As an industry, we are lucky. During the COVID-Crisis we can serve our customers online and grocery stores remain open. Which is good, because tea is a palliative drink our customers want during these times of stress. We must keep communications open to make sure you have the inventory you need. Through the rest of 2020, a safe, consistent supply of tea will be the measure of success.
In Assam India, at our Chota Tingrai estate, we are getting ready to start the summer flush. These are our most robust teas of the year. In these days of Coronavirus, we realize safe tea only comes from safe Estates with safe Workers. As a single estate grower, Chota Tingrai grows, plucks, processes, packs and ships all our tea. Once the tea leaves our warehouse, the next hands to touch it are your own. It is imperative we address the virus with protocols that keep everyone safe…starting with our own community. It is hard to imagine how much must be done to ensure 2000+ people are safe. Not all the people living on the estate work there. But all contribute to the health of the community.
Three women, Mousmi, Mamon and Jyoti, make up the team that works with Avantika putting together all our community initiatives. They are behind the arrangements that had to be made to prepare the gardens for COVID-19.
Mousmi, Mamon and Jyoti manage social initiatives at Chota Tingrai
Just as in the United States, the first level of safety would be testing, social distancing and masks. They would then make sure everyone had sufficient food during the lockdown. The women also made plans to strengthen our hygiene with better hand-washing capability.
Our Readiness Team first organized the making face masks. We provided cloth and materials. Mousmi, Mamon and Jyoti found women with stitching experience and machines in their homes to make masks for the whole community. They are being compensated for their work. So far, we have issued 2-sets of masks to over 10,000 people serving five different tea estates. It was a huge undertaking.
Rinki Takri, Rinika Lohar and Junaki Lohar (above) work at stitching masks for the five different tea estates. Rista Urang, Ulashi Tanti, Kalantush (not pictured) made up the rest of the Chota Tingrai stitching team.
We always look for ongoing ways to build stability and income to the tea estate community. Avantika, Mousmi, Mamon and Jyoti plan to continue this program even beyond the COVID times. Their vision is to provide more machines and encourage local women to establish stitching units to help make protective and hygiene gear for the tea industry and hospital requirements.
The government lockdown had us concerned that all families would have sufficient food. An initiative was started to provide food and essential goods to families living on the Estates. Avantika’s team has organized distribution that followed COVID-10 precautions and protocols.
Post-COVID, we envision maintaining this structure as a community store for better access to food and essential items within the tea gardens. It would run like a co-op, where community members can open a shop. It would be a tremendous convenience to the community and would also provide additional income to residents.
Social distance circles have been created at different points in the garden. Anywhere people are weighing leaves, collecting ration, returning instruments, or washing their hands, they queue up six feet distance.
Tea fields themselves offer exemplary social distancing. But our Readiness Team wanted to make sure that hygiene was readily available before and after. Water stations were set up for easy access on the way into and exiting the fields. Social distance circles were added to remind people not to rush and congregate at the trucks. The hygiene truck moves from lot to lot where pluckers are working to sanitize their hands before plucking.
Social distance circles are drawn before the hand wash truck arrives
When the India Government put the entire country into lockdown, we decided to assess our own situation. That meant identifying any risks we had and treating them. Then preventing any new risks from entering the Estate.
The Readiness Team House-to-House Survey
We organized a comprehensive house-to-house survey to identify residents who were not at home and visitors who would have to leave. We checked for anyone with flu-like symptoms so we could test them or offer them quarantine quarters we had established.
We made a list of everyone over the age of 50 so we could monitor them more closely in case they needed help or medical attention. We now repeat the survey every week to monitor our health during this period when Gardens are running, but the country is still under lockdown as a precautionary measure.
The Readiness Team created the Garden Team who monitor all access to the estates, to make sure we are ‘sealed’, and the virus is not coming in from outside. Anyone who enters or leaves the Estate is accounted for. We have passes issued for volunteers who go out to buy and deliver essentials for folks needing additional support.
The Garden Team disinfects common areas regularly.
We had to make the entire community aware of the risk of the virus and the reasons for our safety precautions. It is only with total support that we can keep the community and the tea safe for everyone.
Many people do not realize that Chota Tingrai has its own hospital. It is staffed with physicians and clinicians to treat our populace with whatever may afflict them. We have added a Quarantine House to isolate anyone testing positive or showing symptoms of the condition.
It is because the Tea Workers have all pulled together to protect themselves from the coronavirus that we can remain open and confidently begin processing the second flush. Our tea leaves are vacuum sealed on the estate for both freshness and safety. It is a promise we make both to you and your customers.