Cultivating Hope for India’s Tea Laborers
Manglu works on a tea plantation in the northeastern state of Assam, India as a day laborer. Even before the global pandemic, this 39-year-old husband and father struggled to support his family on the meager daily wages he earned. Now, thanks to generous Salesian Missions donors, he has established his own small tea business to help supplement his income.
Manglu is one of 13 recent applicants to receive a grant through a Salesian program focused on social development and building financial capacity among some of India’s most marginalized and vulnerable populations. This includes workers in the tea industry, who historically have been exploited by large multi-national brands focused purely on profit.
For this reason, in 2008, the Salesians launched an initiative specifically designed to help tea industry workers become more self-sufficient.
“The goal is to help participants begin to cultivate their own land,” explains Father Gus Baek, director of Salesian Missions. Many of India’s tea workers own small pieces of land, but generally lack the time or resources to grow anything. And, far too often, they are forced to mortgage the land to pay bills, which often results in forfeiture.
Participants in the Salesian program receive start-up assistance—either financially or through donated tea saplings—to help develop their own business and build the foundation for long-term security. They also learn related entrepreneurial and technical skills to complement the hands-on knowledge they’ve previously gained from years of working on the plantations. As a result, many former day laborers like Manglu have rediscovered their dignity and self-confidence.
Like so many of his peers, Manglu was forced out of work for two months during the pandemic-related shutdown—which further strained his family’s financial situation. The Salesian program, he says, provided an unexpected opportunity to secure immediate funding to prepare and begin cultivating an acre of land that previously sat unused. In addition to the grant, Manglu received training in multi-cropping; he now grows lentils and beans as well as tea for extra income.
“On Manglu’s behalf, I am so grateful to our many generous friends, whose support of Salesian Missions has helped fund this innovative grant program,” says Fr. Gus. “Together, we are changing lives around the world.”
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