Beautiful Vancouver, where the mountains meet the sea.
The rain whips my face and my cold hands struggle to tie the knot in a soaking wet rope. I shuffle toward the edge, nervous and cold, a brief nod of the head from my foreman and I awkwardly push my chair over the edge.
In front of me, beautiful yachts sway in the oddly still Vancouver harbour. Low clouds hug the shore while snow capped mountains tower over the city. I look back over my shoulder following my safety rope that snakes its way through puddles on the roof to a hook tied with a knot that I learned only yesterday. I swing my foot over the edge and look at my black sneakers and instantly remember haggling for them in a side street in Mumbai. The temperature had hit nearly 40 degrees that day and I smile at the journey my shoes and the weary feet inside them have taken over the last six months.
I step into the small wooden chair as my harness clanks against the flashing of the roof and I yank against my rope and breathe a sigh of relief as the chair holds my weight. Slipping into the chair I reach up and grab the rope and begin my first descent into the quiet streets of Vancouver below.
I arrived back in Canada less than a month ago after 6 months in the mega city of Mumbai. After years of travel and 3 years of life between Canada and India, the transition is easy but never completely smooth.
DWP is a labour of love, but as my time in India comes to an end the stress of heading home and finding a job while raising funds for DWP’s next round of projects begins to invade my mind. A three day stopover in Munich, Germany to visit my friend, Sammy “the bullet dodger” Khamis, proves to be a great way for me to slowly adapt to the change in ideologies and cultures slipping quietly from East to West. Sammy, along with Kirsten Langsdorf, have been great DWP supporters and thanks to the incredible generosity and craftsmanship of Sammy, a box laden with one of the most beautiful vintage Italian racing bikes lies packaged somewhere between Germany and Canada en route to be sold in Canada to fund DWP’s next project in India.
This last 6 months in India has been the most stressful working trip of my 3 years of doing charity work in India. While our major project, ”Girls Can Be”, has been a great success, deaths and problems in the community were present with every moment of happiness. Over the last 3 years DWP has lost 5 employees (Shalu, Hitesh, Simon, Ganesh and David) to unexpected deaths.These five people were not just employees but also friends and the community will never be the same without them. Working in poor communities is difficult and marred with tragedies and miracles alike but it seems as though the community lost more than its fair share of children and adults in terrible circumstances during my stay this time. I have begun to find myself more affected by the tragedies of lives lost and the lack ability to not stop them from happening. But, amongst the sadness, amazing things happened as well, and DWP as an organization chooses to focus on the ”great and the good” that somehow surfaces from terrible situations.
I am now back on the rugged and beautiful west coast of Canada bouncing back and forth between Victoria and Vancouver. My goal of keeping DWP free of high administration costs and Canadian wages results in me looking for new work every time I arrive on home soil. In the past 3 years I have worked in restaurants, auction houses, diamond companies, gold companies and hotels in an attempt to fund myself and keep 100% of your donation to DWP going to those who need it. As DWP’s projects and the amount of people we are able to help increases, so does the work involved at keeping it funded and to increase the support connected to our community and projects. I couldn’t do this without the support and help from my parents, Cindy and Todd Ryan. My parents spent the last 5 months sharing a 400 sq ft apartment with me while also hosting Canadian friends who joined us for brief stays in support of DWP and the community in Saki Naka. Being a “one man” charity my parents have been the sounding board for everything involving DWP since the beginning and it was amazing to have their support on the ground in India. Like myself, my parents supported their own travel and living costs while working 10 hrs a day for the Saki Naka community and living in less than ideal conditions inside my apartment. We do this not because we have to, but because we want to. I have had countless discussions with friends and supporters about the need for me to take some form of payment or living costs out of DWP’s funds to keep the project going. Every time I consider this I decide against it soon after. It is not until I get home and find my self desperately looking for employment that I begin to think about it again. Over the last couple of weeks I have been printing out resumes and sending off emails to potential jobs in the Vancouver area. My first week I was offered a job as a bellman/valet at a hotel and as an event photographer in the Vancouver night life scene. The third and certainly most interesting was a position as a high rise window washer in downtown Vancouver. After some deliberation I have taken the job as the window washer and have worked washing windows and loading gear to the roof tops of some of Vancouver’s tallest buildings. Friday was my first day repelling and although it was a cold and rainy BC day, I enjoyed the unnerving feeling of being suspend above the hustle of the city while remaining outside the cubicles of the city’s offices.
Although India is thousands of miles away, I am constantly connected and I speak to Indu and Ashley a few times a week, keeping abreast of the happenings in the community and doing my best to fund any emergency medical problems and keep our current projects running.
So, what’s next for DWP?
This question is hard to answer as local and general elections in Mumbai have just taken place. The results of the election may change the decisions of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). Promises are made during election time that often have a major effect on the poor in living the Saki Naka slum communities and all slum communities in the city. DWP and Janvi has worked closely with the BMC to build and revitalize the Saki Naka community making it one of the cleanest and well cared for slum communities in the country. But this does not make our community safe from demolition and we have begun to hear the rumblings of a complete demolition. The hottest topic in Mumbai is the demolition of slum communities. Mumbai’s population has exploded to over 18 million people, and of that 18 million nearly 10 million live in slum communities just like ours in Saki Naka. Every week the local papers and TV networks show government bulldozers knocking through the tin walls of poor communities across the city and country. Saki Naka has not been spared as the community and I have witnessed two small demolitions in the slum over the last few years which has wiped out over 250 homes from our community. While I know this is part of life for poor villagers who seek jobs, homes and a place to live in Mumbai, the demolitions come suddenly and with shock every time. Both times I have watched as police swarm the community quelling any unrest while protecting bulldozers that hungrily chew on torn metal and asbestos roofing tiles that were once home to large families.
For now I live in limbo awaiting my next visa for India while hanging off the sides of buildings trying to pocket enough cash to head back to a community of people I consider family. The demolition of our community may or not happen but it is a real-life threat to the thousands who call it home. With amazing success, we have invested our time and money into this community and will continue to help until the bulldozers come knocking, if and when they do. If the demolition actually takes place and the thousands of families and the women of GCB lose their homes, DWP will be there to help when they need it most. Bricks and mortar don’t make a community, it’s the people who live in it, and it’s those people that we have all come together to help.
DWP has touched thousands of lives in Saki Naka in the few years that we have been operating and you can count on DWP to continue to support these women and children and their families long after the bricks fall.
DWP will be looking to hold new photography shows with images taken over the last 6 months while I organize and set up potential fundraisers for DWP in Victoria,Vancouver and Calgary.
If you have any ideas on venues or spaces for DWP’s new photography show in either Victoria or Vancouver or fundraising ideas please contact me directly - firstname.lastname@example.org
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