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Regional Plantation Companies investing in welfare programs:

For estate communities

Regional Plantation Companies (RPC) say they spend millions of rupees annually on welfare measures in their estates. These include child development, educational assistance, healthcare facilities and housing assistance for plantation populations that number close upon one million people.

A child development centre

The RPCs represent Sri Lanka’s formal plantation sector, which is regulated by the Government and has an organized workforce of nearly a quarter of a million people, represented by many active trade unions.

Child development and education

All RPCs pay special attention to child development in their estates, starting from the early childhood years.

“Those days the estates had something called the Pulle Maduwa to keep the children. These were just places for the mothers to leave the children when they go to work. Those children were not given education. But now, we have what we call ‘Child Development Centres,” said Talawakelle Estate, Nanuoya Division Child Development Centre, Child Development Officer, D.S.R. Iranganie.

“In the Child Development Centres children are given proper attention for their physical and mental development. So these children, when they leave to go to school, are a lot more advanced than children that left the Pulle Maduwa,” said Iranganie.

The Talawakelle Estate, which has a total resident population of 3,365 including 651 employees, belongs to the Maskeliya Plantation Company. Maskeliya Plantations spent Rs 25 million in the 2008/9 financial year on Child Development Centres, among its 18 estates. The company spent Rs 138 million in total, for all types of welfare activities in its estates.

The Child Development Centres include a crŠche for infants between the ages of three months and three years and a pre-school for children between the ages of three years to Five years.

Mattakelle Estate, which belongs to Talawakelle Plantations, has a similar Child Development Centre used by its resident families. Last year (2008), Mattakelle Estate, that has a total population of 3,068 including 871 employees, spent Rs 1.29 million on its Child Development Centres. Meanwhile, in 2008, the Talawakelle Plantation Company, that manages 17 estates, spent Rs 86.1 million on overall community welfare and another Rs 33.5 million on new infrastructure development.

The Child Development Centres in the two estates also help improve child nutrition and introduce young children to better eating habits through feeding programs.

“We give them a different nutritious meal every day and milk. This way they get used to eating more nutritious foods,” said one of the two assistants at the Child Development Centre in Mattakelle Estate Jebamalar Mary.

The estates say the investment in child development is paying off. In 2008, Talawakelle Estate alone, saw six young people entering the Peradeniya University.

Estate Medical Officer M S J de Silva

“From our estates we now have young people going to the university. These days most children will at least study up to their Ordinary Levels, if not going as far as Advanced Levels and university. When children enter the university also, we help them by giving them a monthly grant of Rs 2,000,” said Talawakelle Estate, Superintendent, Dhanapala Dissanayake.

Talawakelle Plantations also reported seven young people entering the university, assisted by financial support from the plantation company.

“Higher education among young people from estate communities is not a rare phenomenon anymore. Last year, a youth from Somerset Estate entered the Medical Faculty of the Rajarata University,” said Talawakelle Plantations, Human Resources and Quality Management Development, General Manager, Theja Dharmaratna.

Improved health facilities

Health services at the two estates are also provided free for estate communities, through estate and Government contributions. The estates have provided the premises for Maternity Clinics and Medical Centres. Medical attention and basic medicines are available at the Medical Centre through a trained Estate Medical Officer. A government Medical Officer of Health (MOH) visits the estate Maternity Clinic regularly, to check on expecting mothers. A trained midwife is permanently stationed at the estates and in both estates all new child-births are now conducted at the Lindula District Hospital.

“Maternal and child mortality have improved vastly these days and there are no more deaths at child birth. Even the underweight births have reduced drastically,” said the Talawakelle Estate, Estate Medical Officer, M S J de Silva.

The improved health indicators are attributed to a full range of health services made available within the estates themselves.

“These days all the new babies are delivered in proper hospitals under proper medical supervision. So that in itself is a vast improvement compared to the old days. Families at this estate generally go to the Lindula Hospital for deliveries. But until the point of delivering the baby, the mothers are under constant medical supervision at the estate itself. They are taught how to care for themselves and how to prepare for the baby and even told what they need to take to hospital. The mothers are also given nutritional supplements like iron, calcium and vitamin C tablets,” said de Silva.

An ambulance is available for estate medical emergencies such as child birth, accidents or illnesses that cannot be treated within the estate, and for patient transfers. To improve overall health and sanitation habits both estates also conduct ‘Free Feeding’ programs that provide milk and flour, and also facilitated health clinics and health education programs for estate communities.

“We provide free treatment at the estate clinic. Anyone we cannot treat, is transferred to Lindula District Hospital. That is where the child deliveries also take place. We also do medical clinics and nutrition programs, as well,” said Mattakelle Estate, Estate Medical Assistant, R Yuwaraj.

In 2008, Mattakelle Estate spent Rs 10.7 million on providing various medical facilities while Maskeliya Plantations spent Rs 50 million on the provision of medical facilities among its 18 estates, including Talawakelle Estate.

Land for housing and supplementary incomes

As part of their welfare programs the estates also look after existing housing facilities for estate communities and invest in new housing.

In 2008, Mattakelle Estate spent Rs 1.3 million on the upkeep of line houses and also provided estate land to build new houses. From 1999-2001, under a loan scheme from the National Housing Development Authority (NHDA), facilitated by the estate, 141 new houses were built for families living in Mattakelle Estate.

Another 200 new houses are proposed for 2010. Estate families at the Mattakelle Estate are also allowed to use estate lands for vegetable cultivations that generate additional incomes on top of their plantation work wages.

“About 7- 10 perches of land are given to build a new house. By now about five hectares of estate land have been allocated to build new houses.

These new houses are mainly for families that do not have their own homes, like newly married couples. Another 20 - 30 acres have been given to families to cultivate vegetables. These vegetable cultivations also bring additional incomes for them,” said Mattakelle Estate, Manager, Gimhan Jayatilleke.

The Talawakelle Estate has also made similar investments in housing maintenance and building new houses. From 2005 to 2008, the estate spent Rs 1.6 million on upgrading and maintaining available housing facilities.

The estate also provides land for estate families to build new homes.

By now, under the NHDA and Plantation Human Development Trust (PHDT) Housing Scheme, 92 new houses have been built. Another 185 new houses have been built under the Upper Kotmale Project.

The two estates also provide many other types of welfare services for its resident populations and say these investments will continue to improve the living standards of the populations living in their estates.

 

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