Madhara Dulanjali is 10 years old, and lives on the Frocester Rubber Estate, which is part of the Horana plantations. Her great-grandparents, in fact, had lived and worked as rubber tappers on this estate. Her father (Vijararatnam) and mother (Kumari) both started working as tappers in 1995.
Madhara is in grade 4 at school. She has an older brother and a younger sister, who are also enrolled at the same school. When she is grown up, Madhara wants to be a teacher. Surprisingly, her favourite subject is Sinhala, even though her family are so-called ‘plantation Tamils’, i.e. their ancestors had been brought to work in what was then called Ceylon by the British colonial administration. Most of the Tamils still living on plantations in Sri Lanka today still have no voting rights. A lot of parents deliberately send their children to schools where the teaching is in Sinhala, in the hope of improving their future prospects.
The family lives in a so-called ‘line room’ on the estate. The ‘lines’ are very basic, long, single-storey constructions, which usually house six families. Each unit contains two rooms and a small kitchen-type veranda. A toilet is a few metres away. The Fair Trade premium paid by FairDeal Trading has just funded the provision of electricity for all 52 families in the section where Madhara and her family live. They had tried for more than 20 years to get the state to provide power, but without voting rights and in view of the distances involved, it was unlikely ever to happen.
Now they have six (energy-saving) light bulbs, plus a small TV, a radio, and a DVD player. They are saving for a fan (SLR 4500) and an iron to use on the school uniforms (SLR 1800). At present, uniforms are still ‘ironed’ by placing them under the pillow at night. But the most important benefit is that Madhara and her siblings are now able to do their homework at night without ruining their eyes, which allows them to do even better at school, and makes it unlikely that she, or her brother and sister, will become the 4th generation of rubber tappers. The electricity bill will be in the region of SLR 200 per month.