“My God has given me this opportunity to learn about my Christian religion. This was not happening in the government school where I studied before.” These are the words of Anosh, a young Christian from one of Pakistan’s numerous brick-kiln families, who thanks to the generosity of Barnabas Fund supporters now has the opportunity to attend school and get the education he needs.
Anosh had to stop attending school when his father, a brick-kiln worker, could no longer afford the fees. Anosh found himself instead working alongside his father, destined it seemed to a life of brick-kiln labour. Now, however, he studies hard to fulfil his dream of becoming a doctor so that he can support his family and help his community.
Brick-kiln workers are low paid and families live at survival level. If someone falls sick, or another family crisis occurs, they have to take a loan from the brick-kiln owner. Interest on the loan is then deducted from their weekly wages and this can go on for years, even generations. As long as the debt remains, they are bonded to the brick kiln, unable to leave and get another job. It’s almost like slavery.
Debt cancellation brings great joy to impoverished Christian families, yet, with support from Barnabas Fund, our project partners have been able to do so much more than simply setting free families by repaying their loans. Anosh’s story is one example of the wider spiritual and material blessings which we can bring to our brothers and sisters in the brick kilns of Pakistan.
Financial training and spiritual support
Our project partners also provide training and guidance for families who are now free of debt. Families whose loans have been repaid are often still impoverished, and need support in managing their income to try and avoid being trapped in debt once again. Our project partners hold classes which teach skills such as budgeting and household management.
In some cases families who have been rescued from debt are able to donate a portion of their income for a “revolving loan fund” which is used to repay the debts of other bonded Christian labourers. So far 89 families have had their debts relieved by fellow Pakistani brick-kiln believers, recently freed from their own debts. Having been desperately poor, helpless and dependent for so long, the freed families are thrilled to be in a position to help other believers.
Families also receive spiritual support and encouragement. No longer bonded to the brick kiln and therefore unable to rest on Sundays, many now attend church and send their children to Sunday school, as well as praying together in the family home.
Barnabas Fund-supported schools give hope to a generation of children
Mahwish, twelve years old, thought she would never be able to go to school. “My father is a brick-kiln worker,” explains Mahwish. “He and my grandfather never went to school.” Like many other brick-kiln families, Mahwish’s parents could not afford her school fees.
Now, thanks to the generosity of Barnabas Fund’s supporters, Mahwish is able to receive the education that was not available to previous generations. Her favourite subject is English, and she hopes when she is older to become a nurse.
Barnabas Fund’s project partners have set up the schools to provide for children like Mahwish so that they can develop the skills and knowledge to succeed in life, as well as learning more about their Christian faith. Along with free school places they provide the equipment needed – school bags, books, pencils and paper – as well as helping with the provision of new school buildings. Families who are able to are encouraged to make a small donation to the schools, but this is on a purely voluntary basis.
There are currently 33 schools for brick-kiln families, with 73 teachers who care for 1,986 children. Girls especially are encouraged to attend school in a country in which women are particularly disadvantaged and Christian women doubly so.
Literacy and numeracy classes help adults to develop key skills
Education, though, is not just for the children. Most adults in the brick kilns are unable to read, write or do simple sums. But Barnabas Fund supports a programme of adult literacy and numeracy for the adults of brick-kiln families.
Shamin, a mother of three, was happy when her children had the opportunity to go to school for the first time, but found that she was unable to help them in their studies. “I was unable to give any kind of help to them,” she recalls. “I did not even know how to hold a pencil.” Shamin prayed to God that she too would have the opportunity to learn, and soon that prayer was answered.
Simple and easy-to-understand classroom lessons are designed to teach the basics of mathematics, reading and writing. Classroom materials are based on the Bible, and many students are delighted to be able to read the Bible for themselves for the first time.
“When I started to come here I did not know anything,” explains Shamin, “but now with help of our teacher I can write letters, and can solve add-and-subtract questions. She teaches us about the Bible as well. In this school I learnt some new Gospel songs, Bible verses and hymns.”
Vocational training provides new opportunities to break the cycle of poverty
Many women support their husbands by helping them to work at the brick kiln. Workers are paid by how many bricks they produce, and working together allows couples and families to produce more. This, however, prevents women from seeking their own employment.
Barnabas Fund partners have therefore set up a vocational programme for young women from brick-kiln families to learn sewing and embroidery skills, thereby increasing their options for employment.
Haleema represents the fourth generation of her family to work at the brick kiln. She and her husband have found it very difficult to provide for their children, but now Haleema says that she can save money by making clothes for her children as well as generating an income by providing tailoring and clothing repairs to others in her community.
Support for new small businesses
Barnabas Fund has also provided supplies and equipment to enable families to start their own small businesses. This allows those who would otherwise have no option but to continue their back-breaking labour at the brick kiln to undertake different work.
It also means a year-round income in contrast to brick-kiln workers who are without work during the seasonal lay-off during the monsoon rains in July and August. More recently, brick kilns in the Punjab have been forced into a second annual lay-off from December to February due to thick smog during those months.
In total 50 families have been helped in this way so far. Eight have been gifted with motorcycle rickshaws, eight with motorcycle goods carriers, six with donkey carts, two with handcarts, 14 with shop premises and stock to open a grocery store, and twelve families have each been provided with three goats. As well as these grants our project partners are on hand to check the progress of the new businesses while also offering advice and guidance.
The result of all this is that freed brick-kiln families are able to keep themselves from falling again into poverty, debt and bonded labour.
41-1356 (repaying debts of brick-kiln workers )
41-1236 (Christian schools in brick-kiln areas)
41-1315 (adult literacy centres for brick-kiln workers)
PR1391 (vocational training for brick-kiln families, including sewing and embroidery)
PR1532 (small business start-ups for former brick-kiln workers)