A sixteen year old girl half listens to her mom and little sister chat about school as she idly peruses Facebook on her smartphone in the parlor of a cute little tea shop in Atlanta, GA. They’re taking a break from holiday shopping and have stopped for high tea, where they munch on finger sandwiches and scones with clotted cream while sipping Darjeeling tea from a pretty, vintage tea set. Halfway across the world, in Darjeeling, India, another sixteen year old girl tries to ignore the persistent ache in her belly from the hunger that never finds true relief, as she walks out of the only home ever she’s known for the last time. She’s too old for the small amount of care and protection the orphanage provided her. With no education and no one to speak for her, she faces a life where her best hope is to get a job rolling cigarettes. Otherwise, she’ll spend the rest of her life hungry, breaking stones, carrying bricks or worse, as a prostitute.
Neither of these two scenarios is far-fetched. The hard truth is that millions of girls are sold into human trafficking each year in India for as little as $17. For many of the girls rescued by relief organizations, their lack of education and family leaves them no option but to fall right back into a life of prostitution. There are 35 million girls in India who do not attend school, nearly two-thirds of Indian women are illiterate and 25% of Indian girls do not even live to the age of 16.
Katrell Christie, owner of Dr. Bombay’s Underwater Tea Party in Atlanta, Georgia was faced with these uncomfortable realities in 2009 when she and a longtime customer took a volunteer trip to India. After their volunteer work, they decided to continue to the Darjeeling region in order to visit the local tea plantations. In Darjeeling, Christie met a group of 16 year old girls forced from their orphanages into a life of hardship and malnutrition. The burden she felt for the girls followed her back home, so she wrote a note to the patrons of her little tea shop. With contributions from customers, Christie was able to return to India and rent an apartment for three girls, pay for their educations, uniforms and medical needs. With careful budgeting, Christie is able to provide shelter, supervision, food, clean water, uniforms, education and even music lessons, computer classes and tutoring for only $1000 annually per girl. Over the last four years, Christie has helped to rescue and educate 11 girls in Darjeeling. She hosts monthly “A Taste of India” dinners where a $20 ticket gets you a three-course vegetarian Indian dinner. All proceeds go to care and education for girls in India. Christie also collects and sells donated books and has turned Dr. Bombay’s into a charitable fund-raising source. Christie buys tea directly from Darjeeling to sell in her shop and online at thelearningtea.com to benefit her girls. Her goal is to open a network of shelters across India and plans to open the next one late this year in Kolkata.
You can read more about Dr. Bombay’s Underwater Tea Party at http://www.drbombays.com/ or keep up to date on events and projects at https://www.facebook.com/drbombays. You can donate and purchase tea at http://thelearningtea.com/.