Empowering Women in Tea Gardens
Canadian Jesuits International (CJI) supports the work of Human Life Development and Research Centre (HLDRC), based in Matigara, India. It is a project of the Jesuit Darjeeling Province.
The life of women in tea gardens is very difficult. They wake up early in the morning and go to the tea gardens to pluck leaves. They work eight hours each day regardless of weather conditions: under the heat of the sun, in pouring rain and in biting cold. They get paid 5,000 rupees per month (CAD$83). This income is used to meet the needs of the household: food and provisions, clothes, education of the children, all with such little money.
This is why the people of our tea gardens are unable to afford quality education and break the cycle of poverty.
The Human Life Development and Research Centre (HLDRC) addresses the injustices faced by tea plantation labourers. They organize Self-Help Groups (SHG) which are small collectives organized in local communities composed of women working in the tea estates. The SHGs have revolutionized the lives of these women.
In the past, their lives would be confined to the routine of working in the tea estates followed by household work and taking care of their children and families. Now, empowered by sharing of information and resources, they have made great strides in organizing and civic engagement, financial management and navigating government offices.
These women come together to help one another. They address poverty within their communities through various programs. The SHGs provide vocational skills training, like pickling and preserving food, tailoring, cultivating mushrooms, and maintaining livestock. Through the Self-Help Groups, women are also able to access loans from banks. These loans and the skills they learn help them set up small businesses like vegetable stands, tailoring shops and food stalls.
They have also created a credit union. Members set aside a little of what they make each month to create a larger pool of capital that they can access in times of financial need.
Christina Soren joined a Self-Help Group in 2017. With a loan from the group of Rs 30,000 (CAD$500), she set up a tailoring shop. Eventually, she expanded the shop to include a photocopying service and services for cable TV and mobile phones. The shop is now called Soren Telecom. She is now able to run her household with income from the shop.
For my part, joining HLDRC has given me a new identity. Previously, I used to be confined at home, taking care of the children and my family. Now, I have expanded my horizons and I have learned so much more. Everyone at HLDRC helps each other with their work. As a SHG coordinator, I am able to help so many women, and I love this new role.
In the past, I was timid when speaking at a gathering of 10 people. Now, I am comfortable addressing groups of 100 to 200 women, thanks to my work with HLDRC. I am helping women get ahead in their lives, just as HLDRC helped me with mine.
I am grateful to this organization for enabling me to unlock my potential and I’m happy with the work I’m able to do here – I hope to continue doing this for a long time! Just as HLDRC inspires me in all my work, I hope to motivate and inspire other women through my example and work.
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