility on comedians to keep themselves in check when doing shows. Their material is great, their delivery is awesome – no more spice is required to spice up an already great comedian. Least of all an explosive one.

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There are lots of exciting organisations in Bangladesh which provide avenues for non residents to help. This time I selected four organisations and met those in charge to see what was being done and how we could help.

Prothom Alo Trust

First up was Prothom Alo Trust (PAT) as Probasy had worked with them to deliver the Project Incubate equipment to the hospitals. Prothom Alo Trust is a trust set up for the Prothom Alo newspaper which focuses on several areas of NFP (Not for profit) work. I met with Aziza Paula, director of campaigns and she took me through their list of campaigns:

  1. Anti Acid Campaign – This campaign focuses on the rehabilitation of acid victims, mainly women and children which was also the first campaign Probasy helped out with. Donations can be made to the campaign overall or to a certain victim and their progress which is then fed back to the donor
  2. Anti Drug Campaign – This is to raise awareness of the impact of drug taking as well as providing rehabilitation information to drug addicts and their families through meetings where doctors are present to answer questions. Donations will help fund events such as concerts and flash mobs which aim to raise awareness
  3. Student Scholarships – These are usually 1 year loans for bright students from poor families. In conjunction with BRAC bank, if this student acheieves a GPA of 4.0 or above then their further studies are also supported through this fund. Every year supports one batch of 150 students of which all 150 have passed with good results this year. Donations can be singular and directed to a particular individual or to the campaign as a whole. Aside from this PAT also have two schools in rural areas serving students below the poverty line for public eduation ata primary level. 4 teachers, maintainence and stationery costs 30,000tk/year.
  4. Relief Fund – This fund is for natural disasters as well as a winter blanket drive where 250tk buys a brand new CARE approved jute/cotton blend blanket that keeps people warm during winter.
  5. Persecuted Journos – This fund is for journalists who face persecution on the job and is on a need basis.

D.Net

D.net intereested me because I had read an article on their infolady campaign which intrigued me. From their website, “D.Net is a Social Enterprise established in January 2001 to promote ‘access to information and knowledge’ for all citizens though interactive digital media in achieving constitutional, national and international developmental objectives.” From the many things they are focusing on, the two major ones I was interested in were:

Infoladies or Mobile ladies

Initially D.net developed e-content on issues critical for people’s livelihood and started to make them accessible to the general people by setting up Information centers in rural areas. Digital-content  focused on legal  issues  such as human rights, legal aid for  women, children and  livelihood matters such as agriculture, health etc.   Around 150000 people, especially poor women, children and handicapped people have received information and benefited from this endvour. Information was made available through helpline and database information centers.  D. Net also refers to service providing institutions such as hospitals, agriculture extension etc. When surveys were carried out to evaluate the effectiveness of such centres however, it became apparent that there were a vast majority of women, elderly and the religiously shy who did not benefit from such information centres.

As a result D.net decided to take the information to the doorstep of the poor people through the mobile lady concept. As we know, women are marginalized in terms of getting information even if it is related to their basic reproductive health. Traditional beliefs, attitudes and cultural norms in Bangladesh make access to information difficult for women.   D.Net identified that if women were to provide such information then these barriers could be overcome and came up with the concept of Info ladies. These young women go door to door with mobile phones and a laptop and connect rural women to any information they require.  It also offers new technology-based self-employment opportunity for the educated rural young women. This is empowering both for the Info Ladies and women who live within the four walls of their homes.   

Donations can be made in bulk to be applied to the project in any capacity as well as more directly to a geographic area or even one person. All donations are 100% transparent to the point where you can donate to help a single info lady who you can then skype with to ensure she has recieved the aid. A truly visibly sustainable cause. The campaign manager is Mosharraf Hossain

Aponjon (MAMA)

On May 3, 2011, the United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched a new public-private partnership called the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA). MAMA leverages the collective resources of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Johnson & Johnson and supporting partners, the United Nations Foundation, mHealth Alliance and BabyCenter LLC. In Bangladesh, USAID has enlisted D.Net to ensure the development of an innovative health information service utilizing mobile phones to improve maternal and neonatal health outcomes.  The commercial brand name is Aponjon. 
 
