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An Honour Bestowed

'If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.' - Dalai Lama.

An email came from a mysterious source. I read it in Mumbai and Kane read it in Vancouver. It crossed our minds to delete it and forget about the claim of possible awards and big ceremonies. We had never heard of Mr. Jhankar Gadkari and considered that maybe he was a shadowy figure with bad intentions waiting to pounce on our possible desire for being notable.

It turns out that Jhankhar is a notable Rotarian, a practising lawyer, the author of three books, and involved in a variety of humanitarian causes (education, culture, health, hunger and a champion of world peace at global forums). He lives in Mumbai and is sincere and honest and open about wanting a dialogue between slum dwellers (who make up half the population of Mumbai) and the rest of Mumbai - the rich and the middle class. He wants to make a difference - to get the two groups communicating on topics that both the rich and the poor can relate to. His vision of an inclusive Mumbai is rare and contagious and difficult to imagine when sitting in the homes of slum-dwellers.

Mr. Jhankar Gadkari

He continued his thread of hope with a google search - ‘slums/Mumbai’. One of his searches landed him on the the Dirty Wall Project website. He was intrigued and more than curious about how a guy (Kane) and his family from Canada seemed to have made a difference to a heap of people in one slum area. Then he started reading Kane’s posts and looking at the photos and realized that it is possible to make a big difference in a small way. He wanted to meet Kane and find out what made him leave his comfortable home in Canada to spend time in a slum community in Mumbai when most locals can’t imagine treading into the squalid lane ways of the slums that surround them.

Kane Ryan

Wealthy and middle-class Mumbaikars rely on slum dwellers to cook their food, look after their children, clean their gutters, sweep their floors and their streets, drive their cars and sell them fruit and vegetables. But there is very little dialogue between them except instructions on how, what, when, where, and what needs to be done for their employer. This is what Jhankar wants to change. Is it possible for a wealthy local in Mumbai who employes many slum-dwellers and pays them a few rupees a month, to imagine visiting the home of their maids or drivers - to see what their life is like, where and how they live, how many children they have, how they manage on such meagre wages? Could this be a panacea for what ails Mumbai. Could this be a start to the change that might make Mumbai a more livable city for all? It is the people who reside in the slum communities who keep Mumbai’s engine running, fixing the movable parts while squatting in stifling lane ways.

Cindy & Todd in the community

Jhankar tested his theory of mingling with people from a slum community by meeting Todd, Indu and me in the Saki Naka community and following us during a day of dealing with a myriad of problems. He listened in as community members spoke about what they need and how they deal with life in the overcrowded lane ways with gutters heaving with filth and garbage. He saw first hand how more toilets and running water to each home would improve life significantly. He also saw resilience and independence in the hard working people struggling to improve their living conditions with limited resources. He saw a future where there should be dignity for all.

Kane and the Dirty Wall Project were not the only ‘unsung heroes’ at the Rotary WOW District Conference/2015 held on February 1st, nominated by Jhankar. The most impressive was Mr. Jockin Arputham, the second Indian nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize 2014. A feisty, elderly man who lives in Dharavi (Asia’s largest slum housing over 1 million people in Mumbai) Mr. Arputham has fought for the rights of slum dwellers his entire life. He had much to say about what how Mumbai operates and thrives because of the hard work of slum-dwellers. He works non-stop to gradually improve the lives of the millions of people born into poverty by giving them dignity (20,000 toilets) and access to housing.

At the Rotary event, in front of an audience of 3000, hosted by District Governor Ajay Gupta with speakers such as Cabinet Minister Smriti Irani (Minister of Human Resource Development) and a host of other notable Mumbaikars from the fields of education and politics, I nervously accepted the award on Kane/Dirty Wall Project’s behalf. The giant screens illuminated the work of DWP through photos and video while Jhankhar spoke about the Dirty Wall Project’s commitment to the Saki Naka Community in Mumbai. We were in great company on stage and off - in fact Amitabh Bachan (the Bollywood Superstar - think the George Clooney of India) was to attend the event later that day.

The awards ceremony

Dirty Wall Project is honoured and grateful to be considered worthy of this award and we hope the dialogue between the rich and the poor starts soon. We have a lot of help and encouragement from numerous people in Mumbai - Indu Bind, school principals, shop owners/dentists/doctors/real estate agents - who give us a break on costs, and members of the Saki Naka community who assist us in so many ways.

Todd, Indu, Cindy

The ongoing financial support of donors from Canada and other parts of the world and people like Mr. Jhankar Gadkari, allow us to continue to commit to helping the people who live in the Saki Naka community in the mega-city that is Mumbai.

Below is a short video on Cindy recieving the award on behalf of Dirty Wall Project.

-The award also came with a generous donation on behalf of the Rotary Club in Dirty Wall Project’s name to pay one year of school fees for six-year-old Muskaan Khan, the daughter of a single mother who lives on the streets.

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