Chapter 12: Who Can Be a Steward? by Dietrich Bouma

An illustrated companion to Chapter 12 of Beyond Stewardship: New Approaches to Creation Care. To view main webpage, click here:

"The majestic ascent and orderly tea-covered landscape of southwestern India is mesmerizing. But the laborers are what end up capturing my attention on each visit to Valparai. Harvesting tea requires human power, and the engine of Indian tea plantations is poor Indian workers."
The tea plantation in Valparai, with the jungle in the background. Photo © Dakota Mork, http://dakotamorkphotography.com/
"In the early morning, they leave their small, estate-owned shacks and gather at the entrance to the estate-provided compound. They load into estate-owned vehicles that will carry them to the fields.... A tea laborer's life is given to the plantation."
Tea laborers in Valparai. Photos © Dakota Mork, http://dakotamorkphotography.com/
"Society doesn’t enable tea laborers to live out their calling to care for the earth. They work land not managed by them. They live on land and in shacks not owned by them. They eat few foods that they grow themselves. They purchase food from a store with few options stocked by their employer. They lack the ability to vote for people to represent their interests. They live in one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, yet they have been stripped of their ability to care for the land, water, and creatures around them."
Tea plantations exist in the midst of extremely biodiverse jungles. Photos © Dakota Mork, http://dakotamorkphotography.com/

Tea laborers face many difficulties, such as low wages and lack of land ownership. To learn more, read the following articles:

"The workers in Valparai reveal that passion, knowledge, and skills are not enough. The plantation laborers are knowledgeable, skilled, and thoughtful caretakers... [Yet] They require agency. Without agency, their passion, knowledge, and skills have nowhere to go."
"[Christian Environmental Stewardship] implicitly assumes that individuals have control of a piece of creation. It assumes that individuals can exercise their personal responsibility. ...CES does not fully appreciate the social relationships and power dynamics that mediate humanity’s relationship with the nonhuman creation."
The tea laborers of Valparai have no agency to care for the diverse creation surrounding them. Photos © Dakota Mork, http://dakotamorkphotography.com/
"Social forces (economic, political, sociological, or psychological) often prevent people from participating in caring for our earthly commons."

To read Dorceta E. Taylor's report on diversity in environmental organizations, click the following link:

"I have often asked myself, “Who is sitting at the (boardroom, staff, community meeting) table?” when a specific environmental issue arises. The answer indicates who has agency."
"One way we can care for one another is to pay attention to who has agency and who does not in environmental decision-making. Who controls financial and environmental resources? How are resources distributed? How are decisions made? Whose preferences count? Once we understand these power dynamics, Christians should find ways to relink disempowered people to commons caretaking. Those who have agency should identify, involve, listen to, and strengthen those who don’t."

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