Kane Ryan connects with Morgan Van Breda, a paraplegic who is the first hand-cyclist to participate in Tour d’ Afrique. Her goal is to ride from India’s Taj Mahal to Kanyakumari, spreading a message of hope and awareness about spinal cord injuries.
I could taste the steel on my tongue from gripping the nail between my teeth. I hammered it into the wall to hang my last photograph. Turning around, I caught my first glimpse of Morgan as she cruised by the doorway in her wheelchair. I had been invited by a friend and photographer Leona Fowler to hang my photographs in the new spinal cord recovery centre in Victoria, British Columbia. The event that took place that evening in October showcased many local photographers and artists, including Morgan Van Breda.
Two weeks later I learned via a Facebook post that Morgan was planning an epic adventure across India. Curious, I emailed Morgan to find out if I could be of any help because I would be in India working during her adventure. A few emails were exchanged and we decided to meet only a week before I was to fly back to India.
Entering the cafe, I spotted Morgan and her partner Viktor and over the next hour I learned all about their upcoming adventure. Their plan was to cycle or, in Morgan’s case, hand-cycle, from the “Taj Mahal” to Kanyakumari at the southern-most tip of India. They would be part of a group of riders led by Tour d’ Afrique. The 3300 km journey would take them through six states over seven weeks. Morgan graciously gave me a ticket to her fundraising event held a few days later. At the event I watched as Morgan and Viktor worked the room speaking to all of their supporters and media. Just before I left I met Erik Zaremba, a friend of Viktor’s, who will be joining them on their adventure and filming a documentary about their journey.
Morgan, who is 32, was diagnosed as a paraplegic after a spinal cord injury in a freak accident in Cuba when she was just 23. She is determined to live a life full of adventures and open doors. This trip is part of her journey to keep moving and never give up.
While I have been in India for the past four months, working in the chaos of Mumbai, Morgan and her team were preparing for their once-in-a-life time adventure. This included specialized physical training for Morgan and working out logistics for the gear they would need. On January 29th, they joined 30 other riders from Tour d’ Afrique, and started out from the Taj Mahal in Agra.
I met up with them in Jaipur, Rajasthan. Dirty Wall Project (DWP) got its start here in Jaipur over a year ago, working with an amazing organization called Vatsalya. DWP and Vatsalya joined forces and held health camps geared towards illnesses caused by the destructive Indian Oil company fire that affected thousands of villagers. Over 10 days we serviced over 2000 patients with free medicines and diagnosis.
Morgan is the first hand cycle participant to ever ride with the tour that includes cyclists from all over the world. My mission in Jaipur was to help Morgan gain access to some amazing communities that I have the privilege of knowing. I brought Morgan, Viktor and Erik to a slum community in Jaipur where they met Jaimila and Hitesh Gupta who run Vatsalya as well as several other vocational training centers in slums throughout Jaipur. The first group of graduates from these programs were celebrating and we were invited as guests.
The laneways of the slum are hard to navigate even by foot and Morgan was carried by Viktor into the slum. Children and families lined the road with curious stares and smiles. As we approached the school, over 100 people erupted into applause. Morgan and Viktor made their way down the stairs and were given seats as chief guests. Morgan’s story is extremely positive and her outlook on life is an amazing testament to courage and determination . It is a story that slum communities can readily identify with. Over the next hour we were treated to dance performances and speeches.
The following day we headed 45 kms outside of Jaipur to the Udayan Children’s Village, the crown jewel in Vatsalya’s crown. This sprawling 11 acre plot is home to 56 orphaned children who have found love and family behind the protected walls of Udayan.
After we were given the grand tour, the children gathered in the meeting hall and Morgan and Viktor took centre stage as Jaimala spoke to the children about Morgan’s adventure. I took my place at the back of the room and captured the event through the lens of my camera. The children took turns asking Morgan questions. Morgan was such a powerful inspiration for these children (who have overcome so many obstacles in their own short lives) to see and hear her explain the difficulties and hardships that she has overcome. Morgans message is that despite what life throws at you, the ability to pick yourself up and move forward is key. The saying that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is very evident in the way she is living her life. One young girl in particular really identified with Morgan and as we were about to leave she came to Morgan in tears and we were all humbled by their teary embrace.
Jaimala and Hitesh are doing remarkable things for the underprivileged in Jaipur. I am excited to be able to link all of these amazing people together.
Morgan’s journey is spreading light on spinal cord injuries, showing people that the will to move forward despite the hurdles and forks in the road is not only possible but that one can excel and have the ability to change and grow.
DWP has been an incredible adventure for me and everyday I learn new things about life and struggle and the ability we all have to change our perspectives.One of the most amazing things for me, is all of the people that I have met over the last two years, who are involved in the charity world, from shoe-string philanthropists to large scale charities. We all have the ability to help in some way.
In a few weeks, Morgan and her team will be visiting me in Mumbai. The Saki Naka community will welcome them with open arms. I look forward to our children hearing her message and seeing her smile.
For more information on Morgan’s adventure follow the links below….
http://morgansride.com/ — click on Jaipur slum graduation and Jaipur Ashram, DWP makes a cameo in both videos.
Or information on Vatsalya…
All photos © Kane Ryan, Dirty Wall Project. All Rights Reserved.