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South Asia

Government-Funded Brick Kiln Gives Survivors “Wings”

August 2022

CHENNAI, INDIA – On the morning of 13 April, the district government of Tiruvallur inaugurated the district’s first ever survivor-run brick kiln as a special initiative to empower survivors of bonded labour and create livelihood opportunities.

This small business was the brainchild of Dr. Alby John Varghese, the District Collector in Tiruvallur. He was inspired by similar survivor-run businesses in Meesanallur, which is a community of homes and businesses run by survivors of bonded labour.

In early April 2022, Varghese directed his team to allot and clear two acres of land and then truck in good-quality soil that could be a basis for brickmaking. The government named the site Siragugal Brick Kiln, which means “wings” in the local language Tamil, to represent this empowering step in survivor livelihood and restoration.

After blessing the site with a religious ceremony on 8 April, four survivor families began working at the site and, within a few days, created their first 10,000 high-quality bricks for sale.

At the inauguration ceremony on 13 April, government officials took a tour of the survivors’ progress and formally congratulated them for this new venture. They also received the first pay cheque for their labour, with the government purchasing the first load of bricks and giving them fair wage – a huge honour for the survivors who were previously deprived.

Officials and IJM staff were invited to seal some of the first batch of bricks during the inauguration.

Even though many of these families faced violence and abuse at brick kilns in the past, they know that this manual labour is a specialised skill they can use in freedom. When they are in control of their own schedules and their own profits, they can find great dignity in their brickmaking to create a better future for themselves and their families.

In April 2022, the government of Tiruvallur District set up and inaugurated a survivor-run brick kiln that will help families earn a dignified living.

This is also a major milestone for the district of Tiruvallur, which was once known as a hub of bonded labour at brick kilns. Today, the government is working to change this narrative by consistently rescuing those in need and setting up livelihood initiatives to help survivors get back on their feet.

It’s a chance for survivors to work hard doing what they know best—but this time as empowered individuals who run their own careers.

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