This year was the 11th year of celebrating Sam’s memorial. Eleven years of sharing a memorial with over 100 friends, either through sponsored events or at one of the music, food and cricket gatherings – this has been a privilege and joy. The impulse to go on year after year, however, has not only been to memorialise but has been accompanied by the sense of new growth with which events are associated. Of course, there’s the glorious revival of friendships in the sun, by the bar, round the fire or dancing to Spoonful; but as well as raising glasses to Sam, we also raise between £2000-£3000 at this time each year to support a handful of young photojournalism students in Dhaka, at Pathshala South Asian Media Institute. Pathshala’s experienced and highly-motivated staff of world-class photojournalists nurture the next generation of keen-eyed photographers to tell the often unspoken stories of their surroundings: land in the aftermath of floods, the Rohingya exodus, life among Bangladeshi horse-breeders, a childhood in the hidden corners of a Hindu villa.
We first came across Shahidul shortly after Sam died, when we were looking for a way to continue the passionate activism and concern for humanity Sam had engaged in throughout his life. A mutual friend told us about Pathshala and how the idea had originated when Shahidul had handed disposable cameras to street kids, telling them to come and sell them back to him when the film was full. Shahidul had realised the enormous power of photographic images in a country in which a large percentage of the population are illiterate. His fierce determination to support and celebrate the people of Bangladesh, and the unique opportunity Pathshala offers to its students to make a mark on the world, struck us as infinitely worthy of whatever small support we could muster. This was how the Sam Banks Memorial Fund came about and we’ve since had all the joy of an ongoing relationship with the institute and following the excellent portfolios of the students supported by the fund. That the man with the passion and life-force to make such a place, who has spent his life promoting the right to freedom of expression, is having his basic human dignity undermined in this way is heartbreaking. That we are supporting students who may one day take on the mantle, with the courage demonstrated by Shahidul and his peers, is something of which we are enormously proud.
With love from the Banks family
© 2017 Shahidul Alam