DWP is back in Mumbai, India led by Cindy & Todd Ryan.
By Cindy Ryan
Mumbai is bizarre. No other way to describe it really. Whether you are rich and sitting back in your luxury car catching up on business calls while your driver expertly navigates through snarls of congested traffic in your new Mercedes, or you are one of millions of people subsisting on the crumbs of commerce living in a home cobbled together with rusted tin and old plastic billboards and using a gutter for a toilet, this city is a heaving, chaotic, mesmerizing, promising, frustrating mess that never fails to make us feel at home. Upon arrival we were waved through immigration with a flourish by a customs agent with a megawatt smile and a genuine, “Welcome to India” greeting. We brushed off exhaustion and stepped into the night fragrant with car exhaust, incense, garbage and the smell of the last rains of the monsoon. It’s good to be back.
While Kane (DWP founder) has not been able to personally travel to India for awhile, Dirty Wall Project has still managed to provide school fees, provide financial help for a new mother, and pay the rations for a family of six with the help of Aarti Kalro and Jaita Guha – dedicated Mumbaikars who put aside their busy work schedules to help when needed. While Kane settles in to a new life in Vancouver running the Lost + Found Cafe with Salomeh, (which doubles as a fundraising venue for DWP), Todd and I (Kane’s parents) will be the DWP personnel in India.
We have spent the past few weeks with familiar faces sipping chai and eating heaps of dal and rice, forcing our middle-aged bones into the lotus position in homes smaller than most western closets. We poke our heads through curtained doorways hoping to find only small problems but instead find what we know – living in poverty and squalor is inhumane and the likelihood of a better life isn’t just around the corner. Children are sick, school fees are crippling for most families, most homes are not fit for humans to live in, there are parents with AIDS and TB, roofs are leaking, the price of onions and tomatoes (both staple foods that provide nutrients and the base of their meals) are out of reach for most families. But despite the obvious hardships of living in a crowded urban slum, we also find resourceful parents and happy resilient children (who can manage on their own by the time they are two). There was contagious excitement in the community throughout the nine-day Navratri Festival and the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. Families are sweeping and cleaning their homes in anticipation of Diwali and the lane ways are draped with the brilliant colours of just-washed saris drying in the sun.
We have adjusted once again to the heat and the swamping humidity of Mumbai and with the help of Indu, (a new mother to Agya), we will continue DWP’s mission to “see a need and fill it”. Concentrating on unpaid school fees, we have managed to find most of the kids we have sponsored in the past, as well as some new faces whose parents have suffered setbacks, unemployment or health problems. The work begins and we are excited to be able to continue to fulfill our promise to DWP’s generous donors and the families here who desperately need to feel the warmth of human compassion and who require more than just a helping hand.
With the help of Varun Agarwal a generous real-estate broker with a big heart, we have settled into a flat not far from the community. Touched by what DWP has accomplished in his native Mumbai, he offered to waive his commission fee (a finder’s fee charged to the new tenant of a flat). Our travel and living expenses are our personal expenses while in India, so Varun’s grand gesture is much appreciated and we are grateful for his selfless generosity.
While the community is excited to have DWP part of their daily lives once again, they are saddened that Kane can’t be here with us. He is much loved in the community and sorely missed by the hordes of children who constantly chirp, “Kane Sir? Where??” The children like to take Kane on walks through the community via our computer when we manage the time difference and Skype him in Canada. Although we have spent much time in the community in the past with Kane, we are relying on him for advice, wit and guidance while we try to step into his flip-flops and navigate the myriad of problems of hundreds of people living in a slum in India. His best advice: We can’t help everybody, but we can help somebody.
Stories about the community and what DWP has accomplished during the past few weeks in India coming soon….
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