NILGIRI TEA GARDENS (SOUTH INDIA)
We spent 3 days (March 23rd-25th) in the Nilgri mountains of Tamil Nadu south India, outside of a town called Coonoor. Through a contact we made in America we were invited to stay on a tea estate 5,000 ft above sea level called Glendale. Glendale is one of the oldest and largest tea estates and factories in south India. In total they have over 1,200 acres of tea and employ around 1,000 workers. What was crazy is that they fully accommodated us free of charge. They let us stay onsite in their guest house, fed us 3 meals a day, gave us a full tour of their factory and let us taste all the teas they produce, some of which sell for $100 per pound.
While meeting the management and even having tea with the director was a privilege, it wasn’t what impacted us the most. It was the time we spent among the tea pickers that gave rise to compassion and vision. On our first day at the estate Rebecca started talking with some of the women who pluck the tea, we met one special lady named Amudama. Amudama asked her what we thought about the tea estate and Rebecca told her “we think we are in paradise” to which Amudama replied “that’s funny because we all can’t wait to get out of here”. You see Amudama is 54 years old and is a 5th generation tea plucker. She retires at 60 and plans to move with her husband to a small plot of land they’ve been saving all of their life to buy. She works from 8-5 every day, six days a week and is paid around $3.00 a day. On a good day she says the women pluck 100 kgs (220lbs) a day and probably about 80 kgs (176lbs) on average. Now, we are not trying to slander the name of Glendale. It should be noted that Glendale provides education, housing, and medical care to all their workers and their dependents, which most estates do not provide. But let’s also not forget the fact that Glendale’s cheapest tea is being sold for $3.50 per 1 kg. Amudama (1 of around 300 tea pluckers) picks 100kgs a day and gets paid $3.00 and the final product sells at her daily wage per kg.
Like the way of the world, there is a margin between rich and poor, those with opportunity and options and those without and those without are being exploited. We are seeing that even in tea the most effective way dealing with problems like this is using our own privilege to start new Kingdom businesses models with Kingdom principles that challenge the way of the world.
If we really want to impact the world of tea it would be most effectively done by actually working on or owning a tea estate. Which leads into my next request for prayer. Amudama invited us all over to her house for tea and as we sat in her living room/bedroom with idols of the elephant god ganesh all around she and her husband tell us there is neighboring 100 acre tea estate for sale that we should buy. This struck unbridled hope in our hearts that we would be able to work alongside those who would be “greatest in the Kingdom” by their life spent in servitude.
The next day we went and checked out the estate, which is currently running, poorly running that is. It has one manager and 25 tea pluckers. We spoke with the manager who told us the estate was planted with 70% tea and 30% coffee and would probably sale for about 2 million dollars. As hope and reality have dueled over the past few days we are asking God to increase this vision and what it could mean for the poor tea workers of south India who have dreams and hopes that might not include slaving on a tea estate their entire life. And those who also have little to no contact with those who would share Christ and Kingdom life with them. This of course may not be the very estate we should pursue but the vision has certainly been born.
For now we must continue to search well run estates with hints of the Kingdom (which would give us very little contact with the workers, we would be in contact with upper management) all the while hoping to find one that shares the same vision that we do, with the hope of actually living on and running a tea estate one day with direct contact with the poor.