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Non-formal education aims to end cycle of poverty for kiln workers in Pakistan

© UNICEF Pakistan/2010/Ramoneda
Children of brickmakers attend non-formal classes near Lahore, Pakistan.

By Fatima Raja

LAHORE, Pakistan, 13 April 2010 – Mohammad Kabir and his family struggle to earn a living at the brick kilns on the outskirts of Lahore, the provincial capital. Toiling in the oppressive heat, the Kabir family is paid $4 for every 1,000 bricks they produce.

Mr. Kabir’s daughter, Nusrat, is just 14. Until last year, she worked as a domestic servant.

“I used to watch the children of the house where I worked as they came back from school every morning, and wished I could study too,” she says. “I asked my mistress once to teach me to read, and in return I would work for free. She said no.”

Breaking the cycle

Today, Nusrat is one of the rising stars at the Kherapul Non-Formal Education Centre. Established in 2008, it is one of 16 centres set up by UNICEF's local partners as part of the Barclays/UNICEF ‘Building Young Futures’ partnership, which helps vulnerable children and young adults acquire the skills and opportunities they need to realize their potential as full members of their communities.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2010/Ramoneda
A mother holds her newborn baby at the brick kiln near Lahore, Pakistan.

The centre works to ensure that children like Nusrat have a chance to escape the cycle of debt bondage and poverty through education and vocational training. At present, over 2,000 children study in the centres in Lahore and Faisalabad.

The Kabir family makes about $73 a month, working 14 hours a day, six days a week. On payday, a third of their income is deducted as payment towards their debt. The remainder must sustain the family of six, and any shortfalls – especially during the rainy season, when there is no work – are made up by adding to their debt.

Thus trapped in debt bondage, the family has little choice but to bring their children into the hazardous and exploitive work of the kilns. 
Gateway to formal schooling

Many children working in the kilns have never been to school, further limiting their chances to escape a life of hard labour.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2010/Ramoneda
Pakistani children enrolled in non-formal schooling pass outside the brick kiln near Lahore.

To help them catch up, UNICEF supports its local partners’ use of a non-formal curriculum, which brings children quickly up to the grade-four level and enables them to enter mainstream schooling.

After only a year of non-formal education, Nusrat’s teachers were stunned at her progress; they believe she will soon be ready to attend mainstream classes. Previously illiterate, Nusrat was recently selected to deliver a presentation at an event in Lahore.

“When we first came here, we had to persuade the kiln owner to give us a few rooms to open the school,” says Mr. Rafique, a teacher at the centre. “Then the parents didn’t understand the value of education until we explained that their children could help with checking their accounts with their employers. From a few dozen children, we now have 148 students.” 

Wherever possible, the centres give vocational training to offer young people alternative careers, such as dressmaking or embroidery.

‘It is a joy to have educated children’

After school, Nusrat still must join her parents at the kiln, working a few hours to help supplement the family income. But she then spends the evening voraciously revising her schoolwork, and even trying to teach her parents to read and write.

“I feel bad that I can read while they miss out, so I make them trace the letters,” she says.

Nusrat is the first person in her family to attend school, and Mr. Kabir is determined that she will continue her schooling and leave the kilns. “I’ve been a labourer all my life, so it is a joy to have educated children,” he says.



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