The power of the tea estate community
Sri Lanka — Uniterra
As the Sustainable Research and Marketing Officer at Hayleys Kelani Valley Plantations, one of my mandate is to look into potential solutions to improve the family income of the tea estate residents. One project we are proposing is a farmers’ market, which will be planned to be at the parking lot outside of the tea center for the residents to sell their home-made/home grown products.
To discover what is something demanded by the market and can be offered by the farmers, we have conducted a research survey on the farmers’ talents, needs, and potential training. In this project, we have interviewed a total of 94 estate residents, majority women; mothers and some young girls.
A Human Resources training facilitated by our #Uniterra volunteer, Ian Chui, at the Kelani Valley Plantations.
A group facilitation training conducted to the Edinburgh/Glassaugh tea estate Children Development Officers (CDO) on how to facilitate the upcoming estate interview meeting.
Women and youth seem to be the disadvantaged groups in our view; however, the results of the interview proved it not 100% correct. Even though many of the women are housewives, mainly taking care of the family at home, many of them (over 60% of the respondents in our interview) have told us they have more than one skill, such as growing vegetables and fruits, making packed food products, manufacturing handicrafts or clothes etc. They can manufacture a lot of things at home while taking care of the families (elders and children) and doing housework. I was very amazed by the interviewee in the meeting, who keep telling me what they can make. One interviewee even said she can make Chinese food! (possibly a Sri Lankan style one). Furthermore, some of the interviewed young girls (13 out of the 94 interviewee, aged 15-19) told us they have learned some English in school, which may be useful when it comes to some business or serving tourist (non local) customers at the tea center.
Some snapshots I took at the estate interview meeting
Their passion and interests in the interview meeting have encouraged me a lot in preparing this project. It reminded me a Hong Kong movie called “Shaolin Soccer”. A team of former Shaolin young monks who experienced different difficulties in the modern world, while they got a precious chance, transforming their martial arts skills into soccer, and ending up with a great success in the national soccer cup.
Shaolin Soccer (Internet picture) -One of my favourite movies shows the power of unity!
These estate residents are like the young monks in the movie, who may have some skills, but what they are missing is a chance to transform their skills/products and meet the current market. For example, instead of selling fresh vegetables, they can sell vegetable soups and sell them at a higher price. After the interview, I also see marketing and packaging are very important to them, so they can get to know what is demanded by the customers. Some training in social entrepreneurship and quality assurance will be helpful to them in order to stabilize their business as well. When they get together and the power will be greater.
My final thoughts after the interview meetings: don’t ever underestimate the power of the tea estate community, they will really blow your mind!