MAMA Bangladesh provides both audio and text health messages to pregnant women and new mothers linked to their delivery date and date of birth of child.  The service also includes family gatekeepers for inspiring healthcare seeking behavior. The Objectives of MAMA are to reach 500,000 pregnant women and new mothers within three years, deliver critical life-saving health messages, leading to sustained improvements in health knowledge, behaviors and outcomes and to build upon USAID and Government of Bangladesh maternal child health and family planning programs.  

I was invited to the National Launch of the Aponjon Program and highly impressed with the dedication of it’s staff and their streamlined inclusion of government aid, foriegn aid and their partnership with corporates to make sure their brand is recognised and accepted. Donations can be made to support the campaign as a whole, to support a number of mothers or to support a certain geographic location. one mother’s year lon subscription is 1000tk or AU$13 approx. For more information contact Rizwana Rashid, Deputy Director, D.Net.
 
Muslim Aid 

Muslim Aid is an international relief and development agency working for poverty alleviation of the world’s poorest and most needy communities irrespective of race, creed, caste, religion, ethnicity and nationality. It is a UK-based humanitarian organisation, was set up in 1985 to help save and support the needy people through its projects in over 70 of the world’s poorest countries around the globe. It has been working in Bangladesh since 1991 with the commitment of “serving humanity”. Muslim Aid was referred to me by a friend, Tanvir Uddin, who works with Muslim Aid and I was very impressed by their level of dedication and partnership with foriegn aid. Muslim Aid Bangladesh (MAB) has a myriad of projects:

I visited Muslim Aid’s Institute of Technology (MAIT) where ultra poor students are given subsidised or free admission to learn livlihood skills such as Tailoring, catering, beautification, electrical engineering, mobile mechanics and refrigeration reconditioning. I also saw their maternal health program in Chor Manika which is in Partnership with the WFP. Both programs need funding to continue.

Co-Id

This charity is one man’s passion and brain child. After military service and a successful career in retailing, Fred was drawn to the Indian Sub Continent region. This is where he became involved in children’s charity work and started looking after an orphanage-farm run by an Australian aid agency. 40 years later at the age of 92, Fred has now successfully established 43 schools in and around Chor Fassion on Bhola Island in Bangladesh. The aim – to provide FREE basic education such as reading, writing and maths, for as many local children as possible. Chor fassion is on the southern most tip of Bangladesh and it is regularly ravaged by monsoons and flooding. It is where the ultra poor of Bangladesh work tirelessly in rice paddies for half the year to produce enough rice to feed almost 1/4 of the nation. The other half of the year the fields are flooded as are their homes.

This is where schooling is being established to try and bring consistency and education in an attempt to lift families out of poverty. My friend Samin and I, along with my dad went to Chor Fassion on a ‘Teach the Teachers’ Campaign where we saw 4 far flung schools and then brought in all the teachers (160of which 43 are english teachers) and tested their conversational english. CO-Id runs wholly on private funding with no help from either the Australian or the Bangladeshi government so any and all donations are most welcome.

If you would like to donate or find out more about any or all of these initiatives, please leave a comment and I will do my best to answer you or put you in touch with someone who can help.

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It saddens me that I have to write this blog entry. It shames me as a human being that such acts take place in our world, a world of human rights, progress, equality and kindness to all. And yet, it happens. And it needs to be discussed so that no more victims shy away in shame and their perpetrators go unpunished.

The moment I got to Bangladesh I was guarded constantly by my aunt, uncle, father or cousin (male). As a woman who roamed freely in and around Sydney city this was frustrating enough without the obvious impositions on my privacy as well. When asked for an explanation I got the following stories which left me open mouthed and sick to my stomach. The first was relayed by an aunt, who, upon hearing me say my mum worries too much replied, why shouldn’t she dear? The world is not what it used to be, even men are not safe these days let alone women going out alone. Only the other day I read in the paper of a young doctor who paid a house visit in a village nearby and had to stay the night at the patient’s house. During the night the guard of the house knocked on her door, she thought something must be wrong so she opened the door and the guard tried to rape her, when he was unsuccessful he slit her throat.’

