Sam’s fund and student activism in Bangladesh

This year was the eighth year of celebrating Sam’s memorial. Eight successive years of sharing a memorial with over 100 friends and family is a rare 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 the event is 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.

In the afterglow of this year’s event, the importance of supporting this cause has become keenly apparent. Reports have come out about students protesting across Bangladesh against the shortfalls of the current government. In the last week, numerous journalists have been targeted, camera equipment has been smashed, and on the 5th of August, the founder of Pathshala Insititute, Shahidul Alam, 63, was forcibly removed from his home, detained and beaten, before appearing in court for “giving false information to different media and for provocative comments”.

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. 

Amnesty International are fighting hard for Shahidul’s release, alongside his friends, lawyers and other good people of influence. Attached to this post is a statement published by Drik, the picture library established by Shahidul in 1989, who are promoting the hashtag #freeShahidulAlam to keep as many eyes as possible on the movements of the Bangladeshi authorities. The Sam Banks Memorial Fund is wholeheartedly behind these efforts to support Shahidul, his family, friends, students and colleagues at this time, and it is for this reason that we would like our own supporters to be aware of the situation, so they too may extend their support to the man behind the fund itself.

Please share freely.

With love from the Banks family


Shahidul Alam

A photograph from Shahidul Alam’s website gallery:

© 2017 Shahidul Alam


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