Anjana Tanti thinks she's about 35. Age is not something people pay much attention to on the tea estates, where she grew up and now raises her own family.
Having dropped out of school early, becoming a tea plucker at about the age of 12, she never got the chance to learn to read. "I couldn't even read the letters on the signs of the tea estate," she says.
So when she heard about the Mercy Corps CHAI Women's Empowerment through Literacy (WEL) Program, she didn't hesitate to sign up.
The result? She couldn't put her books down!
"I would carry the books around with me when I plucked the teas," she explained. She studied during every free
moment she could get. She was selected to be captain of her class, looking into her classmates' absences and encouraging them to return to class. Her teacher bragged that after four classes, she could read the lessons fluently.
Now, Ajana can't stop thinking about continuing her studies. "I want to learn more. My daughter is in class 5 so she helps me study. She insists that I learn to write my name in English!"
As we talk, she isn't somber for a moment — and her smile is contagious. Despite the heat, humidity and fatigue that I'm feeling from traveling, I can't stop smiling as I listen to her talk.
"Now we are recognized by everyone in the community as people who can read and write," she smiles. It's clear that she's proud of the new identity she's claimed for herself through hard work and determination.
As our conversation comes to a close, she bursts forth with a giggle and one demand: "We request that you open the centers again... I want to learn more! Thank you for giving me the opportunity to learn. I am very grateful."
And with that, I have no doubt that somehow Anjana will continue to learn. The WEL Program seems to have awakened a desire to learn that nothing can hamper.