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India, September 27, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Leah Hazard/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Invitations for today's event. Photo: Leah Hazard/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Leah Hazard/Mercy Corps  </span>
    A few of the youngest members of the Motadhura Community... with the largest smiles. Photo: Leah Hazard/Mercy Corps

This morning I woke up thinking about the Motadhura Community near the Tumsong Tea Estate in Darjeeling. Really. Because today they are officially celebrating the construction of their new Community Learning Center — thanks to the help of Mercy Corps and TAZO Tea's CHAI program.

Although today I'm in overcast Portland, Oregon — and not the tea fields of Darjeeling — last week I was lucky enough to join the community for a special puja (prayer ceremony) to celebrate the new center.

CHAI worked with the community to match their contributions of labor and local materials with things like cement, rods, bricks and window panes.

During a break in the singing, about 45 people gathered to talk with me and a colleague. Manressa Tamang, Vice-President of the Motadhura's Community Action Group, explained why the center was such a priority for the village. Before, there was no location to commemorate marriages or deaths, or even large community meetings. Now they hope to hold such events here, but also to provide educational opportunities for everyone.

One day soon, Manressa hopes to secure computers for the center. "People here are all [tea] garden workers. They can't afford to send their children outside. So a computer learning center would be good."

As we left, a young man stepped forward to express his thanks for the center. Anup Pradhan spoke slowly, "It is a matter of great pleasure for us that we have this great building. Thank you for the help of the CHAI project. Before we didn't have any musical and cultural programs."

Thousands of miles away, I imagine that today's celebration is full of music, food and big smiles... especially by the younger community members, who have a lot to look forward to.