Our partners, United Nilgiri Tea Estates Co. Ltd (UNTE), are Fair Trade Certified tea gardens located in South India who has greatly benefited from FairTrade. Thanks to their Fair Trade premiums, UNTE has been able to help fund the higher education of laborers’ children and expose them to new career opportunities.
During our last trip to India we had an opportunity to visit the tea plantations and factory, as well as the school and the hospital they run for their employees and the local community.
Chamraj, one of the tea estates of UNTE, was Fair Trade certified in 1994, making them one of the first Fair Trade producers in India. The tea estate provides primary and secondary education in both Tamil and English through age 18, to prepare students for college and university. English education is not widely taught in local government schools and is therefore normally very expensive, but parents there only pay a small fee for their children, most of whom are the first generation in their family to regularly attend school.
The school aims to give the children of tea workers and other villagers the opportunities in life that weren’t available to their parents. UNTE used their Fair Trade premiums to build biology, chemistry, and physics laboratory facilities, a lab equipped with 40 computers and a three-story eight classroom multimedia centers. UNTE also purchased buses to help ensure that children who live up to 30km away have the opportunity to attend school every day. Additionally, the salaries of two secondary teachers are partly paid with Fair Trade premium funds. As well as its primary school, Chamraj runs a popular secondary school open to non-estate children from surrounding villages. It has grown rapidly and estate children now only make up 30% of the 1,200 students, 60% of them girls. The school is proud of its academic record and the commitment of its students, demonstrated by its zero drop-out rate and a 100% pass rate in Standard English Medium, necessary for many college courses, which is a huge boost for students’ future career prospects.
The Fair Trade premiums have also helped pay for a hostel for secondary school students who live too far away to travel each day, as well as crèches, and an orphanage. Director of Chamraj, Mr. Gerard Pinto, said:
‘We have children who have become doctors, engineers, graduates, some of them have gone to the US or Europe and are now directors of global corporations.”
When visiting the school, our first thought was “this kids are so lucky. They live and learn in one of the most beautiful places on the planet and don’t even know it”. We were truly impressed by the school facilities: the gardens, the playgrounds, the new indoor gym, the nursery and the art room for the elementary school students. The kids who were outside in recess greeted us with “Hello Sir”, “Hello Mam” in perfect English. We also visited the art lab and met the teacher who showed us the projects children had created from recycled materials: foil, water bottles, paper, canvas bags etc. Speak about sustainability education starting early.
The estate’s 60-bed hospital has been equipped with an ultrasound scanner for use in pregnancies, X-ray, ECG, and ultrasound scanning facilities and an operating theatre. Villagers from outside the estate can use the facilities for a small fee and now make up 70% of patients. The excellent facilities mean they receive good quality treatment, reducing the need to make the long trip to the nearest government hospital.
Medical insurance is a rare thing among workers in India, so having access to a free or subsidized hospital is a big deal!
The estate and factory workers have been provided with pressure cookers, gas stoves and gas bottles. Homes have received free satellite TV connections and the community hall has been equipped with furniture.
The pension scheme funded entirely by the Fair Trade premiums, brings much-needed security to retired employees. At 58, tea estate workers typically vacate their estate housing and retire to their home villages where, with just a small annuity and no ready means of income, they face a financially uncertain future. Because children are moving out of the region to pursue their education, they are no longer able to care for their parents in the traditional way. Thanks to the Fair Trade premium, workers receive pensions when they retire to help support themselves financially. Not only do former laborers not need to work, but they are also able to build their own homes and have a stable monthly income for 10 years.