The goal: Help India's poorest of the poor brickmakers
Irish nonprofit GOAL teaches seasonal brickmakers in Kolkata to read and do math, a crucial step toward self-sufficiency.
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Since 2006 the nongovernmental organization GOAL, based in Ireland, has worked alongside local authorities and other NGOs to improve living standards for 3,500 children and 8,500 adults who live and work at the kilns for half the year. Dora Chauduri is the assistant country director for GOAL's India program, which works in tandem with West Bengal's local government – particularly the social welfare department and the women and child development department.Skip to next paragraph
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Watching as GOAL-funded teachers give basic literacy and numeracy lessons to children at the kilns – in a small, steamy classroom – she says that "as well as supporting the migrant workers with much-needed safe drinking water and sanitation, such as latrines, GOAL works with the Narayantala Mass Communication Society [a local West Bengal NGO] to help with basic literacy and numeracy for migrant children and help the migrants gain awareness of their rights under the law.”
India's economy has grown by 7 to 8 percent on average per year for most of the two decades since the government ditched a socialist economic model in 1991 and opted for a range of free-market reforms. The country still has hundreds of millions of poor, however, and a caste system that many human rights groups regard as discriminatory. So many Indians are left out, even as the country booms and affluence becomes a more common sight in big cities such as Kolkata.
Among the marginalized are Jyoti, aged 20, and her daughter Puja, 3. Sitting in a tiny waist-high hovel fashioned out of bricks lifted and dried from the ground outside, mother and child sit and eat kichiri, a lunch mix of rice and dhal (lentils).
As the brick season ends, and the rainy closes in, they too are readying to travel home, to Jharkhand state in the northeast of India. Jyoti and Puja are from the Munda tribe, numbering around 2 million and scattered across India's northeast and into Bangladesh.
“It is tough work here for me and my husband,” says Jyoti, who adds that she has been married “for four or five years.” Every day Puja joins the other children for basic learning in the morning. “This allows us to work on the bricks,” Jyoti says.
A single, rope-thick braid grows on the back of young Puja's head, woven into a sort of dreadlock and looking almost too heavy for the child's neck to support. Jyoti says she had tried for several years to conceive before Puja was born. “We will cut the braid off when she is 5 years old,” she says. “It will be an offering to [Hindu god] Shiva, in thanks for me finally having a child.”
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