|Thursday, 24 June 2004|
Well-being of the estate community
by Manjari Peiris
The tea plantation has been in the private sector from the time the British came to Sri Lanka. When it was nationalized in the year 1972, approximately 450 estates came under two major organizations.
They are Sri Lanka Plantations Corporation (SPC) and the Janatha Estate Development Board (JEDB). Immediately a large workforce of the Indian origin came under the direct purview of the government.
It was the direct responsibility of the government to look after the interests of the workers and the various funding agencies of the World Bank and other organizations.
Through the government funds JEDB and SPC have been carrying out various social activities in the estates. The Plantation, Housing Development Trust was established in the year 1992 registered as a private company to cater to the needs of the workers.
The vision of the Plantation Human Development Trust is to ensure the integration and fulfilment of the social responsibilities of their constituent partners towards the plantation worker community. To fulfil their vision, the Trust is engaged in assisting the plantation worker community in enhancing the quality of their lives.
The Trust has experience in working in the Sector diligently endeavouring to promote the equal participatory approaches and practices of both men and women. This method has been mutually beneficial for the Sector as well as the community.
Starting from Galle, Ratnapura, Kegalle, Badulla, Kandy and Nuwara Eliya, there are 7 regions under the purview of the Plantation Trust.
How do they implement their work?
In every estate the programmes are implemented through the Superintendent and the Health team. The Health Team consists of midwives, Plantation Welfare Officers, crSche attendants and health volunteers. The Trust follows with a monitoring system especially for their health activities. A Regional Director heads each regional office.
At the time the Trust took over the plantation management in 1993 there were no participatory activities and it was apparent that aspects such as water and sanitary had been neglected by the people. Through participatory methods water committees were appointed to take over the responsibility of the maintenance of the scheme.
The donors realized that giving funds alone will not be worthwhile and decided that one fourth of the cost should be borne by the workers. Not only that the workers were made to realize that their involvement, contribution and responsibility too should be given for this project.
A housing scheme has been organized to enable estate workers to own property of their own. The estate provides the basic costs with the help of the Plantation Ministry while the workers are expected to pay a monthly instalment for fifteen years.
Two thousand houses have already been built in the region. It was reported that at one of the meetings a worker had refused to take housing loans stating that he is unable to settle the loans as he is getting a meager income while the cost of living is increasing everyday.
At this point the other workers inquired as to how much he spent on alcohol. When the amount was calculated they concluded that he would be able to pay the loan instalment if he reduced the amount he spent on alcohol.
The Regional Director, Plantation Trust - Hatton, Mr. A. C. Bowatte, explained that initiation to drug use has decreased owing to the programs that were carried out in the estates. However alcohol still remains a large problem in divisions where drug prevention activities are not carried out.
It was through the programmes specifically planned and implemented with the coordination of Alcohol & Drug Information Centre within the estate sector, that effective solutions for problems associated with alcohol use in estates could be achieved.
The outcomes achieved through this programme could be described as less absenteeism, lower number of accidents occurred, growth of child nutrition, economic improvement etc.
Especially the number of kasippu outlets was decreased without making any influence by the Police or the management, but on their own decision. The other specialty is the sustainability of this process even after the discontinuance of ADICs interventions.
The programs done with children have empowered them to advise their parents and persuade them not to use alcohol. Overall alcohol use in houses has reduced owing to the mediation of children and prevention issues are discussed at length at health volunteers' meetings. This impact can be seen today through the behavior of the people and the activities taking place.
The workers bring their problems to health volunteers who regularly present the situation to the management. Mr. Bowatte stated that discipline within the estates has improved while the day-to-day activities run smoothly improving the overall productivity.
Attempts of violence have reduced and the concern shown to the welfare of children and mothers has increased. Responsibilities entrusted to employees are well fulfilled and adhered by these groups. As such they are respected and accepted by the estate management and the majority of the community.
The adult workers are more interested in participating in community development activities, children's education and are conscious of their roles. They have grasped the feeling that wasting anybody's money should not be done.
The value of what they earn and the possibilities opened to them for saving has been given much importance. The majority has changed their attitudes towards better living and social and cultural changes have been observed.
The feeling of taking responsibilities towards the well-being of each person has immerged in them since the inception of participatory training programmes.
The workers do not expect much from the management but wish to carry out their work independently.
Produced by Lake House