Dispatches from the Field: Pat Lawrence, October 2008

Hi All - a note from the tea fields:

Our UN Research team has been interviewing in the "upcountry" of Sri Lanka lately. We're talking with women who pick tea leaves all day and men who labor on the tea plantations.

Tea pluckersTea pluckers / Pat Lawrence

Most of the people we talk with live in line rooms that were built by the British when they planted tea here, when Sri Lanka was "Ceylon." The room dimensions are about 10' x 10' where I was this morning - a misty, remote, high-altitude location in a poorly managed tea estate where about 15 families live in line houses, sharing just one water tap.

The road wound on and on through expanses of tea bushes, and in many places was washed away so that it was difficult to traverse. The women pluck tea leaves from early morning until the daylight begins to fade, wearing a plastic tent over their heads so the rain will run off while their arms are free to pick leaves. They earn less than two dollars a day for 200 kilos of tea leaves. If their sack of leaves weighs less than 200 kilos, their wage is cut in half.

Elders are dependent upon their younger family relations to care for them, as there are no pension plans. We've been listening to descriptions of extreme domestic violence, child abuse, and violent fighting between neighbors that is linked to cramped housing, alcoholism, grinding poverty, lack of education, among other unmet needs. We hope our report will lead to legal aid and education programs here.

It is actually chilly in this high region of Sri Lanka. When they offer me a hot cup of tea during our discussions, I drink it with a new awareness.

Our next research area is in the north of Sri Lanka, where the civil war has currently displaced 235,000 families.

We do have time to rest in between our intensive interviewing; there are cute puppies at our bungalow.

In friendship,

Tea fields
Pat with puppy
Fruit shop
Tea fields /Pat Lawrence
Pat and puppy /Pat Lawrence
Fruit shop /Pat Lawrence