From The Bottom-Up

The story of how Prof Narayanan and his son, Manickam, were quite taken aback on witnessing a ten-year-old mechanic mend their car in 2001, is well-known. In fact, their “unsettling” encounter with Muthu, a little boy who was supposed to attend school but was working as a young mechanic, led the father-son duo to take their baby-steps towards establishing Pudiyador, twelve years ago. More than a decade has passed since that evening at the mechanic, and the duo still hasn’t lost sight of their mission: to bring about after-school academic help, to encourage children to pursue extracurricular activities and to build character through various interactive means. In fact, it is this continuing mission that has served many a young
child in realizing potential and leading better lives.

“In a nutshell, in order to bring about all this, we first need to ensure that our little children stay healthy,” says Chiai Uraguchi, Programme Director at Pudiyador. “What is health? The World Health Organisation defines Health as staying physically, psychologically and socially fit. And as part of our efforts at Pudiyador, we ensure our kids are physically healthy by taking good care of them and their dietary requirements, we take care of their social health by way of interactions and getting their parents involved in their growth process and finally, our counselors ensure that psychological wellbeing is guaranteed, which takes care of that last element of their health.”

Quite simply, Pudiyador has taken upon itself the mission to bring about sensitivity in underprivileged children, even as it strives to encourage uniqueness and the child’s natural intelligence. The NGO has put its best foot forward in bringing about such qualities from a child by way of comprehensive classroom and extracurricular environments after class. “The focus is on growth and the need to provide basic healthcare for these children, and to sensitize their parents to the need for this as well,” says Chiai. Over time, three centres were established to cater to the needs of such children. The first was established in 2001 itself, at Ramapuram. Run by Prof Narayanan and Manickam, the centre began with a small gathering of five
children, but is second-home to nearly 40 children today. When Pudiyador opened its second centre in 2005, at Urapakkam, the number of children at this centre was 60. Just two years later, a third centre was opened in Adyar, on the same model of the Urapakkam centre. In fact, the Adyar centre of Pudiyador is of special significance since it plays host to students from the University of Michigan who assist volunteers of Pudiyador in running this centre. After having served at Pudiyador for close to 7 months now, Chiai is also slowly learning the ropes in running the dayto- day affairs of the NGO. “It has been such a learning experience for me,” she remarks.

Art, sports, theatre, music and dance: what Pudiyador has successfully managed to do in 12 years is introduce underprivileged children to the kind of education that only a privileged few were able to enjoy. “In fact, we conduct comprehensive rogrammes to monitor the progress of these children, even as some of our very own teachers undergo learning experiences in how we ought to go about this process of transition,” explains Chiai. No doubt, the very attempt to provide underprivileged children with an education that they haven’t had the privilege of experiencing, is perhaps Pudiyador’s noblest initiative. The NGO’s centres work from 5.30 to 8.30pm on weekdays, while weekends see activity at these centres from 9am to 6pm.

Interestingly enough, the transition doesn’t stop with just the kind that is imparted to children of the local community. One of Pudiyador’s aims is to make each centre self-sustainable, and thus hand over the operations of such centres to the local community within a five-to-ten-year period. And it isn’t just children that the NGO focuses on.Programme modules on substance abuse awareness and adult literacy are also conducted from time to time, even as means to improve economic conditions of families are also being worked on. Needless to say, help is always welcome. Donations to the NGO by way of funds, good or services are invited, even as specific emphasis is laid on manpower: full-time staff and volunteers. Books for the library, electronic equipment like old laptops, and chairs and desks are also some of the requirements of the NGO, today.

From a little club in Prof Narayanan’s backyard to a fledging NGO today, there’s no denying that Pudiyador has come a long way. “But our short-andlong-term objectives continue to focus on ensuring that our children are healthy, and only by way of this health can we bring about some solid change in their lives and academic careers,” says Chiai, “And being healthy essentially includes staying physically, psychologically and socially fit.” In a sense, that’s what has become Pudiyador’s standout feature: that beyond the need to bring about societal change, and educate the underprivileged, it’s the methodology to work from the bottom-upwards that has been this organization’s most prized asset. And for that, this NGO looks all set to go places in what Chiai calls a “holistic approach to change”. Being holistic, more often than not, includes being thorough. And in the attempt to bring about change on a personal and societal level, there’s no better substitute for thoroughness, today.