Dmitri Klein talks about CWI, an organisation that has brought smiles to those devastated by the tsunami

The morning light cascades off the blue corridor, illuminating the glowing stars at the premises of Children of the World, India (CWI), a public charitable organisation just off Puducherry. As we enter it, a cheerful Great Dane bounds up to us and settles down for a good patting. Minutes later, Emille Dmitri, wife of Dmitri Klein, one of the organisation's trustees, shows us around.

In a series of rooms a few trained staff are busy at work. Its holiday season and the rest are home or out for training. There are women working on floral embroidery at lightening speed while the men fashion bags out of old billboards.

When the tsunami struck the Indian coast in 2004, it was not just lives that were lost but livelihoods too, as the organisation's many stories will tell you. Just days before The Dune (part of Dmitri's chain of hotels) was slotted to launch, a freak tidal wave swept it away. And he had to rebuild it. Dmitri then decided to begin an initiative to help fishermen whose only means of living had been rudely snatched away.

Helping fisher-folk

CWI, along with the Artyzan Vocational Training Academy, was started as a post-tsunami initiative by five trustees from different walks of life to provide skills training to fisher-folk across the Tamil Nadu and Puducherry coast. The Kleins also realised that big trawlers found fishing in the area had hijacked the traditional occupation of the fisher-folk.

The academy, for a long time, was located in Mylapore, and shifted to its present location, last September. The CWI has an annual intake of 200 students, usually young adults, per year and is run through charity. They are taught fashion designing, hospitality management and graphic designing. They also make wallets, bags, books and other knick knacks from flex.

“We are professionals in recycling and since there is an abundance of flex, we decided to do something useful with them,” Dmitri explains.

CWI is run on a ‘social-business' model and conducts its hospitality management and graphic designing courses commercially and uses that money to subsidise the fashion technology course. The 1,400 students who have passed out of this institute have all been placed and earn salaries anywhere between Rs. 4,000 and Rs. 30,000, according to Dmitri.

Talking to the students one can fathom the impact that the institution has had on their lives. Purushottaman, son of a small-time agriculturist from Nagapattinam district, says that the training and the job that he was given at Artyzan has helped improve the standard of living of his family.

“The fashion technology course here is perhaps one of the best in the country as it follows the French model. We have the best equipment with the best trainers who impart the best skills to these underprivileged people,” Dmitri smiles. “It was first formulated as a five-year project. But people urged me to continue. Since Chennai proved expensive to run the project on a long-term basis, we moved here.”

Dmitri wants the school to be self-sustainable. The institute has built the brand — Artyzan — under which the students' creations:products made from flex boards, fashion garments, leather products, floral embroidery and food are sold. “When people buy the products, it gives the students a world of confidence and helps them improve,” he says.

He also hopes to take the brand to other cities and is looking for partnerships with outlets where the products could be displayed. The products are currently also available at various places including The Park hotels in India.

Artyzan is also planning to start a full-fledged fashion apparel range by next year. To view their products visit www.cwindia.org or call: 0413 2655 528.