Child care services at tea plantations - a win for everyone
How a tea plantation-based ECD centre is improving the health and wellbeing of tea pluckers’ children and enabling the company and plucker’s increased productivity as a result
NYABIHU, RWANDA – The lush green tea leaves shine one last time against the sun before it sets behind the beautiful hills of Nyabihu and shadows engulf the vast lands. 42-year-old Rukiramacumu, a tea plucker in the Nyabihu Tea Plantation artistically plucks tea leaves with his fingers and tosses them into a handmade basket hung on his back, with finesse. Unknown to most, there is a certain art required when plucking tea, which must be adhered to for the best results. Rukiramacumu is quick at his work but he must leave soon. His two-year-old son Kevin is waiting for him at Zamura Icyizere, an Early Childhood Development (ECD) center located within walking distance from the tea plantation.
Even though it’s getting late, Rukiramacumu isn’t worried. He knows his son is safe and well taken care of at the ECD Center by trained caregivers and staff. He also knows his son will be fed, kept warm, and will learn new songs, poems, and how to count while his parents are out working in the tea plantations. However, this wasn’t always the case.
“We used to come to work with our children because before we had no one to take care of them at home. It was tough and stressful for us and for them as some days they would even get drenched in the rain while their mothers were plucking tea.”
He adds that before the ECD center was established, children were malnourished as parents did not have time nor knowledge of how to prepare healthy meals for their young ones.
However, with the construction of the ECD center by the company that owns Nyabihu Tea Factory, life has transformed completely for parents of young children like Rukiramacumu.
“We have benefitted from the ECD centre immensely; our children are being taken care of and we can focus on our work without worrying about their safety and welfare.”
Haramorimana Yelin is a mother of two young children. Before the ECD center was established, she would pluck tea for a limited number of hours during the day because she had to rush home and take care of her hungry and often unattended children. There were days when she barely plucked any tea and that meant taking home a lower daily wage. “Sometimes I would only pluck between 20 and 30 kilogrammes per day, but with the ECD center in place, today I can pluck up to 45 kilogrammes. I have become more productive now.” Thanks to the ECD center, Yelin can pluck more and therefore earn more.
“Sometimes I would only pluck between 20 and 30 kilogrammes per day, but with the ECD center in place, today I can pluck up to 45 kilogrammes. I have become more productive now.”
The Zamura Icyizere (translated as ‘raising hope’) Nyabihu Early Childhood Development Center caters to 49 children, 23 boys and 26 girls, aged from six months to six years. Ms. Toyota Grace, the ECD Manager at the center says that that the center has helped improve the nutrition and school readiness of children; “When we opened two years ago, some of the children enrolled were malnourished and stunted, as of today, we are delighted to report that we have no such cases anymore. Also, when our children go to primary school, they perform highly, they are always among the top 5 in class.”
To date, 16 tea companies in Western Rwanda have set up child-friendly spaces, and others have taken note of the viability of investing in employer-supported childcare. Nearly 2,000 children aged between six months to six years benefit from them every day.
This investment in children by private companies has been a success story in Rwanda, but one that was marred with challenges and reluctance in the initial years. UNICEF in partnership with the National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB) went knocking on each tea company’s doors, advocating for investments in childcare and family-friendly policies. Some companies like Nyabihu Tea Company saw the value of investing in in its employees as an investment for profit, while other companies needed more convincing and institutional mind shifts before they decided to invest. And when they did, they all benefitted.
A recent Business Case released by UNICEF, NAEB, and UK Aid reveals that companies can earn as much as $34,000 per year from investing in ECD centers. With employer-supported childcare in place, parents of young children like Rukiramacumu and Yelin can spend more time in the field, thereby plucking more tea, which in turn translates to increased production by the tea company and subsequently more sales by the company in the international markets – all of this resulting in more profits. It also means less attrition of trained pluckers, improved company-community relations, increased productivity and enhanced corporate reputation for the company. For the family, this means more income and therefore more investment in the health and wellbeing of children. It is a win-win for all stakeholders.
Thushara Pindiya, the Director-General of Nyabihu Tea Factory summarises the investment by the private sector aptly, “With a small investment, we are able to increase the profits of the company while taking care of our employees. While this started off as a philanthropic idea, I have realised in these years that investing in ECD Centres, investing in your own workforce, investing in the families, the children of your workforce is an investment in business. It should not be seen as a one-off CSR initiative rather this is like other investments that we make in technology, machinery, infrastructure, and other enabling factors. Similarly, if we can invest in the biggest asset of our companies, our employees, and their children, then we will see a tangible increase in profits of the company.”
About the Business Case for Employer Supported Childcare
The critical role childcare plays in unlocking women’s productivity, children’s potential and national development has garnered increasing cross-sector attention in recent years. For industries like tea, where the majority of critical agricultural pluckers are female, providing childcare services to workers goes far beyond a corporate social responsibility optics endeavour, to making a
seminal difference in a company’s bottom line.
It is along these lines that UNICEF in partnership with National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB) and UK Aid has released a report demonstrating the business case for investing in employer-supported childcare.
The report highlights key lessons from the tea sector and provides recommendations for scale and sustainability. The report is also meant to encourage the private sector in Rwanda - particularly companies with many employees of reproductive age - to invest in employer-supported childcare.
Read the Business Case here