What is the cost of a cup of tea?

One of the pre-schools included in our project is situated within a tea garden in northeast Bangladesh.  With it being on private land we had to get special permission to visit.  This has proved a little tricky and it has taken us several months to obtain it.  However, finally we were able to make the 5 hour car journey north.

Despite having a permit, we were declined entry at the gate, and had to leave while our ‘tour guide’ negotiated to allow us access.  This gave us opportunity to wander around some nearby tea growing areas, where we were able to chat with some of the workers.

Tea workers have a really hard life (this contributes to the reason the employers don’t like having foreign visitors in the area).  They start work at 9am, and work through until 7pm.  For this they are paid 85 Bangladesh Taka (less than 80p) a day.  They are also given 1/2 kg of rice, and have a home provided.  To put this into context, 1/2 kg of rice would make approximately 4 portions.  Often these families have 3-5 children, so 1/2kg rice would barely feed the family 1 meal.  Their homes are extremely basic, but at least it does provide a roof over their heads.  The work involves being out in all weathers – blazing sun or pouring rain – picking tea and carrying the large bags on their heads to the drop off points.  I tried to lift a full bag, which weighs about 18kg, and it was pretty heavy!  I can’t imagine how these tiny, malnourished women manage to do this day in and day out.
There is no medical care or pension support provided, so these poor people (all tea pickers are women) work literally until they drop, or until someone in their family can take over their jobs.  If they want to leave, they would lose their homes, so they are pretty much trapped into this way of life.
Men are employed as supervisors, or ‘pest control’ workers.  They have to remove hornets nests and other pests, to protect the tea, and the pickers.  Not pleasant work – and the same payment conditions.
After chatting with these workers for a period of time, another supervisor came along and asked us to leave.  It did leave us wondering if we could ever drink a cup of tea while relaxing again … however we are thankful that at least we are contributing to the eduction of some of the children in this area.