Forty miles south of New Delhi, on the outskirts of the town of Hathin in Mewat district, several brick kilns are firing up again after the four-month rest period during monsoon. The thousands of migrant laborers, and their children, who come to work in Mewat’s brick kilns are poor, landless, illiterate and often members of scheduled castes and tribes. Although there are local educational government benefits for children of the lowest socio-economic castes, migrant laborers’ children are excluded from these benefits because of their migrant status. Educational Scholarships to Child Laborers works to extend those benefits to migrant children and provide them with safe transportation to and from school across several miles of heavily lorry trafficked roads – those who have experienced the roads in India firsthand know exactly how dangerous and frightening these roads can be.
Meet Kamlesh, and three of her children: Sushil, Laxmi, and the youngest, Priya. Kamlesh married a man from Delhi and they now have eight children. Their eldest son, now 26, works as a farm laborer and their eldest daughter, who studied until 3rd grade, is now married. Affording the costs of keeping their children in school has always been a great challenge for Kamlesh and her husband. All of Sushil’s older siblings stopped studying to labor in the brick kilns so they could supplement the family’s income.
Kamlesh says that affording schoolbooks, uniforms or shoes was not the only challenge. On top of that, walking to school from the brick kiln is extremely unsafe. She has already lost a son in a road accident.
In 2009, when Lotus Outreach began a transport system for the children of families laboring in the brick kilns, Kamlesh enrolled Sushil in 1st grade straight away. A year later, Kamlesh enrolled Laxmi who joined her brother’s class. Motivated by her siblings, Priya, the youngest, insisted her mother enroll her as well and she entered the school in 2012. Now all three siblings are excelling in their studies! According to their teachers at Bhanguri school in Hathin, they are all very diligent, active and intelligent.
With her heart set, Kamlesh says, “I am so happy my children are in school and I hope Sushil’s education will get him work as a clerk instead of as a laborer in the brick kiln. If my daughter can study up to at least the 10th grade, I’m sure she can marry into a decent family. Then she can live with dignity and will not be forced to work at a brick kiln from dawn till midnight.” Kamlesh expresses how appreciative she is of the teachers for imparting a good education and ethical values onto her children. She notes that her children’s behavior has changed and now they even ask their parents to behave and speak thoughtfully with everyone at the brick kilns!
This October, there are already 29 new children from the brick kilns enrolled at Bhanguri School. As more and more families arrive through the end of the month, at least 100 additional children will enroll, effectively bringing the total number of supported children to over 500. The story of Sushil and his two younger siblings demonstrates that even a small intervention, as simple as a ride to school, has the potential to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty.
With your generous donation, we can continue to bring the gift of education to these children, so that they can grow into capable, compassionate, and educated young adults in the years ahead.
We visited Bhanguri Primary School in the Hathin block of Mewat, Haryana this past week, and met with 26 of the children enrolled in school through the Child Laborer Scholarship program. In addition to receiving basic school supplies and enrollment assistance, these children are picked up each morning at 7:00 am via a school bus supported by the program. The bus visits three brick kilns in the vicinity of Mathura, a holy city with a written history stretching back for millennia, to ensure these children can safely get to and from school each day.
At first glance, the fact that nearly 60% of Bhanguri’s pupils are girls surprised us. After digging a bit deeper, however, we discovered that many of the local boys had instead been enrolled in nearby private institutions, while their sisters were left with inferior education in Mewat’s dismal public facilities. Improving the decrepit infrastructure and poor teaching quality notorious in Mewat’s public schools is one of the main goals of the Child Laborer Scholarship program’s sister project in the region, LEARN.
There is a silver lining to this story, however. Through LEARN, we believe we have begun facilitating a sea change in Mewat, evidenced by the fact that thousands of girls have entered upper-secondary school over the past few years. Further, many of these bright young women will go down in history as the first females in their villages to graduate high school.
We entered the school just as the teachers were sitting down to lunch after serving the children midday meal, one of the many incentives promised to public school children by India’s landmark Right to Education Act of 2009. The next class was to be mathematics, and we had a few minutes to sit down with some of the children before the class started.
We asked one of the girls, Sukhi, her name and age. While she shared her name, she laughed while telling us she didn’t know her age (we later met her parents and they told us she was 10). “I’ve been coming to school here for four years and attending regularly for three,” Sukhi shares. “Altogether we are four siblings attending school, myself in grade 4, my two younger sisters Madina (9, grade 3) and Nitha (6, grade 1), and my elder brother Firoz (12, grade 5).” Sukhi tells us she likes studying but is not able to tell us how long she would like to remain in school. Her brother Firoz is more forthcoming, “I would like to complete year 12 and become a teacher. We have a high school near enough to my village so I can do that.”
It’s very satisfying that since the project launched in 2009, we’ve been able to keep more than a thousand children of migrant laborers in school and often out of the hazardous labor conditions of Mewat’s brick kilns. Further, because of the positive habits developed as a result of the program, many families will keep their children in school even after they return home following the brick-making work season.
We left the school and headed for the brick kiln to meet the parents of Sukhi and the other brick kilns kids. A three km drive and some seriously dusty roads later, we arrived at the kiln. There was heavy grey smoke of sump oil, wood, and coal billowing from the 50 metre high smoke stack, the icon that marks brick kilns across India. A few families were gathered waiting for us around a couple of charpoy beds, with several bleating goats as company.
Sukhi and Firoz (and parents Gufir and Karina) were there along with an aunt and uncle and some other workers. Gufir and Karina have six children, four of them going to school on the brick kilns bus. Their entire family stays at the kiln year-round and the oldest daughter, 15 year-old Shabana, offers a stark contrast to her siblings and other girls that have been given better opportunities. Shabana tells us, “There was no education in the primary school in my home village. Children only attended for the midday meal and didn’t learn anything from the teachers who just let them play. Because of this, I dropped school and began working as a laborer from an early age. By the time we arrived at Mewat and learned of the scholarship program, I was too old to enter primary school.”
We asked the parents about community attitudes toward education both in their villages and in Indian society more broadly. Shabana’s Aunt Mumina tells us, “we have a good primary school in our village and a high school within a few kms so my daughter (Shabana’s first cousin) completed up to grade 12 while married, and is now looking to take up tertiary studies. There are now many girls and boys completing grade 12 our home villages.”
We can conclude attitudes toward education, especially of girls, in communities of largely illiterate laborers and farmers are indeed changing for the better. We can also deduce from Shabana’s case that a lack of opportunity--and not simply lack of awareness--can destroy the future of any child. Public schools must be functional and create an atmosphere that engages and encourages first generation learners.
It is important to see the big picture, and Shabana is just one of millions of children across India whose potential has been thrown against a wall. The Child Laborer Scholarship and LEARN programs are designed to change that, and we thank you for becoming a stakeholder in these children’s futures.
With your generous support, Lotus Outreach was able to provide educational scholarships to 250 children living and working in Mewat, Haryana’s brick kilns from July-December 2012. In addition to providing enrollment assistance and daily bus service to ensure the children safely reach school each day, the program provided the young students with school bags, stationery, and sweaters to keep them warm during the chill of winter.Local teachers tell us that kids from the brick kilns are more dedicated learners and have better attendance and grades than other children from the community, a surprising outcome given the fact that they are all first generation learners. There is little question that without the scholarship support, these children would never have been given the opportunity to attend school and would have been destined for a life of subsistence labor like their parents.Though many children attend schools in their home villages when the brick factories shut down from July-September for the monsoon season, approximately 8% of migrant families have elected to stay in Mewat for the sole reason of ensuring their children’s education is not interrupted during the school year. These parents always show their gratitude for the continued materials and bus service and tell us how are happy they are that their children are able to continue attending school while away from their home villages.Lotus Outreach recently learned that the Haryana government has identified 152 brick kilns in Rohtak district housing an additional 3,329 out-of-school children. Through our LEARN project, we have been pressuring the government to adopt our scholarship and transportation model to encourage these children to enroll in school.We thank you for donating to the Child Laborer Scholarships project and we look forward to keeping you updated on the program’s progress in the months and years ahead.
The monsoon season is coming to a close in India, and poor migrant families from neighboring states have started their long treks in search of work in Mewat’s many brick kilns. Just these past few weeks, the Child Laborers Scholarship project has successfully enrolled 150 new arrivals into the program, the vast majority of whom will be attending school for the first time in their lives. This brings the total number of children currently being served by the program up to 248, with figures expected to rise in the months ahead.Twelve year-old Muskan is one it these new students. Her family is landless and uneducated, with little economic opportunity in their home village. Though Muskan had never attended a day of school in her life, she longed for the opportunity to become educated and courageously lobbied her parents to allow her to join the program. Her parents initially ignored her pleas, arguing that they depend on her brick-making to help feed the family. Like many Indian families—particularly given the recent epidemic of high profile rape cases—Muskan’s parents are also fearful of what might happen to her if she is alone in a public place. Lotus Outreach and the owner of the brick kiln not only informed Muskan’s parents of the punishments they could face for violating India’s child labor laws, but assured them that Lotus Outreach is a well-established and respected organization in Mewat, and Muskan would be perfectly safe riding the bus with her peers. In fact, Lotus Outreach spent a considerable amount of time talking to the families at all Mewat’s brick kilns about India’s 2009 Right to Education Act which guarantees free and compulsory education to all children between the ages of 6 and 14, regardless of their caste, age, state of origin or the time of year. For many of these families, these information sharing sessions are the first time that they will come to understand education as both a basic right and an essential catalyst for human development.Muskan will be the first child in the history of her family to attend school, and her 28 year-old brother Sunil shares her pride in knowing that she will have a better future once educated—something he unfortunately was never given a chance at. Twenty-two year-old Priti is likewise happy that her little brother, eight year-old Satish, will be given an opportunity denied to her. “I feel bad when I see girls of my age working as teachers while I spend 18 hours every day making bricks for only a small wage,” she shares. “But I am very happy to have at least someone in my family who will be able to attend school.” Both cases demonstrate that even a small intervention has the potential to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty. For Muskan and Satish, the annual cost of basic supplies and a ride to and from school is just $60 a year.We thank you for helping Lotus Outreach bring the gift of education to these children, and we look forward to watching them grow into capable, compassionate and educated young adults in the years ahead.
Ten year-old Munni’s story is typical of the hundreds of children that benefit from the Education Scholarships for Child Laborers project in rural Haryana, India. Last October, Munni migrated with her parents and two siblings to Mewat’s brick kilns from West Bengal, a poor state in eastern India. Before coming into contact with the program, she and her 11 year-old brother Raju worked long days alongside their parents in Mewat’s brick kilns—often as late as 11PM. Poor and landless, the family has only shallow roots in their home village. When we asked Munni where she was from, she didn’t even know the name of her village and shrugged, “Bengal?”Last fall, Raju and Munni took notice of the other children from the brick factory compound that were riding to school each day instead of working. Though they pleaded with their parents to join the bus and enroll in school, the parents declined. With Raju and Munni’s little sister too young to help meet the family’s brick quotas, their parents felt the family wouldn’t be able to earn enough money to survive without Raju and Munni’s labor.After nearly a year of pleading, and with both encouragement and warnings from Lotus Outreach field staff (it is illegal for children under 14 to work in India), Munni’s parents finally relented. Reassured that transportation, supplies, lessons and meals would all be provided for free, they began to see the value of enrolling the children in school, as well as the legal risks in not doing so.As a result of your support, Munni and Raju are now going to school every day and have near perfect attendance. Munni is a bit behind the curve and cannot read or write properly yet, but expresses a commitment to getting better and is particularly enthusiastic about the prospect of learning English in school—something she never fathomed back in her home village in West Bengal. Though struggling with her studies and the local language, Munni appears to be a quick learner and has the support and commitment of her teachers.Munni is still young, but is already dreaming big. Her goal is to graduate high school one day and ultimately do something about other children who have to work in brick kilns. From her experience, she learned that it is far better for kids to be in school, and she does not want others to have to suffer the same fate as she has.Thank you for giving Munni and her peers hope for a brighter future!
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