Satura was pleased to meet Mariyam and they have become friends. The new tea club will open next month and Satura is helping clean and paint the building. Mother is talking to girls in the tea fields about going there.
“They are a little frightened,” she told us. “Afraid they will get into trouble for going somewhere that encourages them to go against tradition. Also, that the tea plantation will not like them to, that it might cause trouble among the workers.”
“Tell them we have spoken to the plantation managers,” replied Mariyam. “We have the blessing of the planters’ association, and we’re not going behind their backs. Keeping girls safe and happy will make them better workers. It’s not like we’re telling them to quit their jobs.”
But Mother shook her head. “Unless they are Nahji’s age,” she said. “Those girls would be discouraged from picking, and that will mean hardship for some families.”
“Change is not always easy,” Satura pointed out.
“Especially when you are hungry,” was Mother’s reply, and she shook her head.
“Girls Nahji’s age should be getting an education, not picking tea leaves every day,” said Mariyam. “But we know we cannot change everything at once. At least at the tea club they can get some education while still keeping their jobs. Maybe their parents will let them work less until they are older.” She shrugged. “We are not forcing anyone, we are encouraging them. But on the subject of early marriage—now, that is different.” And Mariyam looked fierce.
I thought of how Mariyam wants me to be an inspiration to these girls. My stomach squeezed with fear. How could I ever know enough to help, when the problems are so big?