Two months ago while working in Mumbai, I met a local man who had just started his own t-shirt printing business. A couple of weeks later I contacted him again. I became one of his first customers and the proud owner of one hundred Dirty Wall Project logo t-shirts. I have two of these t-shirts left after selling 98 at fundraisers from Vancouver Island to Munich. The last two t-shirts, one black and one white, are now my uniform for all the fundraising events I attend. I have a closet very similar to that of Bart Simpson, except that I have two colours to choose from.
For every fundraiser, I pack three essential things: my two t-shirts and my blue jar. The blue jar is my donation jar and a large majority of the funds that Dirty Wall Project uses flow first into the blue jar and then out into my projects in India. Along with my laptop, a camera, a few lenses, a pen and some paper tucked inside a worn, ten year old backback, patched by tailors from Thailand, India and Canada, the Dirty Wall Project survives and flourishes, using the donations tucked inside the blue jar.
This has been a year of evolving from a long term casual traveller to a traveller with a registered non-profit. I’ve learned about blogging and fundraising and how to get the attention of the press to present my cause to keep the blue jar full. The past year highlights how little I knew before. The beauty of starting anything new, be it a business or a non-profit or a new job is the unexpected twists that seem to present themselves at every turn.
My knowledge of the charity world and all that it encompassed was small. I needed a way to generate funds to give my projects life. With funds in the bank, I was challenged to spend the donations wisely, communicating and expressing what a profound effect one person can have on a small community on the other side of the world, with the generous support of donors.
Communicating via the blog on my website was a challenge. I had to find the words to make people smell, feel, laugh, cry and want to come along for the ride with me. What I didn’t realize was that people wanted to not only read about DWP on my website, but they also wanted to hear about it from me, in person. Fundraising requires public speaking. I have always considered myself an outgoing person, but I’m not sure I will ever overcome stage fright.
A week before I flew to India to start work, a Burlesque event was held to help raise funds. A wonderful comedian and MC donated her time for the event, allowing me to be behind the scenes, and in the dark as far away from the stage as possible. I pleaded with her to keep me away from the stage and thought we had come to an agreement. The crowd loved the show, the night was a success, but just before curtain call, I heard her call my name, asking me to please make my way to the stage. As my throat lost all moisture, our lighting man found me with the spotlight and the crowd of over 150 people stared my way. I found my feet moving towards the stage. Soon I was in the glare of the stage lights, heading towards an awkward moment.
For the next several seconds (seemed like minutes) I watched the MC interact with the crowd. Then she held the microphone in my direction. What happened next was a series of hand gestures that looked like a young bird trying to take flight for the first time, all with no sound. The moisture from my throat was now running down my forehead and after what seemed like forever, a pubescent, crackly thank you came out. And that was it, my public speaking debut.
A year later, I find myself in these situations on a regular basis. Fortunately, my voicebox and I have rekindled our relationship and I am now able to speak in public, however awkwardly, but this is progress. I have said yes to several speaking engagements in the last few months. I have done this hesitantly but have come to the realization that people want to hear about Dirty Wall Project from “the horse’s mouth” and I have to “pony” up for the cause. I am no less nervous, but I can now walk with confidence to the stage and say, “Hello, my name is Kane Ryan from the Dirty Wall Project Foundation”. After the intro, I take a deep breath and start talking, hoping to keep the attention of the crowd long enough to tell them the important stuff and keep the blue jar full.
I am heading back to India in a few weeks to start new projects. I will arrive back in Canada months from now, with new stories of people, projects, and possibilities and I will try to tell the stories without a hitch in my throat.
The blue jar depends on it.