A few weeks ago I visited the Hill Country, a wide region roughly centered on the island and providence to innumerable tea plantations which form the nuclei of local communities and the heart of the national economy. Coming from the lazy heat and smudged concrete of costal Colombo, the Hill Country offers a refreshing contrast of chilled breezes and lush vistas. Where the many peaks and ridges eternally climb over each other, crystal threads of water emerge as if squeezed from the rocky soil and stream down pinched gullies to collect in natural and hand wrought reservoirs. The steeply inclined terrain blanketed by plantations of tea shrubs almost shimmers in the early morning mist and midday sun alike, casting an immediate enchantment over any candid spectator.
While visiting the tea estates I also had the opportunity to participate in an education program for the local plantation community on the topic of human rights. A group of local advocates hosted the open program to empower other community members with a better understanding of how human rights principles relate to everyday standards of living. Participant came from a wide variety of backgrounds representing nearly the entire spectrum of society: elementary school teachers and students, plantation labors and supervisors, parents and children. Each participant brought a personal understanding of human rights as being the basic, fundamental rights deserved by every human being for the full realization and enjoyment of their life: equal treatment within society, access to education and employment opportunities, privacy in personal and family affairs. Everyone also brought experiences of where others in public institutions or the private sector violated these simple human rights in their own lives. Growing from these roots of personal values and experience these individuals sought a common learning of generally articulated human rights standards and discussed how these standards might be incorporated into individual and community efforts to change patterns of behavior infringing on these dearly held rights.
Work on the tea plantations structures to a large degree life through the Hill Country, and in some ways reflects a microcosm of society at large. Class distinctions tie in closely with plantation roles ranging from tea pickers and tea factory workers to field supervisors and estate managers, with absentee private land owners and companies seated at the very top. As a questionable universal truth shared by every modern society, the far removed echelons reap an overwhelming share of the harvest and the comforts it provides; while the population closest to the earth toils strenuously without rest among the leaves and crags of the precipitous hillsides for a meager share that must be frugally wrung to produce a drop of life. This realization fosters a deep contrast with the dreamlike setting, as well as the daily choice in Sri Lanka of tea served with cream and sugar or plain tea.
Posted By Adam Nord (Sri Lanka)
Posted Dec 9th, 2007