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Underprivileged and vulnerable families from different parts of Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal and Bangladesh migrate to the brick kilns of West Bengal each year during the brick making season. In many cases, children who travel with their parents end up working beside them. The seasonal migration means that the children miss out on education in their home state and while in the brickfields. The Loreto Sisters run schools in the brickfields that take account of seasonal and daily work patterns, to ensure children get an education. Photo: Out of the Box.

In India, there are over a thousand brickfields with more than 150,000 workers including men, women and children labourers. Whole families are uprooted as they travel to the brickfields to earn a living taking their children from school or not enrolling them at all. The work in the brickfields is labour intensive with children struggling to keep up with the physical exertions of digging and moulding. Children suffer with pain in their hands and are forced to breath in toxic dust that swirls in the air from the production process. Salaries are usually only paid to the male head of the household and are dependent on the number of bricks produced – the more they make the more they get paid. Since a higher amount of bricks produced will fetch a higher price, every member of the family will work to earn more money including children. This work, however, is seasonal and is only available for eight months of the year and they are forced to return home until the season comes around again.

The Loreto Sisters have been working in education in India for 175 years. The brickfield school project began in 2008 with 20 schools in three of the largest brickfields in West Bengal. Since the children of the brickfield workers are migrants, they cannot get admission to nearby mainstream schools. The migrant workers themselves have also received little or no education themselves so they do not see the need of giving their children an education. The brickfield schools operate in the brickfields under the shade of the trees five days a week for three hours a day.

Lausi Kumari (in the blue dress) waits to talk to staff from the Kolkata Mary Ward Social Center (KMWSC). Photo: The Kolkata Mary Ward Social Center (KMWSC).

Lausi Kumari was around 11 years old when she first attended our Brickfield school. Her parents were mainly brickfield labourers and were working to moulding the bricks. Lausi was eager to study in a school but failed to continue with her education because her parents migrated from the area. Her parents migrated to Pujali, a brickfield in southern Kolkata because it was the only opportunity for work. Her parents were quite superstitious and reluctant to allow their daughter to go to school. Her parents were more interested in the marriage of their daughter.

The Kolkata Mary Ward Social Center (KMWSC) Brickfield centres approached her parents and successfully convinced them to not marry their daughter off but to focus on her education instead. The KMWSC team helped the parents understand that Lausi was a very bright student at the Brickfield school and regularly attended the classes. She was excellent in drawing pictures and was good in mathematics. With the support of the KMWSC team Lausi was finally admitted into a local mainstream school.

11 year old Kajal Bhuiya pictured with her family who work in the brickfields in West Bengal. Photo: The Kolkata Mary Ward Social Center (KMWSC).

Kajal Bhuiya is an 11 years old girl and from Satkurba Chitarkoli village in the Nawada District of Bihar in Eastern India.

Like every year, she migrated with her parents to a Brickfield from her native village. During a baseline survey the Brickfields School (BFS) team came to know about her. The BFS Team met with her family to enrol her in the Brickfield school. Initially the parents were hesitant to send their children to school but after several home visits the team was able to convince the parents of the importance of an education. Kajal started attending the Brickfield school shortly afterwards. She enjoys school and has successfully participated in the annual examination conducted at the end of the session for Brickfield school children.

Kajal returned back to her native village at the end of the Brickfield school session. The BFS team kept in touch with her family and were able to trace her back to her village. The BFS team coordinated with the Nawada District Educational Department, and successfully enrolled her into the Kasturba Gandhi Residential Home.

This was a great triumph for the BFS Team. Warden of the K.G. HOME pointed out that “it is our responsibility to ensure the basic rights of the child according to government norms.” The BFS team intervention brought a ray of hope into Kajal’s life. They ensured she will not migrate with her parents to work in the Brickfields instead she will continue with her studies and live in the residential home until she is 14 years old.