For many young women in India, everyday life is a constant struggle. Each year, millions of children are sold into the sex trafficking industry for as little as $17. Some shelters and rescue organizations are successful in bringing the girls back home, but fail to provide the resources necessary to keep them from falling back into the malicious trap of human trafficking.
Katrell Christie is the owner of Dr. Bombay’s Underwater Tea Party, a small but lively tea shop in Atlanta. In 2009, Christie traveled to India with a longtime customer to participate in a volunteer project. The Atlanta tea shop owner decided to continue on alone to the Darjeeling region of northeast India to explore the tea plantations. In her time there, Christie encountered a group of young girls who were being forced out of their orphanage for exceeding the age of sixteen. With no families to return to, Christie knew the girls would likely face grim futures in poverty and exploitation.
“I came back to Atlanta and wrote a little note and put it up on the lamp and told my customers what I had seen,” Christie said. “I really wanted to help these girls and they probably had no future without the help.”
With an inflow of customer support, Christie was able to return to India and rent an apartment for the girls to live comfortably. She was also able to pay for their education, uniforms, and medical needs.
Her shop began hosting traditional Indian dinners each month and selling books donated by the community in order to raise even more money. Christie realized she could turn profits made from her tea-shop into an official support fund for the at-risk girls in India.
She began importing green and black tea directly from Darjeeling to raise additional funds for the girls. She sells it at her shop and through her website TheLearningTea.com. She calls it The Learning Tea, because her program prepares the girls for college and pays their tuition, in addition to meeting their basic needs for food, shelter and health care.
“Without this opportunity, they would go into trafficking. They would die of malnutrition,” Christie said. “Every single one of the girls in this program has a pretty horrific story that they’ve come from.”
In the four years since its launch, The Learning Tea project has been able to rescue 11 girls from poverty. The group includes one girl who was sold into the sex trafficking industry, one who lost both of her parents to tuberculosis and one who was left disabled for two years by the effects of malnutrition. Christie plans to assist an additional 10 girls as the project expands.
“We budget each girl to cost about $1000 a year for everything,” Christie said. “We supply anything you would possibly need to live: a place to live, clean water, nutritious meals, supervision, uniforms. We pay for all education, all books, all medical. We keep everybody up to date on their shots.”
By turning her business into a charitable fundraising source, Christie now dedicates her career to helping get young girls in India out of poverty and into school. She plans to open a second center in Kolkata this fall and offer more scholarships. She said her goal for The
Learning Tea project is to eventually open centers throughout India and support the education of as many young women as she can.
The Learning Tea is sold in the store and online. For those wanting to help, they can visit: http://thelearningtea.com/ to learn more, buy tea or contribute. The Atlanta shop is called Dr. Bombay’s Underwater Tea Party and is located at 1645 McLendon Ave NE Atlanta, GA 30307. For more information visit http://www.drbombays.com/ or call (404) 474-1402.
Fox News' David Lewkowict and Jonathan Serrie contributed to this report.