Indian workers harvest the tea leaves on tea estates in Darjeeling, India. Photo by Lalit Tirkey

Jesuit trip immerses travellers in India

  • March 16, 2014

Walk through the tea estates of Darjeeling and meet the families who have spent generations harvesting the leaves that may end up steeped in Canadian cups. Meet the children of the lowest caste who, with classical musical instruments, literally play their way through school and then out of poverty.

The Immersion Experience trip to India, organized by Canadian Jesuits International (CJI), will take a party of 12 on a social justice- themed trip across India to places such as Darjeeling from Aug. 1 to 17. The trip will take travellers from Delhi to Agra, to the Darjeeling District in West Bengal to Calcutta, learning about human rights, workers rights, food security, access to education, sustainable livelihoods, health and economic development, culture, history and religion, among other things.

If participants wish, they can add-on a four- to five-day trip to Bhutan, a more remote area of India less affected by tourism.

CJI invites educators, professors, activists, donors, members of faith-based organizations and anyone aged 21 and older who is interested in a “social justice focused experience.”

“We think it’s quite unique. Lots of trips go overseas and maybe do some volunteering or do some service, which is a fantastic way to experience another culture and learn about things, but for our trip, we want it to be an exposure to the social justice issues that exist,” said Kirsti Tasala, Youth and Outreach co-ordinator with CJI. “There’s going to be a lot of learning and a lot of observing, meeting people who are directly being served by the project and also meeting Jesuits, sisters or lay people who are involved in delivering these projects.”

Tasala hopes that those who take part on the trip will make connections and friendships with the people they meet in India and that those relationships will continue beyond the trip. For example, educators can exchange knowledge with teachers in India and perhaps connect their classroom in Canada with a class in India.

The cost of the main trip is $2,500 and does not include the Bhutan add-on or travel to and from India, but does include donations to projects that participants will visit, which directly benefits the lives of those involved.

“They’re taking the time out of their day to share with us... we think it’s important to give them a small donation to thank them for their time and to show that we are interested in supporting their work,” said Tasala.

Highlights of the trip include a visit to Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta; speaking with tea pickers in Darjeeling, many of whom are left destitute when owners abandon the estate; learning about stone builders who may build the factories that make clothes sold in Canada; and visiting the Jesuit- run Gandhi Ashram, where children are educated on many subjects, especially music, so that they may escape a life of poverty imparted on them by class discrimination.

“So these are kids who wouldn’t really have had access to school before and so the participants will be able to see the results of education,” Tasala said. “What we hope people will see is despite the fact that people may have come from incredibly meagre means, if opportunities are provided, then ... there’s a desire to be educated, to follow your dreams, to have a profession when you grow up.”

Tasala hopes that participants may even become advocates for those they meet in India and realize “how our own lives are connected to other people’s lives overseas.”

For information, visit www.canadianjesuitsinternational. ca.

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