Candler Park resident Katrell Christie is many things to many people. She’s a retired Atlanta Rollergirl, longtime girlfriend to local radio DJ and Metalsome Inc. host English Nick Parsons and owner of Dr. Bombay’s Underwater Tea Party, a traditional tea and coffee cafe in Candler Park. Now she can add humanitarian and photographer to the list thanks to the Learning Tea, a project she started after spending two months in India last summer.
When a local Rotary Club approached her last year about going to India to help women start small businesses, Christie decided to plan her own service project while she was there. And even after the Rotary Club’s funding fell through, she still went through with her trip, which would become a life-changing experience for her and those she encountered there.
“When I found out I was going to India, I started thinking about what I could do for my own service projects over there,” says Christie. “I thought if I’m already getting a ticket to India, I might as well do something where I can give back to that community. I did a lot of research and decided to go to Darjeeling. About two months before I was supposed to go, the funding fell out from underneath the Rotarians because of the recession. But I already had the trip planned and had made reservations, invested my own money into it and had 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.”
After finding an English-speaking guide in Darjeeling, Christie was heartbroken by the depravity many of the villagers endured each day. She visited an all-girls orphanage and a derelict elementary school and immediately knew where here energy would be directed with the Learning Tea. She brought back 50 pounds of Darjeeling’s finest tea and took photographs of the people, landscapes and spiritual images she encountered along the way. With the tea already on sale in her shop, Christie is officially launching the program with “A Journey Through India,” a photography art walk opening Nov. 7 at Dr. Bombay’s, the Moog Gallery and Kashi Atlanta yoga.
“There are 56 girls in that orphanage and they are the lowest of the low class,” she says. “When they turn 16 they get kicked out and most likely go into the sex trade, drug trafficking or get killed. Three girls will graduate from that orphanage next year and I promised those girls I would put them through college with money from selling the tea and from this photography show. These are the first three girls from that orphanage that will go to university. It’s unheard of for a woman to go to college in India, especially from a remote village.”
In addition to sending the girls to college, she will also buy new uniforms for the elementary school children and have a working toilet installed in the school, which currently doesn’t even have running water.
“While I was there, I bought new shoes for all 32 kids at that school and it cost less than $30,” says Christie. “The following year two more girls will graduate from the orphanage, so this is an ongoing project for me. It only costs $500 a year for a girl to go to the university, so I can find ways to get these girls in college every year. And it will change this village to have educated women.”
A novice photographer with a background in art restoration, Christie is pricing each professionally framed image at $75 or less in hopes that the subject matter alone will be motivation for collectors to purchase an affordable piece of photography.
“They’re pictures of interesting things that I don’t think people know exist, especially Americans,” she says. “I went to 14 different cities in two months, so I have pictures of everything from the tops of the Himalayas to the desert in South India to the beaches in Goa to people at Buddhist temples. I hope this will create a wave of awareness and education for these women. It pulled my heartstrings to go over there and see this. I had no idea people lived in this kind of poverty.”