I wake at 6.30am every day in the apartment I share with three other managers. It is provided for us by the Tea Leaf Trust, a small UK-based charity founded by a couple who were appalled by the conditions of the Sri Lankan tea-pickers. The trust also manages our school, Tea Leaf Vision, which is located in Maskeliya in central Sri Lanka.
Today is sari day, so I take extra care in getting ready. We try to set a good example for our 18- to 24-year-old students, and as principal of the school I always try to look immaculate whether it's the monsoon or dry season.
During my five-minute walk to school I am greeted by smiling students, who are unfazed by their broken shoes, sweaty faces and muddy legs. Some travel for six hours to get to us, but I know they'd go even further to receive the English education that can break the cycle of poverty for them and their families.
At 8am I lead the morning meeting with my 15 staff and two foreign volunteers. The teachers face problems just like the students - 79 per cent of them live on less than $1 (65p) a day - so we start by expressing our feelings. Taking care of our own mental health helps us to teach with kindness. We then go through timetables, plan cover and identify students who need additional support.
Travelling in the morning is a hassle for all students and I must talk to the latecomers. Most of them wake early to help their parents with chores, boys as well as girls. Each family has a cow for financial sustainability, so the boys cut grass for the cows before they leave home, even when it is raining. I reinforce the attendance rules, but hearing about each student's morning battle encourages me to help them more.
The full-time free diploma we offer is designed to make students employable, resilient and capable of leading ethical change in their communities. Lessons are taught on life development, public speaking, management skills and IT. All subjects are taught in English.
I teach a class called "success and ethics", based on Stephen Covey's book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. We believe that to get the most out of lessons and create positive change, students must master their thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
I am also one of three qualified counsellors and I talk to three students a week. They have a lot to cope with. Tea-estate work is back-breaking and seemingly endless. The only way out is English, which the education system in the tea plantations deliberately fails to teach. The result is that many male tea workers become alcoholics and many women are victims of domestic violence. Our lessons are designed to tackle these issues; 68 per cent of our graduates now go into further education or full-time employment off the tea estates within six months of leaving.
Some days it's tough, but I know that five minutes after locking the school door I'll be at home making a cup of tea, whereas most of my students will still be travelling through the monsoon.
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