Tea trailblazer

Tea Farm
Sebastian Villan left school to work temporary jobs in the Argentinian countryside, before joining Casa Fuentes-Finlays as a tea farm Field Assistant. Now a Health and Safety Analyst for Casa Fuentes-Finlays, Villan describes his inspiring journey back into education.
Sebastian Villan

Can you tell us about your childhood and family?

I spent my childhood in San Ignacio, a town in the province of Misiones in Argentina. I was one of ten children and we lived in a house surrounded by fields and forests that belonged to my father's employer. My father was a rural worker and my mother was a housewife. My childhood was quite different from my schoolmates: helping with household chores, feeding our animals and going with my mother to wash clothes in the stream. We grew up in humble conditions but were raised with values such as respect and honesty.

How did you come to work at a tea farm?

I grew up in the countryside and was used to working on the land. As children, my brothers and I helped plant yerba mate [a local plant that is steeped in hot water to make a beverage ] in order to make some extra money. At the age of 13 I started working as a rural assistant, helping with fruit trees, which led me to eventually drop out of high school. Over time, I realised that casual jobs were not enough to make a living, so in February 2005, I started working in the Argente Tea Field, one of the tea farms owned by Casa Fuentes- Finlays, Argentina’s largest tea producer. My job involved planting tea, cleaning and carrying heavy leaf bags to the lorry. I was promoted to Field Assistant to help management with organizing and controlling tasks, which was a great experience.

When did you first consider studying to become an Advanced Technician in Health and Safety?

The company started a Rainforest Alliance Certification project and some professionals came to inspect us. They taught my team better ways to carry out our work through procedures related to health and safety. This interested me greatly. In February 2016, I discovered a technical education institute 20km from my home, which offered courses to qualify as a Health & Safety Technician and I decided to learn more. It wasn't easy. One day, after work, I visited this institute to enrol, but had to wait for several hours. Eventually my persistence paid off. I had an interview with the principal of the institute, I told her about my situation and my desire for personal improvement and was accepted on the course.
Everything is possible if you want to achieve it.

How did your employer support you in your studies?

The day I enrolled in the institute, I knew that working in the tea fields and studying at the same time would require an enormous effort that could take up many hours of my day. Fortunately, my bosses were always very understanding. Every day at five o'clock in the morning I left home to take the bus to work, where I took advantage on my breaks to study, or finish some practical work.

During the last year of my studies, I completed a professional internship at Argente, focusing on health and safety on the farms. I needed this final stage of my studies in order to complete my degree. I was lucky to have the unconditional support of the Human Resources Department, the Safety & Health Department and the Managing Director of Casa Fuentes-Finlays during this time. On 2nd August 2019, I graduated as Superior Technician in Health & Safety.

How did this impact your career at Finlays?

Casa Fuentes-Finlays opened the doors for me to develop professionally and then recognised my studies by offering me a job as a Health & Safety Analyst, which I accepted. After one year on this new path in my life, I still wake up every day and learn new things. I learn so much from my colleagues, who reciprocate with their humility and commitment to reinforcing the culture of safe work.

How have your studies and your career advancement shaped you as a person? What are your future goals?

For three years, I had to learn to balance work, study and family and this was exhausting. At the end of the working day, I would be attending classes until 10 o'clock at night. Sometimes the fatigue was overwhelming, but with the support of my family and my employer I was able to achieve my goal. The day I graduated was one of the best days of my life, because I had proved to myself and to others that life is about not giving up. That you have no excuses. My next goal is to continue my training to earn a bachelor's degree in Health & Safety. I am sure it will not be easy, but my experience proves that everything is possible if you want to achieve it.

Bush to cup

Finlays is a major supplier of tea, coffee and other natural ingredients to the global beverage industry and, in particular, is one of the world’s leading growers and producers of tea, with significant investments in Kenya, Sri Lanka, Argentina and China. Being vertically-integrated means Finlays has control over the entire supply chain, so consumers can be 100% confident the tea they drink is sustainably sourced and cared for all way from the tea bush to the teacup. Below, we follow one such journey, from the tea fields of Kenya all the way to the UK, and find out what it takes to make a perfect British "cuppa" of Finlays tea.

In Kericho, Kenya, a Finlays tea picker plucks the top two leaves and a bud from a tea bush.
In Kericho, Kenya, a Finlays tea picker plucks the top two leaves and a bud from a tea bush.
After careful sorting, only the best leaves reach the processing plant via a sustainable ropeway.
After careful sorting, only the best leaves reach the processing plant via a sustainable ropeway.
At the factory, tea leaves are expertly processed to capture their wonderful characteristics of colour and flavour.
At the factory, tea leaves are expertly processed to capture their wonderful characteristics of colour and flavour.
After being packed in foil-lined sacks to preserve quality and freshness, the tea travels by sea, road and rail.
After being packed in foil-lined sacks to preserve quality and freshness, the tea travels by sea, road and rail.
The tea is tasted no fewer than seven times throughout its bush to cup journey and master blenders create delicious blends to suit customers’ specifications.
The tea is tasted no fewer than seven times throughout its bush to cup journey and master blenders create delicious blends to suit customers' specifications.
After rigorous quality checks, the tea is packed on a high-speed packing line. Finlays’ facility in Yorkshire packs over 12 million kg of tea a year.
After rigorous quality checks, the tea is packed on a high-speed packing line. Finlays' facility in Yorkshire packs over 12 million kg of tea a year.
Packed in customers’ own branded packaging, the tea arrives on the shelves of supermarkets across the UK.
Packed in customers' own branded packaging, the tea arrives on the shelves of supermarkets across the UK.
The perfect cup of tea: a delicious blend of hard work, dedication and skill.
The perfect cup of tea: a delicious blend of hard work, dedication and skill.
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