38-year-old Saraswathi wakes at 5.30 am to send her children to school before she heads to work.
In this video, produced by Selvaraja Rajasegar of Maatram, she readies her children for school, in doing so addressing issues highlighting the obstacles to education that the Malaiyaha Tamil community is faced with.
Parents often find it difficult to provide the meals required for children under the government’s stipulated school-feeding plan – the roti they eat regularly has almost no nutritional value, but is often the only thing they can afford.
Saraswathi’s story highlights some of the challenges faced by the community, who have lived and worked in this country for over 150 years.
Estate workers have been calling for an increase in their daily basic wage to Rs. 1000 for years. The Collective Wage Agreement – between trade unions and Regional Plantation Companies – was recently signed, which set the daily basic wage at Rs. 700. This has been met with widespread strike action by estate workers, as well as with solidarity protests in Colombo.
Regional Plantation Companies say that providing Rs. 1000 is impossible. Although Ceylon Tea is one of Sri Lanka’s top exports, the industry has suffered heavy losses for a number of reasons, including climate change. However, as Saraswathi’s story shows, the wages she earns are nowhere near enough to bear the costs of living for her family, and increasingly, the younger generation of estate workers are choosing to leave and look for work elsewhere.
Read more about the difficulties facing estate workers in our series marking 150 years of Ceylon Tea here.