Aid worker

Jessica Broder, a former Penticton resident, working with a client at a children’s non-profit organization in India.

A former Penticton student has found her calling half a world away at a non-profit agency in India that looks after some of that country’s poorest children.

Jessica Broder left the Okanagan Valley at age 17 and moved to Pune, India, to complete her high school diploma at Mahindra United World College of India. Three years later, she finds herself working in Chennai, in Southern India, with a local non-profit committed to community empowerment.

“Pudiyador is an education-driven child and family organization. We provide an after-school program for over 180 children, and support their families from cradle to college,” says Broder, whose mother is a respirologist at Penticton Regional Hospital.

“Currently, Pudiyador has three centres and is supporting four low-income communities. These communities are considered 'slums' and follow a common trend seen across India of poor communities being nestled between wealthy neighbourhoods.”

Many of the children attending the centres come from rough backgrounds, but Broder is continually impressed with their resiliency. When asked to describe that resiliency, she shares the story of Varun.

“Varun is only seven years old, but holds a familial responsibility greater than most. Varun's parents both work at manual labor jobs. They leave very early in the morning and return late at night, leaving little time in the day for meal preparation. On top of this, Varun’s mom is pregnant,” recounts Broder.

“Varun’s primary source of nutrition is from Pudiyador, where he receives one afternoon snack and a full dinner daily. When you ask Varun if he has eaten in the morning, he says, ‘I will eat tonight when you give food.’ However this is a lie. Most days he will sneakily pull out a dirty white container and fill his share of the meal to bring it home for his mother, eating no more than a few mouthfuls at most.”

Broder’s experience in India has given her a whole new outlook on life.

“I think in Canada, we generally believe that money equates to happiness. Of course a minimum standard of financial stability does translate to some comfort, but beyond that, I am beginning to question this concept,” says Broder.

“These kids are raw, yet when given a space like Pudiyador, where they are free to speak their minds, interact with the opposite gender without fear of judgement, and are challenged to defy societal norms, we see them blossom into curious, responsible and respectful young adults.”

Broder is hoping old neighbours and colleagues can help the cause by donating to Pudiyador.

“To put things into context, $15 sponsors one child for an entire week,” she adds.

For more information, visit www.pudiyador.org