India produces over a fifth of the world’s tea every year, and two million people in the country work in the industry. Assam is a key tea growing region – with tea communities making up nearly 20% of the state’s population.
Access to education is limited: only 54% of young people in Assam are enrolled in secondary school. Tea communities in Assam face many other social issues. Many of these communities need our support in addressing these challenges.
In Assam, we are leading a ground-breaking project called the Community Empowerment Programme. The initiative’s goal is that communities and estate management jointly resolve issues, so that living and working conditions on tea estates in Assam are improved.
This is a grassroots programme, working directly with tea communities to give them a forum to voice their own concerns, alongside estate managers. It supports them to create and deliver their own action plans to tackle the challenges they themselves have identified in the communities they live in.
The groups are known as Community Development Forums (CDFs) and made up of people from all aspects of tea estate life – from workers, young people and anyone who lives or works in the estate to management.
The CDFs are successfully addressing issues workers themselves have identified as important to them. So far these have included lack of opportunities for women and young people, alcoholism, challenges accessing government schemes and improving children’s results at school. While issues may be shared across estates, responses are determined and rolled out by the individual CDFs.
The programme is supported and funded by ETP member Taylors of Harrogate. Building on what we learnt partnering with CARE International to run a similar programme in Sri Lanka, we ensure that the programme is going further to improve workers’ lives.
We are currently piloting this initiative at four sites in Assam, where it is changing workers’ lives for the better.
The CDFs give workers a much-needed voice, and a seat at the table with management. We work directly with the community to develop their skills, so that they have the ability to effectively have an equal say on the issues that matter to them.
Addressing youth unemployment
Deepjyoti’s case is not uncommon: a lot of young people on tea estates struggle to find work. Youth unemployment has been identified as a key challenge for the CDFs to tackle.
Action is being taken by the CDFs; for example, two estates have facilitated career counselling and guidance sessions for over 40 students. On the same estates, 50 young people took part in government-run vocational skills training.
Accessing government documents and schemes
Most people who live on tea estates do not have basic identity documents. Thanks to the work of the CDFs, to date 1,200 people have been able to obtain a variety of documents they need to open bank accounts, as well as access the education, training schemes and government grants that they are eligible for. This has been life changing for people in tea communities.
Now that they have the appropriate documentation, more than 400 estate residents have been able to benefit from a government-backed LPG subsidy. This has significantly reduced the amount of money they spend each month on fuel.
On one estate, 480 households have now got the appropriate documentation to allow them to tap in to the government’s LED bulb distribution scheme. This has also saved families money.
0people have been able to obtain a variety of documents they need to open bank accounts
0estate residents have been able to benefit from a government-backed LPG subsidy
0households have now got the appropriate documentation to allow them to tap in to the government’s LED bulb distribution scheme
Helping children reach their potential
One CDF has found that many children on the estate struggle at school. This is often because parents don’t have the skills or facilities to help them with schoolwork at home, so the CDF has set up learning centres.
The centres provide additional classes, support with homework and exam preparation to around 40 students, who are taught by highly skilled volunteers from within the community. Sessions last two hours and run three days a week. The centres are also a chance for the kids to have fun – with movie screenings and Children’s Day celebrations.
Find out more
ETP has been working in India for many years, and we have become increasingly aware of some of the more hidden issues facing tea communities. We know that more needs to be done in Assam and so together with UNICEF we have launched a leading, industry-wide commitment.
Thanks to our partnership with UNICEF, 35,000 girls across Assam, India have better lives. We’re working together to reduce child marriage and unsafe migration, help girls stay in education and equip them and their communities with the skills to reduce the risk of violence, abuse and exploitation.