Fair Trade Rubber
Fair Trade Natural Rubber...makes life a little easier for three generations of women
For 11 year old Budini little is as important as dancing. Classical dancing has a long tradition in Sri Lanka, you tell stories through dance. Budini studies dance at school but during the holidays she’s also allowed to take some private tuition which is one of the few luxuries in her life.
Budini, her younger sister, her mother and her grandmother live on the rubber plantation Horana. She was five when her father signed his first work contract with a clothing manufacturer in Mauritius, 4000 km or a five and a half hour flight away from Sri Lanka. The agent who got him the contract took more than a month’s wages as a commission but since then Dinesh Kumar can regularly send money home to his family. As a rubber tapper in Horana he would make a lot less and that is why he signed another 5-year contract last year. But he can only afford to visit his family once a year and when she and her sister have to say good-bye at the airport they always cry a lot, says Budini. For the rest of the year they have to make do with the 15 minute phone call her Dad makes every Sunday.
Budini’s mother not only looks after the household, until recently she had to take care of her wheelchair bound 85-year old mother and a relative in the late stages of throat cancer. Both died last year.
Budini and her family live in a small house not far from the rubber factory in Horana. There the freshly collected latex milk is coagulated and pressed into crepe. The long, delicate crepe sheets have to be checked for impurities which then have to be carefully cut out. This work takes concentration and experience. Budini’s grandmother has lots of both; 52-year old Premavati has been working at the factory for more than 30 years.
A small part of the rubber that is produced at Horana is sold under Fair Trade conditions. The joint body, a committee elected by the plantation workers decides what the Fair Trade premium will be spent on. It took not much time to agree: a communal space was desperately need – for the committee to meet, for assemblies, meetings, ceremonies, for trainings and to celebrate.
In 2015 the training centre, built with Fair Trade premium funds, was inaugurated – and a classical dance routine by Budini and two of her friends were part of the ceremony. The training centre is no more than one simple room with a veranda, a small kitchen and toilet facilities. But that small building is making a difference to everyone living in Horana. Budini’s grandmother has long been a member of the Horana workers’ saving society. Its members discuss microcredit facilities and make plans how to finance more expensive household items, expand a small business, or their children’s (or grandchildren’s) further education. ‘Finally we’ve got somewhere where we can meet’, says Mrs Premavati. Until the training centre was built the group met outside which isn’t very pleasant when it’s very hot, and during the rainy season meetings often had to be cancelled. Soon Mrs Premavati will discuss Budini’s education with her saving society colleagues. Budini says she likes all subjects at school, her grades are excellent and she wants to become a teacher. But teacher training at a good college in Colombo does not come cheap. The saving society will try to help. Maybe with a stipend or an educational grant, too, financed with the Fair Trade premium from the sale of the seed trays sold on plasticfreegardening.com.
Horana, Frocester Estate: Reconnected With Fair Trade
Lalita Ayrangani’s day starts early. She gets up at 4.30 and starts cooking for the whole family, rice, curries and sambols for breakfast and lunch to be taken along to work. Her son and his wife, her daughter and her four-year old grandchild live next door. At 6 am she walks to the rubber factory, work starts at 6.30. Until recently she had to get up even earlier: more than a year ago the tank that fed the water pipes at Lalita’s house collapsed which meant she and everyone else in the family had to walk to a water source about half a kilometre away several times a day to get all the water needed for cooking and drinking. The joint body agreed that the restoration of the water tank was a priority and since the work has been completed the faucet behind Lalita’s house supplies water again and when she’s filled up one of the wide-bellied stainless steel vessels she’s just got to step around the corner into her kitchen. Lalita returns from work at around 3.30 pm. Usually she shops for some groceries in the estate’s coop shop and for vegetables at nearby stalls. When she comes home she plays with her granddaughter, washes the family’s clothes, has a bath and prepares the evening meal. Her children all work in the garment companies. Lalita came to Horana with her parents and grandparents when she was 7 years old, her father still works in the factory, her mother is retired. Since the death of her husband she has two rooms to herself. Her living room with its lovingly arranged display of family photos and small knickknacks leads out onto a small veranda. The other family members share the rest of the house, two bedrooms and a living room with an array of artificial flowers and a small television set in the corner. What are Lalita’s hopes for the future? Now that the water is running again she is content, she says. She just wants her children to do well and settle down somewhere nearby in their own homes.