May, 2024

Opening Dessford Community Kitchen

Nutrition of women and children in tea plantation communities continues to be a challenge in an industry which has spanned over 150 years.

‘Access to affordable and nutritious food remains a big need among tea plantation communities in Sri Lanka’ said Saman Wijebandara (Team Leader of PALM Foundation), noting that the ongoing economic situation of the country has exacerbated the problem.

‘However, it is the tea industry which brings in the much-needed foreign exchange to the country’. He made these comments at the recent inauguration of the upgraded Community Kitchen at Dessford Estate in Nanuoya, Sri Lanka, funded by The Republic of Tea (TROT) under ETP’s Women of Tea programme, in collaboration with the Plantation Human Development Trust (PHDT) and PALM Foundation.

The project plans initially to fulfil the nutritional needs of children at Dessford Estate – Venura Pelpola, Manager of Dessford Estate, explains:

“This centralised Community Kitchen will help us feed 110 children, including those in Child Development Centres (CDCs) and preschools.”

Assembled for the opening of the Dessford Community Kitchen.

In the longer term, the aim is to utilise this facility to provide meals to around 400 tea pluckers, and function as a model kitchen for other estates to replicate.

With 5,000 residents to cater for, Lal Perera, the Director General of the Plantation Human Development Trust (PHDT), explains:

“Preparation of meals for children and workers at different locations is a challenging task in terms of process, hygiene, and cost. That was why we decided to use an existing building, refurbish it with the help of all the stakeholders and use it as a centralised cooking facility. It is the first public-private partnership of this nature.”

Traditional Tamil welcome by the community at the opening of the kitchen.

A community member lighting the traditional oil lamp, representing the Tea Harvesters.

PHDT’s involvement stems from wanting to create ownership within the community and a focus on project sustainability; ‘we are happy that the community has understood the concept, has taken ownership and is supporting the estate management to take it forward’. Perera echoes the hope of the community that, once the needs of children being fed are met, ‘gradually, this programme could be expanded to a wider community.’

Pelpola considers this programme as an investment, believing that a successful community kitchen will have long-term benefits to both community members and the industry. Increased nutrition levels and health and wellbeing through the community kitchen not only reduces expenditure on medication and meals, it also allows workers more opportunity to earn additional income. In turn, productivity is improved, as is worker absence and retention, and the potential for community savings. Pelpola explains ‘they do not need to worry about what to cook, and whether it will be nutritious enough for their kids. Additionally, these benefits will encourage other community members to join the workforce because they see us caring for our employees and their kids.’ He goes on to add:

“All these measures will enhance productivity and output, allowing the company to sustain these programmes and provide even more benefits for the community using the increased profits – a win-win for everyone.”

Evangelyn Perera, ETP Programme Manager, with the Tea Harvesters who represented the community at the opening of the Community Kitchen.