New staff member Shabnam holds up a sheaf of wheat
We recently visited one of Mewat's brick kilns, called Lakhan, where 54 of 300 children of illiterate brick kiln migrants benefit from bus services that ensure their right to education.
The fine tape of bitumen we are traveling is bordered by a thin line of gum trees that gives way to endless fields of wheat and mustard, grown for its pale green-yellow cooking oil. It’s the heart of harvest season and whole families, colorfully dressed in Kurta-Pajama and Salwar –Kameez, bow in the fields scything golden wheat stalks. In the distance we see smoke spiraling upward from thin, tapering stacks rising 100 meters into a cloudless sky.
We turn off toward one of the stacks marking Lakhan kilns. A heavy layer of dust envelops our car in a thick cloud, and those walking the dirt road to the kilns shield their eyes and nostrils.
We pass a huge truck heavily laden with bricks, reminding us why migrant parents would not send their small children by foot along these roads, also shared by horse-drawn carts, cattle, tractors and huge combine harvesters.
We enter the compound and head for an old fig tree that reserves its shade for the foreman’s shack. His ample form lay inert on a rope cot inside his doorless, windowless office. He shook off his morning nap and staggered out to greet us. The buzz went out and children emerged from all directions like ants to a picnic.
Soon some 30 of the 54 children attending grades 1-4 at Bhanguri village school assembled before us, some shy, some inquisitive, all waiting to see what “Sir” (Shyam Vir, our coordinators for Hathin block) has to say and what will come from mouth of this white fellow, a rare species.
Most parents gathered at a distance but one father, Suraj Pal, stood close. “Three of my children are going to school on your bus. I’m happy the teachers are now making an effort to educate our children,” he told us. “I am illiterate but even so, I can check their workbooks and even go to the school twice a month to check on the teachers and see if they’re doing their job. Maybe things will be better for our children than it was for us.”
It takes three bus rounds to pick all 54 children up and Shyam Vir says, “They are keen to attend school and very regular, around 50 of 54 go daily.”
We reentered our dust cloud amidst the energetic shouts and waves of the children, feeling very happy to know we are managing to keep 300 children of migrants connected to a hopeful future.
Children gather at our arrival in Lakhan
Feroz Khan, grade 3, demonstrates his writing