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Freedom 55

As I sit down at my computer a crisp spring breeze flows through our patio door, outside the sun is alone in the sky shining brightly on one of the best places to live in the world. For the last two years Vancouver has become my home, bringing with it a beautiful wife and a new business. My decision to leave India was difficult and full of emotion, my relationship with India was tumultuous, wild and will forever change my perspective of the world we live in.

When the idea of DWP first surfaced 6 years ago in a small cafe in the South of India I had no idea the adventures it would take me on. From searching the busy back roads of Mumbai for a lost child (and finding her too!), to breaking up brawls in a slum, spending countless hours and days in some of the worst emergency rooms on the planet, losing far too many friends, watching kids run off to school for the first time and the simple act of sharing thousands of cups up sweet chai with a community that welcomed a stranger from the other side of the world will forever humble me.

Todd Sir playing soccer with the kids in the garden in Saki Naka.

Those first 4 years on the road balancing life between India and Canada, juggling work on the ground with fundraising efforts here at home were a crazy adventure. I quickly became the face of DWP and over those early years DWP was written about in several languages and garnered the attention of print and TV media from Canada, Germany and all across India. But as the bloggers, journalists and tv reporters gathered to get “my” story they never wanted to hear about the help behind the scenes that made it possible. Since 2009 every article written about DWP has focused on me and what I have done, and left out everyone who made DWP’s work successful, including my family.

Cindy spending time with Ashwini and Nikhil at the school

While I was running DWP my parents sat quietly in the background assisting me in any way they could, and were the reason that I was able to accomplish all that I had. From the first discussion in that dusty cafe to the first funds raised through their restaurant in Canada to reviewing, editing and listening to the rants of their son a half a world away, they were always there and forever in support. For many parents the thought of their 26 year old son starting his own non-profit refusing to pay himself and then spending the majority of the year working in poverty stricken communities and bringing back a belly full of parasites would be a call for an intervention.

But us Ryans are cut from a slightly different cloth I suppose and they always supported every naive and fool hearted decision involving DWP. When the family business sold my mother was on a plane to Mumbai to join me less than 24 hrs after the deal closed. My mother and father would soon become fixtures in the community over the next year and it became obvious that this was something my mother should have been doing her entire life. As I began to realize that my time running DWP operations on the ground in Mumbai were coming to an end, my parents were just starting to find their footing.

While this cool Vancouver breeze swirls at my back my parents are covered in sweat, draped in children and arguing with a slumlord in the hopes of making a stranger’s life a little bit better. For the average Canadian, retirement means playing with grandchildren (soon I promise..) enjoying a round of golf and travelling the world in style. After starting six businesses, raising two fairly competent children and travelling the world, my parents retired and moved to a slum? For the majority of the year my retired parents fulfill DWP’s mandate to “see a need and fill it” and under their direction DWP has sponsored more children this year than ever before! In the last few months my parents have created a tuition centre in the heart of the slum community that teaches nearly 5o kids a day, given over 60 children scholarships, helped in dozens of medical cases and all with humility and a smile. I can’t begin to tell you how proud Salomeh, Evann (my sister) and I are of my parents. They are truly one of a kind. While India will miss them for a few months, we can’t wait to see them here at home again.

DWP has given the Ryan family as much as we have given it and it is because of the support of our many readers, donors and friends that our family can continue to fill classrooms and bring smiles to those who need it.

This post is for my parents, Cindy and Todd the unsung heroes behind the Dirty Wall Project.

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