This is not an isolated case. Rape has become increasingly prevalent in the subcontinent. Another case was relayed by a friend who is an intern. Another intern at the same hospital was on night shift on the top floor of the hospital and was raped by her fellow interns and guards. Victims of rape and their families are so ashamed they hardly ever follow through and press charges and these heinous crimes go unpunished. Soon after, the now infamous case of the Delhi gang rape hit headlines. When I first saw this news air on BBC, I couldn’t believe my eyes. A moving bus, a city like Delhi… this didn’t happen behind closed doors.  The public watched. And they did not react. Humanity died on this day.

Rape is such a taboo word. Gang rape even more so. People say it in hushed tones and avoid discussing it in front of children. What good is that if such a cruel act happens in Public?! Why are women so unsafe in such a modern and educated world? One of these women wore hijab, the other was quite old, the other with her boyfriend. These men do not look at what a woman is wearing or doing or saying.. they do not consider anything but that she is a female and they are sick and twisted! What are we doing wrong that such disgusting things have to be borne by women who have done nothing wrong?!

Education is the key. These men… if they can be called that were never taught to respect women. They were never taught any manners, they were never taught right and wrong. If they were, then they would never have done something so despicable. In a country where the female population outweighs the male, it is still the male that is taught to be the master, it is still the male shown in movies that aggressively chases the girl. It is still the female objectified and revealed in media and advertising. This is the culture and society which breeds such filthy acts. A society in which woman are objects to be attained, not respected. In which woman are things to be defiled and not humans to be treated with kindness and respect? This is the society we live in. And we call ourselves human.

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I blame the media. As a freelance journalist I am ashamed that Journalists do not do more to bring to light such acts and ensure through proper coverage that these acts are properly punished. I blame the education system for failing to teach men and boys to respect women. To respect the sex that bear them, nurse them, feed them and take care of them. I blame the families who fail to teach their sons that a woman is someone’s mother, someone’s sister, someone’s wife.

While I thank God that I live in Australia everyday, even here women experience domestic and sexually aggressive violence.  FaHCSIA reorts that “Around one-in-three Australian women have experienced physical violence and almost one-in-five have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15. For certain groups, this statistic may be much higher.” The Australian Government though, has made a concious effort in recognising and dealing with this issue. Who can forget the “To violence against women, Australia says No.” ad campaigns that flooded our televisions and raised awareness of White Ribbon? Information on The National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010 – 2022 (the National Plan) is widely available and transparency is key to educating society on such an important issue. This is what countries of the subcontinent need. India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and even the Maldives need education, policy reform and most importantly a root culture change in their way of thinking and addressing rape and issues of violence against women to avoid any more cases like the Delhi incident.

This woman has not died in vain. She has brought to light an act which thousands of women endure all over the world. US soldiers defile women in Iraq and Afghanistan on a regular basis. No one says anything. In Syria, Women are raped, tortured and left to die, their brothers and fathers shot in front of them and no one says anything. A small article in the last pages of a newspaper does not do justice to the pressing issue of the DEATH OF HUMANITY! 

May Allah swt safeguard us and our loved ones, May He keep us on the right path and allow us to speak out and act out for what is right. Ameen.

A girl lights candles during a candlelight vigil for a gang rape victim who was assaulted in New Delhi, in Kolkata

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December 2012 saw me travel around Bangladesh doing all sorts of stuff! This post is going to be quite long and eclectic in its collection of topics but I hope you enjoy it. This holiday was kind of disappointing in that it wasn’t what a typical holiday used to be. All my cousins were either overseas or busy with work so the regular caram sessions, late night antakshari rounds and endless gossip was non-existent. It might be a testament to my age but this holiday was more about networking, dinners and meeting new people which was fun too!

My main tasks in Bangladesh were to do the following which I talk about in my other post:

1. Complete the handover of incubators and phototherapy units Probasy had raised funds for all year
2. Find out more about what Prothom Alo trust does
3. Meet with the people at Muslim Aid to see what they do and how Probasy can help
4. Meet with the team at D.net behind their info lady campaign
5. Go to Bhola on a teaching campaign as part of Co-Id. The NFP founded by Fred Hyde.

