As I write this on a January evening, it is below zero outside!
And cold nights are the best ones for stories. I have written many stories to help children, ages 4-12, learn about their peers in challenging circumstances. The stories are connected with Catholic Social Teachings. I am offering you one to share with a child you know. Use the additional suggestions to enrich your discussions.
This story was based on an article in Maryknoll magazine .* It is about the work of Maryknoll Father Joseph Thaler in Nepal. It is a short story but the subject is best for children in grades 4-6.
[Story] Building a Life
At the child care center, Anju hugged her little brother and said, “Be good and learn all you can, Shyam!”
He scampered off to join the other preschoolers and Anju headed to the office. She had been asked to wait there before she went to school.
Outside the center lay the brick factory where their parents worked. Anju remembered what it was like when she was Shyam’s age. There had been no child care center. She and other children played outside in the dirt and danger while their parents were hard at work. It was easy for children to get hurt, which often led to infections. No adults taught them anything or even kept them safe. Anju remembered a child who wandered off. He fell into the rain-filled digging pits and drowned. She looked into the room where Shyam and the others were safe, clean, not hungry and learning. Anju said a prayer of thanks.
It was terribly hard for the parents too. Most worked 15 hours a day, starting about 4 a.m. There were no bathrooms or clean drinking water. Her mother hauled bricks on her back. Her back and legs ached every night. But she made so little money there was never enough food for the family. They got sick often.
But things were different since Maryknoll Father Joe Thaler had come. He and a woman named Arati and her husband Pradeep began an organization to help the workers.
First they set up healthcare services. Workers with coughs from working in dust and dirt and those with eye conditions were helped. Bathrooms and drinking water were provided. Workers missed less work because of sickness, and began to make more money.
The children were weighed and checked as doctors looked for malnutrition and other problems. Anju smiled, recalling how puzzled she was the first time a nurse had Anju stick out her tongue and say “ah”. The health care workers had also helped her mother have a healthy baby, now the lively Shyam.
Then the childcare program began. The youngest children were safe and getting two meals each day there. And they were learning. Some would go on to regular school. School led to job skills which meant children might not have to do this work as they got a little older. How Anju hoped she could go to secondary school!
On a shelf, Anju saw a photo of Father Joe, Arati and Pradeep. When they first came to help the brick workers, they were put off by the “protectors” of the factory. But knowing they were doing God’s work, they didn’t give up. Now the owners see that happier, healthier adults and children make for better workers, and they even help Father Joe make things better at the factory!
Anju turned to see Arati. She was smiling as she handed Anju an envelope and said, “You are doing so well in school that the organization is giving you a scholarship. This will pay for your books, school clothes, a coat, test fees, shoes—everything you will need to continue to go to school.”
Anju hugged the envelope. Her hopes and dreams were in it!
Information to explore:
What the work involves: To best appreciate this story, read the physical demands of the brick-making process in Nepal:
- Dig soil with shovels
- Mix with water, shovel onto a pile
- Mix muddy soil with sand
- Tightly pack mud into molds, unmold
- Pile these to dry
- Carry 1 load (30 unbaked bricks) to the brick knell. Carry 30-50 loads a day.
- Stack these bricks
- Bake, or fire, them
Why would someone do this hard work?
- Tremendous poverty in rural areas causes some to come to a city for work
- Brick making can be done by someone with no skills or education
- Not working means no food
Why is so little machinery used?
- In this region, there can be 15 hours a day without electricity.
- Gas or diesel fuels cannot always be gotten.
- Machines for brick making and parts to repair them must be bought from another country which is very expensive.
- Employing people is less expensive: they do not need electricity; they can work 15 hours a day.
Some of the richest soil in the world is used for this brick making. Why is it not used to produce food when many are hungry?
- The demand for bricks is high, so landowners make more money selling the soil rather than using it for food.
What are Anju’s hopes and dreams?
What do you think Anju’s future would be if Father Joe, Arati and Pradeep had not been able to make changes at the brick factory?
Do the math together:
- A brick worker (often a young woman) carries a load of 30 bricks on her back. Each brick weighs about 2 pounds. How much does each load weigh? _________ [60 lbs]
- She carries between 30-50 loads a day. Remembering a load is 30 bricks, estimate how many bricks might she carry a day. _____________ [900-1500]
- If she carries 1000 bricks one day, how much weight has she lifted and hauled on her back? __________ [2000 lbs]
Information for reflection:
Our Church teaches that all people are created by God. So:
- they must be treated with respect and dignity
- they must have their basic rights of food, safe work, clothes, a home, school and medical care; adults must have work that is safe and pays fair wages
- people who have these rights must work to ensure that others get them
- those who are poor must be given special consideration
Can you find examples of these teachings being carried out in this story? What are some ways that the work of Father Joe, Arati and Pradeep help the brick makers and their families to receive the dignity and respect they deserve?
Dear God of our Family, please help us see the times and places where others are not treated as God’s children, and give us the wisdom and courage to help. Amen.
*The article: Easing a life of hard labor by Lynn Monahan, March 2014; this story originally was part of the Maryknoll Classroom Program.