The Janta Colony near Chandigarh – capital of the Punjab region of India – is in an “interesting situation,” says Garry Fehr, geography instructor and director of the global development institute at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV).
“They are right on the very walls of the city of Chandigarh, so the city is not responsible for them,” said Fehr. “But the state of Punjab sees them as being on forest land, so they don’t really want to invest in the development of this community – even though we are talking about more than 14,000 people.”
The situation has led to poverty and malnourishment for many of its residents, and four UFV students left for the community on Aug. 25 to assist with an non-governmental organization (NGO) called Developing Indigenous Resources (DIR), which aims to improve living standards in areas like Janta Colony.
Fehr began working in India in 2000 and became involved with DIR in 2010. The California-based organization needed student interns, and Fehr arranged for UFV students to take part in their projects. This year, Ashley Hayes, Jessica Tourand, Alyssa Bougie and Sara Thiessen will spend fourth months working with DIR, through internships funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
Two students will work with local preschool teachers to help them develop teaching methods and strategies. The others will work in the NGO’s office, setting up fundraising opportunities, increasing their online presence and training their office staff.
Hayes – a biology and geography student – said one of the reasons she wants to go to India is the many cultural ties it has with the Abbotsford community, including the UFV campus located in Chandigarh.
“I think the fact that we’re going to be there long enough… to be living there, with the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the culture, I think, will be a big learning experience.”
The students will also work on various public engagement projects to raise awareness about social issues in the Janta Colony.
Fehr, who has been doing development work since the ’80s, has always had an interest in India and is excited to see his students getting the experience of working and living there.
“I think it’s a fantastic opportunity for the students to apply both their theory and also to experience another culture. I just think that whether they see it happen or not, they are going to grow.”
For those interested in assisting DIR, visit www.dir-help.org/give.