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Documentary Maker Fergal McCarthy travels to Kolkata, India to visit a Misean Cara funded education project, run by the Loreto Sisters, for children living and working on brickfield sites on the outskirts of Kolkata city and throughout the state of West Bengal.

“The Brickfield Schools of Kolkata” will be broadcast on Newstalk 106-108fm on Sunday 13th May from 7-8am and Saturday 19th May from 9-10pm.

This documentary is now available on the Audio Page of the Misean Cara website.

“The lady… making the bricks there, she is 7 months pregnant… Up until the day she goes into labour, she will continue working. And maybe one or two days after her delivery, she’ll be back to work. This is how it is, on the brickfields. She’ll have her labour pains, and only then will she stop working.”

Brickfields are locations in India where bricks are made by hand, for the local construction industry. This industry depends on the cheap labour of migrant families and their children, coming from some of the poorest districts of the neighbouring states of Bihar and Jharkhand.

In the state of West Bengal alone there are at least 2,000 brickfield sites with an average of 50 children on each. Starting in 2008, the Loreto Sisters began supporting a school program on 20 brickfield sites. Today, with increased funding, they now support schools on 40 brickfield sites, reaching approximately 2,000 children and employing 80 part-time teachers.

“They know that it is only education that can create opportunity for their children… they don’t want their children to do this sort of work…”

Once permission from the brickfield owner has been granted, teachers from the local community are recruited and given unique training, tailored to the needs of the children living on these brickfields. The strategy of the program is to foster literacy amongst the children of these families, so that the children will become a resource for their family and community. Also the aim is for these children to become a catalyst for further change and possibly instill a wider desire for literacy amongst adults.

The brickfield schools teach basic literacy in Hindi, the working language of India, as well as arithmetic, general knowledge and children’s games. For pre-primary children, activities focus on building physical, cognitive, emotional and social development. The Loreto Sisters also run a basic health programme in many of their brickfield schools, with a particular focus on women’s health.

“It is not that you are only focusing on the education of the child but also on the holistic development… it is the entire values that makes the education process more special for these children.”

The brickfield schools run for 7 to 8 months, coinciding with the brick-making season of November to June. As this work is done outside in the open air, bricks cannot be made during the monsoon season. During this period the families make the long trek back home to their local towns and villages in Bihar and Jharkhand.

While they are back living in their local towns and villages, the Loreto Sisters continue to assist with their education – advocating for these children to gain entry into the local government school. Many of these families are from the Dalit community, so their children are often shut out from accessing the local schools in their area. The Loreto Sisters continue to advocate for these children and their right to a basic education, as well as working to combat child-labour and improve living conditions for the families in the brickfields. This has led, for example, to one brickfield owner declaring his brickfield free of child-labour, and to many brickfields constructing toilet facilities and providing firewood to families.

Misean Cara funded the Loreto Sisters to provide education to the children of migrant families working on the brickfields. Misean Cara supports missionary development projects working to eradicate poverty and challenge inequality in over 50 countries around the world, making a significant and sustained difference to the lives of vulnerable and marginalised communities.

“The Brickfield Schools of Kolkata” will be broadcast on Newstalk 106-108fm on Sunday 13th May from 7-8am and Saturday 19th May from 9-10pm.

This documentary is now available on the Audio Page of the Misean Cara website.

For more information, please visit the Newstalk website at www.newstalk.com/The-Brickfield-Schools-of-Kolkata:-Documentary-On-Newstalk.

Photo caption: Brickfield school Teachers, Sneha Singh and Sarjhan Khatoon teach a ‘Rhymes class’, monitored by Kolkata Mary Ward Social Center Brickfield Co-ordinator Rina Singh. Kolkata Mary Ward Social Center brickfield school, near Pujali village, Acchipur. Photo: Fergal McCarthy.