Email this page
June 14, 2010
Sri Lanka: My children’s inspiring visit to a tea plantation
Several months ago, I told you about a visit I made to a Sri Lankan tea plantation and how it opened my eyes to the fascinating—and incredibly labor-intensive—world of tea cultivation. To this day, I can’t drink a cup of tea without thinking about the petite but powerful (both in physical strength and mental fortitude) women I met there.
In May, my children found themselves in a similar setting. Edward and Charlotte were in Sri Lanka to spend time with dear friends of our family who, as they had for Alan and me, arranged for them to tour a local tea plantation. But the estate they visited wasn’t your typical tea plantation … and—like mother, like daughter—Charlotte was profoundly affected by the experience.
Originally a rubber plantation, Morawaka Estates began cultivating tea in 1908. Today, more than a century later—and under the leadership of fourth-generation owners Sumedha and Kumari Kulatunga—the company has also become a model of social responsibility: Morawaka Estates not only provides housing for resident workers, it also operates a nursery and primary school for their children, and works with local social service agencies to provide free medical care and additional support for their families. Kumari also runs the Healing Hands Women’s Organization, which offers counseling, job training, and other social and economic development programs for Sri Lankan women and girls.
For Edward and Charlotte, the highlight of their visit was spending time with students at the Morawaka Estates school. “The children were so cute,” Charlotte told me. “So sweet and gentle … just these wide-eyed little love bugs. After Kumari introduced us, they gave us necklaces they’d made from fresh flowers. Then also sang us a song in English and showed us the pictures they’d made from homemade stamps carved from potatoes and okra.” My children’s hearts were definitely touched by the spirit and resilience of these beautiful children—and by the compassionate vision of the Kulatunga family.
As Charlotte told me, “I looked at Kumari—a woman who believes in people and believes they can achieve or become anything—and I was just filled with love and awe. At that moment, I understood how incredible the human spirit can be; despite obstacles like lack of time and money, Kumari and her family are making a difference in the lives of these children, and in turn, making a real and positive difference in their community.”
Given that tea plantation workers have historically been undereducated and, as a result, poorly regarded in Sri Lankan society, the work that Sumedha and Kumari are doing is nothing short of extraordinary. And their example has inspired my children to give back, too. “Too often, people say ‘I don’t have time,’” Charlotte told me. “But that’s no excuse: We need to make time to give back to the people and places we care about.” Now that she’s back in Boston, she’s renewed her commitment to preserving a park near her home and fundraising on behalf of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. As her mother, I couldn’t be prouder.
In your own travels, have you encountered a person or group whose philanthropic efforts have inspired you to give back to your local community? If so, I hope you’ll share your thoughts with me—and other travelers—by posting your comments below this Journal entry. (You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
We’ll be spotlighting the Eastern Mediterranean (specifically, Greece and Croatia), and China and Japan in the coming weeks. If you’ve explored these destinations with OAT, I’d love to hear about your experiences—and see your photos! Email me at