November 30, 2010
BY JYOTHSNA HEGDE
“I am 7 backpacks in Darjeeling India” reads one of the many tea packages at Dr. Bombay’s Underwater Tea Party, a quaint little tea house in Candler Park, Atlanta. Owner Katrell Christie, who recently won the GIACC Chakra Award presented to a Georgia firm that has made major contributions to trade with India, hopes to change lives, one tea cup at a time.
After her trip to India, Christie who already was on a mission to promote women’s education there, returned more motivated to pursue her cause. Learning Tea came into existence to support the schools and orphanages in India through the sale of the flavorful Darjeeling Green and Black teas and by selling photo prints of her journey. Christie’s background in art restoration shows in the deco of the teashop and also probably helped capture India and all its diversity in her photographs. 100% of the profits from The Learning Tea will fund several projects for downtrodden children in India.
A seemingly unlikely philanthropist, Christie was approached by National Rotarian society a year and a half ago about going to Hyderabad, India to help a group of women start a handicraft business stringing pearls to make necklaces and sell them. Committed to the idea after much thought, Christie says she planned the trip for about a year, talking to other Rotarians and having conference calls. With her ticket in hand, Christie was also designing a service project to give back to the Indian community from where she got tea- Darjeeling, Assam and Nilgiris. Women’s Education was her top priority. “About two months before I was supposed to go, the funding fell out from the Rotarians due to recession. But I already had the trip planned, and done a lot of research on tea regions, so I knew I wanted to go over there, purchase tea, bring it back and fund some sort of education program. I landed in Mumbai and went to Darjeeling.” The trip that Christie made gave her the opportunity to experience the journey of a lifetime.
Having made a mental connection with the women in Hyderabad, “just thinking about what they needed”, as she puts it, Christie visited the women there even without the funding. She learnt more about pre-arranged marriages in India during her time there and decided to help orphans instead of dealing with family members who wanted to marry off their daughters before educating them. In Darjeeling, Christie found an English speaking man and asked to visit the orphanages, which landed her at the Buddhist Girls Orphanage, which, among others, she is currently committed to. Three girls at the Buddhist Girls orphanage received scholarships for college education along with new uniforms, shoes and books. She also rented them a “dorm” room at the girls’ hostel and furnished it with basic necessities. She has signed them up for computer classes, also providing them computers, compliments of Alex Mizell / DirecPath. In addition to sending the girls to college, she also bought new uniforms for the elementary school children and had a working toilet installed in the school, also providing shoes, books and some minor medical supplies this year.
Her current focus is scholarships. “My grandfather, who was a professor, gave away scholarships. He and his wife raised money for the same. And I think that was always at the back of my head” Christie says when asked about her inspiration. Christie has a new project in Calcutta- five girls from the slums- that she plans to put into college this year. In order to ensure that her help is actually availed well by the recipients, Christie has a contract with the Scholarship program with some stipulations. The inspiring aspect of her stipulations includes giving back to the society. The recipients have to keep up grades. If they fail a class, they are on probation, and if they fail again, they can no longer accept the scholarship. They have to put in 10 hours into a primary school in community and 10 hours into a community service project that they volunteer for and does not bring money to them or their family.
Since the five girls in Calcutta have parents, along with the mentioned stipulations, she made the family sign off that they won’t get the girls married till they finish school and that they will help the girls finish school, mentally. Christie says a steward in Calcutta helps her overlook her project there.The director for the Buddhist girls’ orphanage is her contact in Darjeeling. She hopes to do the same in Tamilnadu. Christie says it cost about $1000 per year to sponsor a girl and that includes school, books, boarding, all meals, school supplies and pretty much all living expenses.
“Nick Parsons runs the business while I’m not here. I could not do this without his help” Christie tells about her partner. She is also very thankful to her community that supports her cause to the fullest. Christie hopes that some day, exchange students, women that want to be teachers, will be able to go to India and work with the girls in co ordination with some universities like Emory or Georgia State. Her goal is to create projects for scholarships and to have hostel/boarding house for the girls to stay while they are going to college. She also wishes to build a healthy learning center. “I do good, I feel good. I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion” Christie quotes Lincoln and feel good, she should. With truly inspired ideas, humanitarian goals, Christie is raring to go and welcomes help from anyone who is interested in supporting the cause.