Education for Tea Pickers' Children in Sri Lanka 
Tea is the number one export of Sri Lanka, accounting for around $1.67 billion in revenue. This business creates jobs for about 5 percent of Sri Lanka’s population. Tea picking includes the whole family, who often live in housing just off the plantation. As a result, access to education for the tea pickers’ children can be difficult or non-existent.

Sending kids to local schools is also not an option since most families either do not have a method of transportation, or their children are already working in the fields by the age of 13. Despite the fact that tea pickers are the skeleton of the economy, the majority of these tea workers are overworked and underpaid, meaning children often grow up in this same cycle of oppression. Two companies are trying to change this: Tea Leaf Trust and Kindernothilfe. Both are successfully paving the way for a better future by providing tea pickers’ children access to education.

Why Does Education Matter?

Education changes the lives of the people in these tea picking communities. Education can target domestic violence, hopelessness and poverty through learning skills such as professionalism and proficiency in English. By encouraging young people to be role models in their community and instilling a sense of hope and confidence in them, they are able to break out of the tea business and choose their own paths. Families in these communities view education for their children as a means to escape poverty. Without education, many children often commit suicide or self-harm. Suicide rates on plantations are the fourth highest in the world.

Tea Leaf Trust

Started in 2007, Tea Leaf Trust is a company that strives to create a way out for children living in tea picking communities. Alcoholism, malnutrition and disease/lack of sanitation surround many of these communities. Families of six to eight members must live in barrack-type homes which often have no windows and no means of ventilation. The conditions these families are living in hinders their ability to learn in school settings. The main way Tea Leaf Trust is improving conditions is by giving tea pickers’ children access to education, providing a future for both them and their families.

Tea Leaf Trust raised money to start a school to give tea pickers’ children access to education. This school, called Tea Leaf Vision, offers advanced diplomas for people who train and learn to become teachers and two-thirds go on to a university to earn their degrees or get a job off the plantation. Those enrolled in the advanced diploma allocate time to teach the English Community Programme at primary schools on the tea plantations as a part of their own schooling.

Schools in these communities are open once a week at 24 locations. Between 1,600 and 1,900 children attend these schools. These schools offer classes such as Business Studies, English Grammar and Emotional Health. Their focus is twofold: instilling a sense of value and purpose in youth through education and providing community service. Tea Leaf Trust also have plans to open a vocational center in the coming years. This will allow the students to not only learn within their community but also gain skills to move forward in their lives.

Kindernothilfe

Kindernothilfe, German for “supporting children in need,” is a company founded in Germany in 1959. Through its partnership with local NGOs, it has implemented 609 projects in 32 countries. In Sri Lanka, its focus is mainly on women and children, both of whom are often victims of violence and abuse.

Kindernothilfe wants to provide tea pickers’ children access to education. This program, founded in 2005, started its partnership with the Eksath Lanka Welfare Foundation. It now has around 80 children and 60 women enrolled in its program. This includes two children’s clubs where children grow their personal skills. The program also provides funding to children who have previously dropped out of school, allowing them to continue their education for free.

Kindernothilfe also offers an empowerment class to women in these communities. This is where they can discuss their situations, talk through how to manage their household and understand and counsel their children on domestic violence and children’s rights.

Uniformity and Equality of Education

There is a great need for quality education in Sri Lanka and not just in tea picking communities. The education sector is lacking in providing quality criteria and curriculums. Schools on plantations (if they exist at all) lack the most basic equipment and have teachers who are undereducated themselves. A reduction in poverty can be a result of proper education. Poverty is only 18 percent for those with an education, rising to 46 percent for households without an education.

Tea Leaf Trust and Kindernothilfe are just two examples of foundations that have stepped in to fill the gaps. They want to assist in providing educational assistance for those who lack it and change the lives of Sri Lankan tea picker’s children.

– Laurel Sonneby
Photo: Flickr