As we began our journey into the mountains of Munnar, I was awe struck by the beauty of it all. As far as the eye could see there were rolling hills covered in tea plantations. In a valley between some of the plantations was the Shristi initiative, a program funded by Tata Global Beverages that provides schooling and skill development for the differently-abled children of the local tea plantation workers. The initiative had four different units where differently-abled people were able to work in and make an income. There was a strawberry preserve unit, bakery, paper product plant, and natural dyes lab. Through selling their products, Shristi hopes to become self-sufficient as they don’t always want to depend on funding to stay open. To achieve this goal they hope to expand into online sales so their customer pool will increase.
Shristi was very interesting to me as it catered to a vastly unrepresented population, and empowered them to become productive members of society. Many teachers remarked that prior to this program students and workers were left alone in their family home all day, but now they were given the opportunity to become educated, gain skills, and socialize in a supportive environment which I feel is hugely important. Also, I enjoyed that the program had a long term plan to become independent from its current funding because often initiatives like these can lose funding over time and be forced to close down, but with the profits from their products Shrist can avoid that fate.
On another note, when coming into Munnar, people around me people were remarking on how it was a biodiversity hotspot. But over the course of our long drive through the mountain range I saw mainly tea plants and when there were forests, they were filled with nonnative plants like eucalyptus, which obviously serves a threat to the native plant populations. While it seems there are conservation efforts here, I am curious on the efforts beyond protecting land from being developed into ag land as the native plants can still be overtaken by the many non-natives in the area.