In India, thousands of women, men and children slave away in brick yards. Common to almost all brick yards is the use of violence, explicit or implicit. Women and girls, however, are profoundly affected. Many girls and young women are raped, many families are held as virtual slaves, and those who survive often struggle to overcome poor health, illiteracy and poverty.
Children of brick kiln workers prepare to help load bricks onto a lorry
This is a story of a small, remote village called Barbaspur, in Pindra block of Varanasi. It is about 4 kms north of the main local market called Garthama. Brick yards with tall chimneys where the bricks are baked are scattered across the landscape. India is the second largest brick producing nation in the world with an annual production of 100 billion bricks.
Throughout India many families are working against a debt owed to the brick kiln owner. The brick making work is of seasonal nature, 120-180 days a year. Since they have no other skill and are landless, the laborers usually remain idle during the rainy season. This compels them to ask for further loans, putting them even deeper in debt. This idleness during the rainy season is the single most important factor responsible for the rise of debt year after year. Furthermore, in case of prolonged illness due to illness, they have to beg the owners for fresh loans. This adds to their existing burden. Marriages and deaths are other occasions that call for extra expenditure and compels the workers to ask for loans. As the debt builds up, the families lose more and more of their freedom. These debts pose a special danger to their children who must work to help pay off their parent’s debt and thus the cycle of poverty is repeated.
What it’s like being a brick worker?
The brick workers get up early in the morning, generally before sunrise. Their shift at the brick yard is usually 12 hours. They have no choice but to take their children along to the site. Children watch their parents laboring out in the hot sun. Owners or parents often persuade children to work along with their parents and lend a helping hand. Though allowance given to workers greatly varies, average allowance is anywhere in the range of 100 to 150 rupees weekly. With such a meager income, they can never dream of educating their children nor hope for a better future.Being unable to pay back their debts, they are compelled to let their children continue to serve in the brick yard.
Solution – A New Education Center
The situation in Barbaspur village is no different than one described above. Rev. OnkarNath, a visionary Pastorwho lives in Pindra sub-district and serves the Lord through his organization called, Young with a Fire, the plight of these brick workers was too much to bear. His heart is moved whenever he sees the lives of these people on occasional visits to the brick yards of the area. He was convinced he had to do something to break this generational bondage by meeting the unmet educational needs of these children. He had a vision and burden to combat abusive child labor with focus on educating them. He believes both formal and non-formal education will bring children knowledge, self-confidence, practical skills and hope for a better future.
Rural government schools offer sub-standard education, besides being miles apart. Private schools are few, and with the high cost of tuition fees, entirely unreachable for brick kiln families. That’s when with the launch of a new Rural Education Center by TellAsia Ministries at Barbaspur village, Rev. Onkar realized his vision. This Rural Education Center was launched Wednesday, May 21, 2014 especially to cater to children of brick workers.
Pratima, the teacher, lives in an adjacent village not far from the education center, about 1.5 kms away. Each day she travels to the center by bicycle, visiting some of the enrolled students’ homes along the way and encourages them to come to the center.
Pratima teaching at the new education center
Pratima is pursuing her final year of college as a Science major. When she was a child, she didn’t want to grow up illiterate like so many village children and wanted desperately to study. But because of poverty, her parents were unable to afford a good education for her, and her passion soon died out. TellAsia Ministries helped her to complete high school and is now assisting her to pursue further studies. Because she had been through financial hardships herself, she had a passion to teach similar underprivileged children.
The rural education center currently has 30 kids enrolled who are taught using a plastic roll-up black board and chalk. The children sit out in the open on a large plastic sheet on the mud floor. Each day, the plastic sheet is taken out for use and then folded and kept back in someone’s home. Each enrolled student is provided with a graphite slate to write on, some notebooks and pencils. With the current number of kids enrolled at the center, we plan to teach them basic reading, writing (simple sentences) and math skills during the first year of their enrollment. In addition to this, we plan to teach them health, nutrition, hygiene and sanitation. Children will also be taught stories from the Bible and learn interactive action songs. The ultimate aim is to start a small house-based church among the brick workers and owners. Through the house-based church many will come to know the Lord.
Rev. OnkarNath inaugurates the Rural Education Center in Barbaspur village
The new Educational Center was inaugurated by OnkarNath and Shivpal Sharma on May 21, 2014 with prayers and cutting the ribbon, symbolizing the beginning of a new era in the lives of these children. Rev. Onkar explained to the children how important it is to become able to read and write and do math. He challenged them to study hard, come up out of poverty and contribute towards the uplifting of their community.
Children learn their alphabets
We wish to thank Eli Pyke for supporting this education center with his generous gifts and prayers. This is a small yet significant beginning for these children. We believe with this effort we can stir passion in the hearts of these children and provide them necessary foundational skills to give them a brighter future in which they will not have to slave in brick yards. Through what we will teach them, they will have a chance to come out of poverty that has chained their ancestors for centuries. With the success of this venture and availability of more funds in the future, we would like to continue to impact the lives of many more children like these and their communities.
~ Article by Maneesh, Office Coordinator, Varanasi