For the month of December, Rimpocha Tea and Salesian College are partnering in a fundraiser created to educate the girls left unemployed, homeless and vulnerable from the closure of several Darjeeling tea estates.
Four of Darjeeling’s tea estates have failed, placing in jeopardy thousands of tea workers who receive not only depend on a daily wage, but rely on their workplaces to provide food, education, childcare, health care and housing.
Additional closures in Darjeeling, the Dooars and Terai have “made many young girls from these poor families vulnerable to the terror of human trafficking,” wrote Rajah Banerjee of Rimpocha Tea in Siliguri, India.
“To do our bit to prevent such a social calamity, Rimpocha and Salesian College, Sonada, have joined hands to donate 40% of Rimpocha Tea’s total online December sales at www.rimpochatea.com towards empowering these young girls with skill development training and job placements organized by the Salesian College and providing some much needed holiday season cheer to those most in need,” wrote Banerjee.
Salesian College, founded in 1938 and located high in the Darjeeling hills, has been training school dropouts in various hospitality services like housekeeping and food and beverage production and have achieved a 100% placement for every student who has completed the three month training program.
Graduates become self-respecting professionals and grassroots entrepreneurs, according to the college.
Salesian College Principal Dr. (Fr.) George Thadathil wrote, “education and skill training are the only solutions to prevent these girls from falling easy prey to stalking flesh traders who lure the unsuspecting with false promises of quick bucks and better future outside.”
In a memorandum of understanding Rimpocha pledged 40% of all online revenue from sales including a Compendium Box of nine varieties of tea as well as 11 standalones “that capture the terroir of Darjeeling.”
“Rimpocha is not just tea, but a philosophy of life which stands on five pillars of sustainability: healthy soil, economically-empowered women, biodynamic compost and fuel from the holy cow, fair price and trade for marginalized growers and technological assistance for direct marketing of their produce,” explained Banerjee.
Tea is grown on 450 gardens covering 240,000 acres (97,280 hectares) of North Bengal, a state that is home to 450,000 workers of which 262,000 are permanently employed. There are 163 tea estates in the Dooars (doorway to the Himalayas) covering 167,000 acres (67,760 hectares). In Darjeeling 52,000 permanent garden and factory workers tend to 46,950 acres (19,000 hectares). Gardens are experiencing financial difficulties throughout the region. Earlier this year, The Indian Tea Association reported that only 30% of gardens in West Bengal turned a profit in 2019. A similar crisis from 2002 to 2005 saw the closure of 17 gardens in Dooars and Terai, leading to famine and deaths.
During the past decade the cost of production has increased significantly to INRs145-155 ($2-2.25) per kilogram. Prices at auction are around INRs135 ($1.90).
Tea producers in the Dooars, Terai and the adjacent Chachar tea growing region of Assam sell almost exclusively to the domestic market at lower prices and do not qualify for subsidies paid for producing fine tea.