Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Woodlands Community Development is a project of the East Kerala Diocese in response to the problems associated with the closing of tea estates in the High Range Area. The altitude here is 3,500 feet. There are two family sangums (Family support groups) and one child sangum. The project officer is Jelal Jones. We met with a combination of both sangums. This community development project is under the Diocesan program called “Churches Response to the Plight of Tea Estate Workers” This project is 3 years old. They provide community organizing and activism, health care projects, skill training ( they send boys who drop out of school to the Diocese’s Technical Training Institute and a auto repair training center on site, for girls there is a tailoring program ). They also promote savings and micro economic programs in sangums. There are many awareness programs, blood and eye donor programs, and rice sharing among the sangums. This rice sharing program gives the rice each week to who ever has the greatest need not a simple rotating basis as in other sangums this sis called “food for all”. There is a loan fund for emergency needs among sangum members. There is also the basic sangum savings program where the group saves money to start business ventures. In the past they have developed rice businesses, grocery shops, and goat/ rabbit rearing, sari painting and soap powder manufacturing.
There are 18 sangums in this programs which are focused on tea estate workers. Those that are able to work on the tea estates get paid 300 rs/ week (about $6) but they are docked 50 rs for every day missed and must work all 6 days/ week. When a tea estate closes they are often allowed to stay in the workers homes but they are not maintained, there is no power or drinking water.
Girls face additional problems since when their families can no longer afford the cost for transportation, books and tutor fees in the public schools they drop out and are often subjected to harsh conditions being sent to work away from home in ‘prawn” and textile factories. For this reason the Diocese has started the “Response to the Suffering Girl Child in the Tea Estate Area” program. This program attempts to keep young girls in school covering education costs as well as self esteem and leadership development. There are 60 girls in the program at a cost of 600 rs (just under $14) per child.



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