“As a result of my work as a tea merchant, I regularly traveled to many tea-growing regions of the world since joining the Bremen tea house Paul Schrader & Co in 1962. My favorite among all teas was undoubtedly always Darjeeling: in terms of taste as well as quality, I quickly realized why the teas that thrive at the foot of the majestic Himalayas up to an altitude of 2000 m are not only the best, but also the most expensive in the world. Yet the “champagne among teas” is harvested only on the smallest growing area in India. The Darjeeling Valley forms a narrow corridor between the kingdoms of Nepal and Bhutan. Its aroma spectrum ranges from fruity-fresh (first flush) to full-flowery-aromatic (second flush). Since in Darjeeling tea can be grown almost only on slopes, the harvest is done exclusively by hand. Thousands of pickers, some of whom came to the Darjeeling district especially for seasonal work, harvest “two leaves and a bud” from each plant in the 87 tea gardens.
As a result of my annual trips to Asia, I got to know many locals and Europeans living there personally and acquired an intensive knowledge of the country and its people. During my travels to the center of Bengali tea cultivation in the extreme north of India, I was always struck by the very modest living conditions of the locals. Not only their huts were mostly in a very bad condition, but also schools and hospitals lacked everything. On the occasion of a trip in the late summer of 1985, I was particularly struck by the roof of a school, which was located next to a plantation that I had already visited several times. Not only the sun’s rays and the birds enjoyed free access to the classrooms, but also heavy rain occasionally flooded everything, so that regular schooling of the children was often unthinkable. Shrugging his shoulders, the Indian school director regretted the untenable condition, but neither the community nor anyone else was willing or able to raise the approximately 25,000 DM needed to repair the roof.
I had just been elected to the board of the East Asian Association (OAV) in Bremen, of which I had been a member since 1970, and was trying to raise the money for the school in Darjeeling. The OAV, a gentlemen’s club founded in 1901, which wanted to cherish the memories of many business stays in East Asia as well as not to let the connections to this part of the world break off, turned out to be the ideal address for this relief action; because many potent Bremen companies and private persons represent the backbone of the association’s members. Quite quickly I got the 25,000 DM together and wanted to transfer it to India. Even for Bremen banks, however, this was unknown territory at the time. Therefore I thought about who in Bremen could help me with words and deeds. Then I thought of the State Office for Development Cooperation in Slevogtstraße, which was founded in Bremen in 1979, and its director Gunther Hilliges, who was also very strongly behind the “Forum Städtesolidarität Bremen – Pune e.V.” since 1980. Since the above-mentioned authority and this Bremen-based association carry out numerous projects in India, they also had to be able to transfer money to the Indian half-continent. No sooner said than done: I called Gunther Hilliges on Thursday, September 12, and asked him how to transfer money to Darjeeling at the best price. The answer was short and to the point: “That’s no problem. Just come to the board meeting of BORDA this evening”.
I had never heard of BORDA. What kind of association was that? Mr. Hilliges informed me about this small association, which implemented in 1985 whole 271,000 DM mainly for the education of Adivasi in Nagar, river pump and biogas projects in Mali, Sudan and Rwanda. The chairman of the association, the architect Hans Budde, welcomed me in the library of the Übersee-Museum at Breitenweg, where BORDA had a room. Before I could present my request, however, the new election of the board of this non-profit Bremen association should take place according to the agenda. But with only five members of the association present, this was not possible; for the board alone had six offices to fill. In short, the persuasiveness of BORDA’s managing director Ulrich Reeps was sufficient to spontaneously elect me both as a member of the association and as an assessor on the board. Ten years later, I would hardly have thought it possible that I would succeed Mr. Budde as chairman in September 1985.
The roof in the school in Darjeeling could be repaired a short time later, so that a prerequisite for a proper school operation could be ensured. The East Asian Association later launched the “East Asia Relief Organization” in order to use donations sensibly for relief purposes and also to have the control in hand that the funds really do go directly to the recipients.”