In Sri Lanka, we are working with tea plantation communities and supporting leadership training
We are supporting the work of the Estate Community Development Mission (ECDM), which was set up by the Church of Ceylon to support tea plantation workers in Sri Lanka.
ECDM works with all workers, irrespective of religion, caste or ethnicity. In particular, the organisation wants to help empower women and children through grassroots women's groups, nurseries and schools.
In addition, the church is engaged in advocacy work with plantation communities to seek legal rights for tea plantation workers and their families.
Thilega's story: ‘I always wanted to be a teacher'
Thilega Rajendran wanted to be a teacher from an early age. But the prospects of fulfilling her dream seemed remote because the tea plantation she grew up on offered few opportunities to children to develop their education.
But Thilega (pictured) – and other young people like her – is part of a new generation that is benefiting from the intervention of the local church.
The local church, with support from USPG, has established nursery schools, helped young people from the plantation into university for the first time, and provided training so that local people are now providing pre-school care and education.
Thilega underwent training in teaching English and computing, and is now in charge of a small school for plantation children while studying for a teaching qualification.
She told USPG: ‘I always wanted to be a teacher, but my parents are tea plantation workers and poor. However, thanks to the support of the church, I am now a teacher. I have achieved my dream, and I am very thankful.’
Tea plantation communities face many challenges
Life on Sri Lanka’s tea plantations can be very challenging. The pickers – always women – work in all weathers, on dangerously slippery hillsides, standing among bushes that are home to snakes, leeches and even wild boar.
There are few medical facilities. If someone is unwell and takes time off to visit a clinic, their wages, which are already low, will be reduced. So people often go without treatment, which means they suffer more.
Their homes are tiny, and might house as many as eight people, with no electricity for lights or cooking.
And while there is some government provision for schooling tea plantation children, it is not as comprehensive as for other children, so plantation children often fall behind in their studies.
With tea being one of Sri Lanka’s most profitable export commodities, the conditions faced by tea plantation communities seem a poor reward for people who are the backbone of their nation’s economy.
Mission in the Diocese of Colombo
The Diocese of Colombo has a heart for mission, for empowering and transforming communities, and for enabling people to live a full life.
This practical mission work is co-ordinated by the diocese’s Board of Mission with support from USPG.
The work of the board broadly fits into six categories: care for the elderly and vulnerable children; education through church schools and inter faith dialogue; social justice, such as supporting marginalised tea plantation communities; care for women and young people through initiatives such as the Church of Ceylon Youth Movement; evangelism; and the diocese's day to day planning and administration.