Amwritha Alladi

CHENNAI: For 35 years, the Inter-Mission Industrial Development Association (IIDA) has cast light on the futures of those whose past has been shrouded in shadows.

At its anniversary celebration here on Tuesday, founder and president of IIDA Jochen Tewes said the Association has worked to transform the lives of those below the poverty line by equipping them with the skills necessary to obtain jobs.

A mechanical engineer, Mr. Tewes recognised the prevalence of unemployment when he came to India in 1974. “The immense poverty in slums touched my heart,” he said. He wanted to provide them with the tools to secure self-sustaining jobs.

What began as a “one-man army,” with Mr. Tewes training seven boys in fitter skills, has now become a full-fledged set of community colleges, industrial schools and day care centres, which have given degrees to over 4,000 students in Chennai.

Former IIDA student, A. Shanker, says he had a life filled with troubles, because his mother had died when he was five years old and his father was an alcoholic.

“My life was like a wilderness, but my friends now see it has become a garden,” said Mr. Shanker, who works for Youth With a Mission, Ooty.

German Consul General in Chennai Roland F. Hermann said India should be proud of its advances, as it has developed into a strong nuclear power and has provided a large market of consumers and IT companies. Still, he said, “that is half the story of India,” and millions of people are still without clean drinking water or proper sanitation. For those people who cannot see a ray of light in their futures, he said providing them an education is the best way to make them self-sufficient.

“Give them the basics,” Mr. Hermann said, “it is the key for the country.”

The most rewarding experience for Mr. Tewes has been seeing former students at well-paid jobs now, and he said many have even started their own businesses. “The teachers are often envious when they see the students now make more than they do,” he added.