My first week in Dhaka made me re-evaluate all my plans with the news disseminating warnings of hortals and protests which had become so innovatively disruptive that they now lit fires in the middle of the roads and smashed windscreens of moving buses and cars. The second hortal I witnessed saw the mindless killing of Biswajit Das. The net exploded with criticism of the government and media “Biswajit was stabbed to death after falling prey to violent clashes between the student wing of the political party in power and that of the opposition. It has been alleged that taking him to be a member of the opposition party, the cadres of the government’s youth wing beat up Biswajit and then repeatedly stabbed him with sharp weapons in broad daylight and full public view. Later, the youth died on the way to the hospital. The shocking event took place on 9 December, 2012, during an 8 hour road blockade programme organized by the opposition.”

This was only the first in a series of events and stories I heard and saw which opened my eyes to the reality of a Bangladesh the people living there try so hard to communicate to us NRBs (non-resident Bangladeshis). Working, moving around, getting things done in Bangladesh is next to impossible. Even planning two things in one day is too much to ask for. I was so disappointed with how everyone acted and reacted in a country that has so much to offer and be self-sustaining. I also saw hope though, I met some remarkable individuals working for some great organisations striving to make a real difference. While I was unable to make a trip to Sylhet all the other things on my list were successfully ticked off and the NGOs were amazing… but more on that later.

Before I get to the amazing work being done in Bangladesh I have to mention the events which took place in Bangladesh while I was there which set the context for what Bangladesh has become. These are set out in more detail in my other post on Rape. Having set this context in which men and women are unsafe in the streets for no good reason, you can see why Bangladesh has become once again worthy of the title so aptly given.

Once known as the bottomless basket case, Bangladesh was so named due to the endless stream of donations pouring into the country which disappeared without any improvements to the country or its people. When France donated millions through the Food for Work program to build and improve Bangladesh’s roads as well as give rural families a proper income, it was a great idea that worked properly for only a short while before some bright spark decided it was easier to just pocket all the money. To this day Bangladesh runs on donations. I would go so far as to heartbreakingly call my country one that is run on begging. The US, Australia, the UK, and China are the biggest donors to Bangladesh and millions of dollars are poured in to alleviate poverty, improve nutrition, healthcare and infrastructure. 95% or more of this money never reaches the people. It is used to line the pockets of the rich who go onto weekend shopping sprees in Singapore or to buy luxury cars and houses in forging countries while more and more of the poor become ultra poor.. or dead.

This scenario is only aided and abetted by the ridiculous and farcical politics of Bangladesh. Just thinking about it makes me angry. Two women with no credentials, no history of success and only their male relations to give them any credibility have lasted decades in a feud which sucks the life and liberty out of Bangladesh. Even a caretaker government couldn’t salvage and restore order. Politics is prevalent in every aspect of life in Bangladesh, be it trying to get a job, booking a hall for a wedding, trying to buy a house or car. It’s just crazy. And it’s making the people crazy. The bangalis I once knew who laughed and smiled and showed endless hospitality in the most adverse of situations are now narrow minded and self serving. Not only do adults act this way, they teach it to their kids. On 16th December, Bangladesh’s Victory Day celebrations were in full swing and in the spirit of celebration I gave some chocolates to a group of kids standing in the street outside our house. There were about 6 of them aged between 5 to 10. All of them tried to grab as many chocolates as they could. I said that if they didn’t take one and move aside that no one would get any but alas there was no brotherhood or love between these children. It was a ‘I’ll take what I can and run’ mentality that I saw all too prevalent in their adult counterparts. When I went to Bhola to teach at the schools run by Co-Id, the teachers and students alike were more focused on what gifts we had brought than what we were saying.

It is truly disappointing to see such a beautiful fertile country with such wonderful people being degraded to fighting over menial things as the politicians and the wealthy suck the life and resources out … literally. Bangladesh is floating on gas and yet gas is not available in homes almost all day, being siphoned off and sold to other countries. This is the context for the work I am about to relay. If your still with me and despairing.. don’t. There are organisations like Prothom Alo Trust, D.Net, Muslim Aid and Co-Id that are trying their best to lift Bangladesh out of the hole it’s dug for itself.

Chartiy in Bangladesh has details on what I saw, where I went and who I spoke to so please have a read if you are interested and contact me for any information. Their work is truly inspiring and restored faith in me that there are people in Bangladesh who think beyond their own pockets and the here and now. Bangladesh is a lush and plentiful country which produces so much that its inhabitants should have hearts as big as their rice fields. It is a shame that this is not the case. I hope the next time there is cause for me to visit my birthplace again, it will be to witness a better Bangladesh.

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