Children at the brick factory

  • We will work as much as we can, even if we have to die for the food. It’s all right. That’s how our life goes, day by day.

We meet the family at Bharak Brick Factory, one of 115 brick factories in the Kathmandu Valley, where people come from rural areas to work. Here, 6-700 people work around the clock for four dimes a day.

  • Every night at two o clock, we get up and start working. We work until four o’clock in the afternoon. Then we take a break before we work untill nine in the evening. In total, there will be 900 rupees a week, but it’s not enough to survive, everything is spent on food, Kamala Giri (30) says. She has covered her head with a scarf against the strong sun.
  • We have to fight hard just to survive. It’s terribly exhausting.

The factory looms over a large area. In the middle there is a tall chimney pipe which is being moved as the work proceeds. A gentle puff of breath can be felt from the mountains, there is quiet but hectic activity like in an anthill. On the ground there is red sand which swirls up like dust as we go. In many places, the ground is completely dug out and there’s only hard, sticky blue clay left. In one of these holes we find a little girl, she is standing there wearing a dress. She steps around in hard blue clay, looking sad.

  • Hey, sweetie, what’s your name? my friend, Rajendra ask.

No answer. She looks serious. The girl is seven years old and named Arati. In the immediate vicinity, her parents and the twelve-year-old sister, Malati, are working. They make clumps of clay which they push into a wooden form. Then they knock loose the clay using dry sand and add the finished square molds to dry in the sun.

  • Our little girl is sick today. She has a fever, the mother says looking strictly at us.

The family has four young children, but no one to look after them while they work, and no possibilities to send them to school. The two-year-old girl Pooja is tired of being overlooked. Now she’s lied down in the sun screaming. She’s hungry, but nobody cares until Malati finally runs and takes her in her arms.

The mother, Kamala, puts the stones to dry before she takes up the screaming girl and breastfeeds her.

The family are seasonal workers, they have a small patch of land in Rameshap on which they can survive only half the year. Then they come to Kathmandu to make bricks. They’ve done that for 15 years now.

Inside a small brick shack, where they live and sleep, where there is hardly space for all six, they can talk more freely. I barely get in through the little door.

  • Do you get food here or do you have to buy it yourself?
  • We have to buy it ourselves and then we make it here.
  • It must be terribly cold in the winter, I say, looking towards the big holes under the roof. Do you get sick a ot during winter time?
  • Yes, it’s getting cold here, but in the winter we’re actually pretty healthy. It’s in the summer time we get sick. Then we get food poisoning, fever and cough because of all the dust, Kamala says.
  • What do you think about working at the factory here?
  • It’s okay, the father, Badri Giri (35) says. – We take the work we get. We will work as much as we can, if we are to die for the food. That’s how our lives go, day by day.

Kathmandu, April 2005. Interpreter: Rajendra KC


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