Footing the Bill: One Student’s Quest to End Global Poverty

Shawn Photo Montage

Remember Cyclone Sidr? Many have forgotten it – another Cyclone kills another few hundred people. Or is it a few thousand? Thousands of people are without food, clean water, clothes, or blankets – yet coverage on the aftermath of Sidr is virtually absent from the news. That is, absent from the mainstream news.

There are a few kindred spirits – individuals who give up their everyday luxuries – who are willing to cease suckling at the frothy teat of Starbucks’ lattes, or munching down on prefabricated foodstuffs, to instead help those unable to help themselves in countries far far away.

About 2 weeks ago, I learned of one such individual after he began posting his stories, photos, and video reports to NowPublic. His name is Shawn, and his story is amazing. He reminded me that there people willing to wean themselves off the teat of ‘western’ life and dive right into the foray of international aid. What’s more, he did it all entirely with his own money.

Using his blog, his youtube channel The Uncultured Project, his photos on Flickr, and other similar websites, Shawn has been avidly advocating for the poorest in Bangladesh over the past 5 months – through floods, riots, curfews, and a cyclone.

Here’s an interview I conducted with Shawn via email. His responses are both inspiring and reveal a climate of Aid the majority of westerners are completely unaware of. I hope you enjoy it, and either become inspired to follow his lead, or find solace in knowing there are Shawns out there doing it already. I sincerely hope the comparatively small amount of work I’ve put into this article in some way helps Shawn’s cause: to eliminate global poverty in our lifetime.

Read the entire interview here

Who are you: Shawn, 26 years old
Where are you: Dhaka, Bangladesh
What are you: U of T graduate (political science, economics, sociology); former Notre Dame graduate student; self funded humanitarian
Hometown: Toronto, Canada


Many families – many in the exact same regions that the cyclone hit – were trying to recover from the damage and lost lives caused by the flooding. Then, just a handful of months later, whatever rebuilding they had managed to do may have been wiped out. It can be futile sometimes. And its really this sense of futility that quite often overwhelms me. Even if I could help as many people as I wanted and give out as much as I could dream of, what’s to say another flood or cyclone doesn’t wipe out all that away? But, I don’t even have that – because (like those school kids yelling help) – I’m only able to help a small fraction of the people I see. These problems aren’t going to be solved with appeals for aid or handouts.”

“Why do I keep doing what I’m doing if I feel everything maybe futile? Well, it’s mostly has to do with the kind of person I want to be. If poverty CAN’T be eliminated in my lifetime (even though I feel it theoretically can), I’d rather be among the crazy few who spent their life working towards trying to eliminate it – instead of the vast majority that was apathetic or concerned but not stirred to action about it.”

“Without naming names, for fear of getting into trouble, not all aid organizations are the real deal. Bangladesh has more NGOs than any other country in the world… Even when you aren’t dealing with corruption – you also have a problem with organizations not being able to properly balance publicity and openness with proper operation… I’m very fortunate to have actually found some honest-to-goodness legit NGOs and charities.”

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Dave Semeniuk spends hours locked up in his office, thinking about the role the oceans play in controlling global climate, and unique ways of studying it. He'd also like to shamelessly plug his art practice: