The sweltering district of Mewat, India has 30 active brick kilns. Thousands of men, women and children labor here in conditions of indentured servitude every year. During the rainy season the kilns shut down, and most of the peoople migrate to other areas to find what work they can to provide for their families.
Sushil is one of the 28 students from the kilns who have stayed back with their families to continue schooling during the rainy season. None of these students was ever expecting schooling when their parents came to brick kilns from about one thousand kilometers away. Children like Sushil help their parents by working at the kilns, earning just a few extra cents a day.
Lotus Outreach’s Educational Scholarships for Child Laborers has made it possible for these children to stop working and attend school, despite the difficult conditions of their parents’ social caste. Because of the transportation, tuition support and school supplies provided by this program, 250 students annually are receiving perhaps their families’ first chance at a public education.
Now during the summer, the number of students is waning, to pick up again after the season has ended. A new change in Indian law, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA), has created an employment opportunity which is fortunately giving families a chance to escape the slave-like conditions of the kilns. Under MNREGA, every rural person has the right to 100 days of employment and good wages working in their own home villages. We are expecting fewer people to return to the kilns after the summer.
Unfortunately, many families remain caught in an endless cycle of poverty and slave labor. Their children are employed as young as age 5, turning over bricks to dry them in the torrid climate. As they migrate frequently to find work, it is not possible to keep their children consistently enrolled in a school, and they therefore remain intergenerationally illiterate and impoverished.
Lotus Outreach is changing all this though, and the 28 students remaining behind for the rainy season is a testament to the families’ understanding that education is paramount to their liberation from poverty. For those families that are able, we create an opportunity to keep their children continuously educated.
Now our students are becoming the first literate people in their families, and with the skills they learn from a primary education will help to liberate their families from the bondage of their caste.
Thank you for supporting the Scholarships for Child Laborers program! Just $20 is enough to cover a student’s fees for the whole year. Please donate today!
IN THE SWELTERING HEAT OF THE INDIAN SUN, brick kiln workers stand ragged, knee-deep in water, bent over and hacking out clay bricks from wet mud. Nearby, kindergarten-age children break apart coal lumps to be loaded into impossibly hot clay kilns. None of the conditions are legal, but they are the status quo for millions of workers indentured to labor almost as slaves.
Kamlesh is the mother of eight children working at such a facility in Hathin, Haryana. Living and working at a brick kiln has not afforded Kamlesh’s family the ability to send their children to school. As a result, her oldest children are mostly uneducated, and will likely repeat the same path of servitude which their parents were forced to pursue. Such is the cycle of poverty.
Lotus Outreach is working to break the cycle of poverty by facilitating the education of hundreds of children of laborers each year! Our students receive a free school uniform, school bags, books, stationery, a free lunch, and safe bus transportation to their local school.
Transportation, Kamlesh tells us, was the main reason why her eldest children were unable to continue in education. Living at the brick kiln in a shack, the family was much too far from the district school, and the roads on which children must walk to get to school are full of peril. Huge trucks tear down the dirt roads, killing dozens of pedestrians each year. One crash last year killed 30 brick kiln workers, 12 of which were children, when the truck tore into the 2 minivans into which they were packed.
Kamlesh’s own first born son was killed in a road accident. Even if just transportation were not an issue, education would still be far out of reach. The cost of uniforms, materials, food, and the opportunity-cost of losing the pittance of income generated by their children’s labor makes so many families choose not to continue their children in school.
The supportive services of Lotus Outreach are changing all of that! Kamlesh’s three youngest children, two daughters and a son are now enrolled in primary school. She says, “I hope that my son can become a clerk and that my daughters will marry into a decent family, and not have to work from dawn until midnight at the kiln.”
Your donation can emancipate these children from a lifetime of hard labor! Just $40 covers the cost of safe, bus transportation for a student for the entire year!
So far in this year we have 100 students enrolled and receiving scholarships and support. Some 30 families have already committed to stay in the area through the monsoon season, forgoing the meager temptation of more work in the south so that their children can remain consistently in school and receive the full benefit of the program. This choice would be impossible without the support this vital program.
In 2013 we provided services to 250 brick kiln kids, busing them to the schools, supporting them with materials and even extra tutoring, and persuading their migrant families to remain in one place so their children can pursue education. Escape from poverty without literacy, without basic numeracy is all but impossible. With your support we are paving the way for the next generation to succeed.
First of all, we would like to say thank you for all your support in helping Lotus Outreach provide scholarships and a better future for the child laborers in Mewat, India. We are breaking a trend of children dropping out of school and joining their parents on a lifetime of grueling, unhealthy work at the brick kilns in rural India.
Since the program started in 2008, every year we have been able to successfully enroll and support more than 200 kids. As seen in the table below, overall there has been a decrease in the number of children supported by the program. This is a reflection of a decrease in the number of migrant labors coming to work in Mewat’s brick kilns because of improving conditions and labor opportunities in their home states. We have good reasons to be hopeful that those parents who remained in their home states, and whose children have been through our program, are carrying on their commitment to their children’s education and making sure they complete their studies. One of the principle components of the scholarship program is education advocacy - encouraging parents to be supportive as possible in their child’s education as a means to ensure a better future for them. A study by Poverty Action Lab at MIT has shown that giving parents information on the benefits of education, such as higher wages earned by graduates, is the most cost effective approach to increasing children’s school years: for every U$100 spent in advocating for education there are 20 added years of student participation in return.
It’s been very reassuring for us that teachers from schools attended by children of brick kiln labors have been very supportive in making sure that the children get a proper education. Echoing the sentiment of his colleagues, teacher Rajinder Anand tells us, “These children are more sincere and regular in classes. And they are better learners than the average village child.”
Most of the children are able to attend school in their native villages during the monsoon months only because the scholarship program helps them attend school in Mewat through the rest of the year. Through the years we have seen that these migrant laborers would not be able to send their children to Mewat’s local schools or for that matter to their native village schools without the program’s support. Even more encouraging, one tenth of parents choose not to return to their native villages, but instead stay in Mewat during the monsoon months so that their children will not miss any school.
Looking ahead we hope that we can continue to instill in the parents a strong sense of commitment to their children’s education. Seeing the benefits extend beyond the program’s reach in Mewat is testament to the power of extending a helping hand to these children. None of this would have been possible without your support! So on behalf of all the children who can now envision a brighter, healthier future because of your generosity, we at Lotus Outreach extend to you a big warm thank you!
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.
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