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John & Jeeva in Waitalawa

Waitalawa is such an incredible place. The Community Friends tea estate here is situated in 40 acres of land and is one of the highest tea plantations in the Knuckles Mountain Range. It is also the only organic tea estate here.

Our driver, Yappa, who took us up to the land, does incredibly well negotiating the winding dirt track. After picking up vital supplies, we happen to pass the village manager, K.P., and a couple of the local residents. So with typical Sri Lankan kindness we give them a lift to the top. I must say I was slightly nervous about introducing myself as an Englishman from London assuming there would be some bitterness toward the British who set up the tea plantations in the first place. There isn’t. K.P. straight away tells me how the superintendent for the area 40 years ago went by the name of ‘Richard’ and was also an Englishman from London!

Furthermore I am greeted with smiles all round from the tea pickers and in particular from Soma and Tikira, who are hosting us. Tikira is one of the oldest residents in the village. He has a couple of tattoos on his arms. They are hard to make out but he says that they are of a bird and a stag. I ask him when he got them and he tells me that he was once a bit of a rebel in his youth–drinking and smoking with his friends. He doesn’t now though, and he seems almost apologetic about his past and now leads a very simple life. Now he enjoys gardening with Dasuni, his great granddaughter. Dasuni had a very difficult birth and we are very fortunate that she is here today—thanks to the doctors and directors of Community Friends who assisted with the birth.

Dasuni, age 2, with Tikira, age 99.

Before K.P. goes home to eat dinner with his wife, I with the help of Jeewa ask how the tea estate is going. K.P. as the land manager has a tough job, telling workers each morning where they will be working for the rest of the day. These decisions can greatly affect the villagers’ income. Anyway, things have been quite tough lately on the tea estates due to two main problems. Firstly, there has been an unprecedented 8 months of rain which has badly affected the tea crop this year and has contributed to soil erosion. Secondly, and possibly more worryingly, there is a shortage of tea pickers. Jeewa had noticed this on the drive up that many of the plants are passed the point of picking. Young men in particular are leaving Waitalawa and seeking better paid, less work jobs in the city. That now is the major problem that has to be tackled.

John Ainger
Community Friends’ Intern