You are here

Slum Celebrations

The infamous slums of Mumbai are really self-contained communities.   We were lucky enough to visit one today to be part of a celebration.
We have a woman riding with us – Morgan – who was disabled in a freak accident when she was 24 and is in a wheelchair. She is riding with on the tour with her partner Victor and cameraman Eric who is documenting the trip for a film. 
She is using an electric assist hand bike to navigate these roads.  
It sits low to the ground with a flag that flies high to help with visibility.  And when she’s cranking along she can outpace me. 
She’s not riding every mile or every day.  Some days the traffic, bad roads or hills probably just make it too unsafe.  And there are even challenges for her in the basic accommodations and routines. But when she does ride she draws an interested crowd and I feel sure inspires and surprises many who never thought it was possible to what she’s doing. And that, I expect, is one of the main goals of her effort.
Morgan and her team worked with a Victoria based charity doing work in a Mumbai slum to share some hope and opportunity she feels the bike has given her after her injury with others. I and several other riders were happy to go out and support her and their work in a celebration and presentation ceremony of 42 hand bikes to disabled people from the Mumbai area.
Tour d’Afrique gives a portion of the proceeds of each of their tours to a local charity- often presenting bikes to health workers in Africa (see the link on my blog). This time they worked with Morgan and an organization out of Victoria that is helping revitalize a slum in Mumbai called the Dirt Wall Project to find and give away 42 hand crank bikes to those with disabilities in the hopes it will provide more opportunities for work and independence and ease their lives. A great idea.
The slum area was built around what must have once been empty space over a water pipe and old railway line. It looks like it developed along any available space, and stretches in a long line of double facing houses over the water pipe. The homes are tightly packed corrugated metal mixed with blue tarps and occasional wood and plastic. There are open sewers, narrow passageways that wind through homes. There is some sanitation with a toilet facility and water source.
Just a few weeks ago, the Dirt Wall project moved out 21 truckloads of garbage and hauled in mud to build a communal area for the community. They built a cricket field – which had its inaugural game today with the winning team receiving a trophy.  And our ceremony was under a tent that was built to be a place for meetings, weddings and other community gatherings.  The before and after pictures are amazing.
Clive tests a handbike
Much speechifying …I’ve learned about India that there is a process and the process must be followed and it will just take as long as it takes.  Everyone has their turn.
Local folks were amazingly welcoming, and the children were a delight.  Take our photo, now ours. It’s a game and they love to see their photos on the digital screen.  And not just the children, the adults want to be photographed as well. They are generous to share themselves, and I think take some pride that you are interested.
I appreciate that Tour d’Afrique builds charity into its mission.  The owner, Henry Gold, is riding with us.  Apparently he always rides the first trip of any new tour.  He used to run an NGO in Africa, and continues that ethic of giving back rather than just touring with the company.  
 I appreciate that, and am happy to support it.
Leigh Pate
Leigh Pate is a writer, former political consultant and two time cancer patient and cancer research advocate living in Seattle, WA