“If you ask me what my dreams are for myself – I do not have any. My hopes and dreams are all for my children. I want them to become educated and more than a tea garden worker. I want them to break free.”
Born and raised in the hilly regions of Shatgaon village in Syhlet, I have made my life here. The tea gardens are my home and I have been picking leaves for the past ten years. I live with my husband Nikhil, my in-laws, and my two kids – the apples of my eyes. My son is nine years old and my daughter is only two. The tea gardens are a scenic treasure. I have been surrounded by such beauty all my life, yet nothing covers the pain and struggles of the tea garden workers.
The workers at the tea garden wake up very early and begin their duty. We must work eight hours a day, six days a week. Nothing is allowed to impede our work, not the rain, nor the scorching sun, or any sort of calamities. All of that hard, uninterrupted, work amounts to Tk.102 per day, depending on if we are able to submit 24 KGs of leaves. Falling short of it would mean that we return home to our starving family empty handed.
It surely is a life of struggle, but few government social safety net initiatives and NGO interventions kept us afloat, especially during the birth of my children. The tea gardens are required to give women 4 months of maternity leave, which I have received for both of my pregnancies. The government has provided small stipends to new mothers, which can be picked up in four segments. The total of the four segments amounts up to 36 thousand taka. UNFPA and other NGOs such as CIPRB have helped mothers during their pregnancy. They have provided medicine free of cost, paid for the doctor visits and provided travel allowances for visits to the clinics. After delivery, they have provided Tk. 500 for food and necessary items. Upazilla Parishad also helps new mothers by ensuring that their children receive a birth certificate, which increases access to a list of other services. More recently, the UNFPA and other UN agencies have jointly introduced some new initiatives for women and children. It ensures education and healthcare facilities and aims to empower female tea garden workers. Despite having a meagre income, my husband and I can still dream of better things for our children with the help of such initiatives.
I often fear that my children will blame me for the lives I have provided for them. Such initiatives which ensure education and nutrition to our children give me hope that they will be able to break free from the shackles of poverty that we have been in for generations. Education, I believe, is the key to this liberation. My hope is for my children, that one day they will become educated and make a good life for themselves. I am thankful to such initiatives which are making this dream a reality.” Tumpa Tati, Tea Worker, Shatgaon Tea Estate, Sreemangal.