Sunday, January 31, 2010

Safe and Sound

Greetings from Delhi!

Indeed, Jon, Vicky, and I arrived safely Friday afternoon and were quickly piled into two hired cars with all of our luggage (after some initial worries the airline finally allowed us to bring all that we had). Thus my first experience in India was a two hour drive, careening through the center of Delhi and inching slowly through the most crowded streets I've ever seen (cars, auto-rickshaws, bicycles, carts, scooters, people, dogs, even an elephant).

On the first night Vicky went to stay with Jon’s brother, Nathan (who, along with a small group of other Dartmouth graduates, has been running an upstart pharmaceutical company in India for the past four years). She has now flown on her own to Calcutta for three days to attend a short conference.

Thus Jon and I are coming to the end of our second full day in the country, staying at the home of his friend Riya’s family in north Delhi. For those of you who have not seen “More Than Walking”, Riya is a 16-year-old quadriplegic Jon met at the Indian Spinal Injuries Center (ISIC) last year and is now one of the founding members of the wheelchair rugby team that represented India in the World Wheelchair Games this past November.

This week Jon is hoping to help Riya improve her physical therapy practices at home, record more of her story, and assess her further needs (so we can ideally provide her with supplies from the US). For example, the wheelchair she owns is not fitted for her body or for activities such as bed transfers. Riya is very eager to learn and has a strong will driving her to train. Although there is big-picture work to be done on this trip (such as the disability conferences later on), it is extremely valuable for Jon to be able to build close relationships with individuals such as Riya. No film screening or sermon on disability advocacy has quite the same impact as Jon being able to lift weights and answer questions with Riya every morning in her own home.

As I am writing this I am sitting on the corner of a bed/couch in the main room of Riya’s home. On the couch with me is Riya, her mother, her younger brother (Aditya), and her cousin (just visiting). Her father is standing near the door, Jon is in his chair, and the youngest brother (Dhruv) is away (probably playing cricket with friends in the street below). We spent most of the afternoon up on the terrace, enjoying the afternoon sun above the crowded streets below. Aditya showed us his Bollywood dancing skills (Jon shot a psuedo-music video) and Dhruv mostly just ran around yelling and punching me (he seems to like this activity).

Yesterday evening, Jon’s brother took us to an exhibition of Himalayan nature photographs at a fancy hotel in south Delhi. Jon and I spent probably 6 hours in different taxis traveling there and back and maybe 10 minutes looking at photos in what turned out to be a bit of a fiasco. The photographer was a Dartmouth graduate from 1994, the exhibition curator was a Dartmouth ’09, Nathan is a ’06, one of Nathan’s friends, a ’08, was there, plus me (’11) and Jon (’12). Basically, it was a little Hanover reunion.

Given yesterday's late night and a general explosion of activity, Jon and I are feeling pretty worn down as we head to bed tonight (it's nearing midnight as I finish this post). We've both been struck by head colds and have moved down to the first floor to give ourselves some space from the family (hopefully to prevent them from catching our sickness and to create some peace and quiet to plan for the remainder of the week at Riya's). I imagine that being sick in India could be a lot worse than this so I am thankful that we have initially been spared from worse health.

Tomorrow we sleep in and then a wonderful social worker friend of the Sigworth's (Raman) will be joining us to help contact therapists and teachers who have been involved in Riya's rehabilitation (so we can speak with them and hopefully clarify Riya's experience in order to motivate others).

So considering our hectic Saturday around Delhi and the intense time spent with Riya's family today it has been a surprisingly overwhelming welcome to India. Of course, I expect it might get crazier, thus, I need to go sleep. Thanks!

Photos (click them to enlarge):
1. view from Riya's family terrace
2. Jon, Riya, and her father after Riya used sliding board to transfer herself to the bed
3. Jon, Riya's mother, Riya, and Aditya on the terrace

Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!

Psalm 105:4

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Last Night at Home

Hello everyone!
It’s nearly 4am on the eve of our flight to the other side of the world and Jon, his mother (Vicky), and I are finally just about to head to bed after a full, full day of packing, unpacking, rearranging, burning DVDs, buying meds, making photocopies, gathering camera equipment, finding boxes, losing boxes, and trying to squeeze in a meal or two.
I know that all of you guys have heard differing amounts of information on the plans and purposes of our upcoming six-week trip to India so I’ll try to give a brief overview here, by means of my first post, to set the stage for the updates that will follow regularly (hopefully). I’ll also just say that of the team of Americans traveling this winter and the countless Indian friends we will be joining along the way, I’m probably the least informed of the plans for the months ahead (so we will be learning together).
The trip has many purposes, all supporting and advancing the work of the Sigworth family’s foundation, Empowering Spinal Cord Injured Persons (ESCIP), in promoting disability advocacy throughout the world and specifically in India. More general information on ESCIP (including past projects, stories, and Jon’s 25-minute documentary, “More Than Walking”) can be found at the foundation’s website (
About half of our time in India this winter will be spent stationed in New Delhi (the nation’s capital). Jon and I will be helping with SCI rehabilitation and wheelchair recreation at the Indian Spinal Injuries Center. We will also visit often with two of the paraplegics profiled in Jon’s film (Riya and Rahul) to follow up on their rehabilitation and lives in general. We hope to continue to document their stories and gather more footage to potentially be added to the film.
The remainder of the six weeks is broken into short (3- to 4-day) trips to a variety of cities throughout the county. In these cities, Jon, Vicky, and a handful of other friends will be speaking a SCI conferences, church meetings, hospitals, schools, workshops, etc to encourage improved SCI rehabilitation and to empower local religious and social communities to take the lead in disability advocacy. In essence, they will be speaking up for the needs of disabled Indians and hopefully connecting people to networks and resources in order to address those needs.
Here’s a rough calendar view of the trip for those of you who need some sense of big-picture organization like me (not that I expect these plans to remain unchanged):
Week 1 – New Delhi
Week 2 – Varanasi and nearby village
Week 3, 4 – New Delhi
Week 5, 6 – Ahmedabad, Junagadh, Mumbai, Hubli, Bangalore, and Visakhapatnam
So at this point the plan is: sleep, wake up, pray, finish packing, drive to the airport, somehow convince Air India to allow three people to check about 8 bags of clothing, donated medical supplies, camera equipment, and 5 donated wheelchairs (not to mention carry on 3 backpacks, 3 camera bags, and 2 more wheelchairs), get on a plane (4pm New York time), get off a plane (4pm New Delhi time).
Seems simple enough.
After that, I’m kind of in the dark. Our first days will be in New Delhi, getting settled and solidifying plans for the following weeks. One issue I’m unsure of is internet access, therefore I can’t tell you for sure how soon until the next post (probably early next week). So until then, we wish you all the best and thank you all for your support!
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.   
Romans 12:1-2