The story came into my awareness a few days ago, capturing me with its struggle for basic human rights in an area and industry controlled by people I can only think of as monstrous. In short, Syeda Ghulam Fatima is personally spearheading a campaign to end the use of bonded labor in the brick kilns of Pakistan.
I made a note to myself; donate something to Let’s Help Fatima End Bonded Labor when I returned to my computer. And then I forgot.
This morning finally rolled around and I received some bad news, moving into a bad emotional place, as we all do when something doesn’t go quite our way. No fear…all will be well eventually, but it still threw me off balance for a bit.
Later this morning, I saw another picture of Fatima on Humans of New York’s Facebook page and I dismissed it in the moment. My empathy registered, yet I was still feeling my own pain too strongly.
But I didn’t forget. A few hours later, I went to HONY’s Indiegogo campaign page to see that, when asking for $100,000 in donations, they had received $1.8 million. Yes, almost TWO MILLION dollars to help end bonded labor in the brick kilns of Pakistan!
Between procrastination and my own pain, I almost didn’t contribute to this just cause. Almost.
The story, as told by HONY at Let’s Help Fatima End Bonded Labor:
Described as a modern-day Harriett Tubman, Syeda Ghulam Fatima has spent her life fighting against the use of bonded labor in the brick kilns of Pakistan. Bonded labor is essentially modern day slavery. Here’s how it works:
Owners of brick kilns extend small loans to desperate, illiterate laborers in Pakistan’s rural areas, on condition that the person agrees to work for a short period of time. To sweeten the deal, the laborers are also offered food and accommodation. But once the agreed upon length of time is complete, the laborer finds that his debt has actually INCREASED due to accrued interest and the costs of accommodation. From this moment on, the laborer is trapped in a form of slavery. The longer he works, the larger his debt grows. He is condemned to a lifetime of hard labor with no compensation. And when he dies — the debt is passed on to his children.
The problem is widespread. Bricks are the preferred unit of construction in Pakistan. There are over 20,000 brick kilns in the country, and conservative estimates put over one million men, women, and children working at these kilns in a condition of bonded labor. Fatima estimates that the number is closer to 4 million.
Forced labor is illegal in Pakistan. But due to the power, money, and influence of brick kiln owners, the law remains largely unenforced. Workers are denied education, prevented from learning about their rights, and intimidated into complacency. On a local level, police and officials are bribed to protect the interests of kiln owners.
This is where Fatima comes in. Through her organization, the Bonded Labour Liberation Front, Fatima has established Freedom Centers where workers can go for protection and legal counsel. This system of bonded labor can only exist in the darkness of ignorance. If Fatima succeeds in her goal of providing education, legal assistance, and rehabilitation to every bonded laborer in Pakistan, the system will naturally collapse.
Fatima has made every sacrifice to make this dream a reality. She has been threatened, beaten, electrocuted, and shot. Alongside her husband, Fatima runs BLLF from a small, humble storefront in Lahore. All monies raised will go directly to facilitate the emancipation of bonded laborers through greater outreach and the establishment of more Freedom Centers.
Let’s help Fatima end bonded labor.
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