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Brick kiln slavery continues

New Delhi, India

The first thing I noticed was that the children were barefoot. India is in a heatwave, and it was over 45C (113F) that morning; even wearing shoes, the ground was uncomfortable to walk on. My eyes filled with tears as I saw barefoot young boys loading bricks onto trucks, sharing one meagre water bottle between four.

I was visiting a brick kiln where Arise recently started a non-formal education programme. The kiln families are under generational debt bondage. Many owe thousands of pounds; but, for every two bricks that they mix, shape, mould and bake, they are only paid 1p. They will never repay their debt.

Each family lives in a single tiny room with no electricity. The children do not attend school, and rarely leave the kiln enclosure. As soon as they can walk, they help with small jobs; carrying water, cleaning or looking after younger children. By the time they are eight years old, the children are working every day.

Through careful negotiation, and helped by their already trusted position in society, Arise has managed to open informal schools in three brick kilns. These centres are the first step towards formal schooling for this often forgotten population.

But they are so much more than that. They are places where, for a for a couple of hours a day, the children get to actually be kids. Between their lessons they can play, they have access to colouring and toys - simple pleasures that none of them had even seen before.

We have only just started working in this community; but the children are bright and eager to learn. Some might even be able to attend school in the autumn, something their parents simply could not consider even six months ago.

It takes no time to feel the pain of others when you are faced with the realities of true human suffering. The plight of others, if we allow it to open our eyes, calls us into action. We cannot ignore these communities any more. Each of us must ask ourselves how we can work, in whatever way we can, to rid the world of this evil. Our common bond of humanity demands it. We will continue to strive so that every child we come across has a childhood.

Sr Arpan Carvalho India Coordinator, Arise

A girl from a brick kiln family in debt bondage watches her younger brother as he rests from the heat.

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