Tea Time: Educating a Workforce
Photo credits: Kelly Rossiter
In order for any company to be certified sustainable by the third party organization The Rainforest Alliance, there are certain areas in which they must be compliant. One of those areas is in the treatment of their work force and the benefits those workers receive. As I mentioned in my post on tea pluckers, the Lipton tea plantation work force is paid what we in North America would think of as ruinous wages, but they accrue a huge benefit through the company's policy of paying for housing, education and health care and providing a ready supply of clean, potable water. The Lipton tea plucker makes three times the average worker in Kenya.
The exterior of the school with much anticipated rain clouds moving in
In Kenya, both the education system and the health care system must be paid for by the user. As you can imagine, this cost of school fees, uniforms and school supplies is often prohibitive to the average worker. The employees at Lipton in Kericho don't have to worry about this, the company provides this for them. On my trip to Kericho we had the opportunity to visit one of the 22 elementary schools.
The first stop was the school where they average about fifty children per class. The school we visited has about 600 children enrolled. The youngest children attend morning classes only and the older children attend all day. They organize their classes by subject rather than by grade so there is a wide variety in the ages of the children in each class. They have notebooks to write in but very few textbooks, so most of the teaching is done from the chalkboard and the children speak the answers aloud in unison. One astute wag amongst us suggested that if we Western journalists tossed the electronics we were carrying into a pile, the cost of them would pay for the school for two years.
The striking thing about peeking in on these classrooms (and I've done a lot of it in Toronto classrooms over the years) is the joy these children take in being in school. Their magnificent smiles are quite uplifting. Education is hard to get, and so highly prized, and these children already know that they will have opportunities that their parents did not. Clearly from all of the journalist's discussions with the tea pluckers, the education programme is a huge benefit for their children and their families. Not only that, attached to the school is a community centre, where workers can go with their families and relax after work.
I had a chance to chat with Irene Cheruiyot who grew up in the district and now is the Corporate Relations Officer at Lipton in Kericho. She was talking on her cell phone (it seemed she had two going at all times, which reminded me of Groucho Marx) and when she was done I asked her if she had been speaking Swahili, which is the national language of Kenya. She said no, she was speaking her tribal language, which is not a dialect, it's quite different from Swahili. So, the children on the Lipton Kericho plantation come to school speaking their tribal language which they have learned at home. For their whole school career they are taught Swahili and English, and when they leave school they are fluent in three languages. I live in a bilingual country and I wish I could speak French as well as these children spoke English.