Glistening with oil, tight braids and combed heads bobbed up and down as a hundred children sat in crooked rows, watching the stage. A man dutifully translated every Telugu word into Oriya – the only language they understood.

Dropouts

Born to migrant workers from Western Orissa, they spend half the year in Andhra Pradesh or Tamil Nadu where their families eke out a living from brick kilns. This year they headed to Bommalaramaram mandal in Nalgonda district. A recent survey of 47 kilns in the area by Aide et Action (AEA) found 278 Oriya children ‘out of school.'

With the help of the government's Rajiv Vidya Mission, AEA South Asia opened five ‘bridge schools' where the children will be taught in Oriya. On March 11, they were gathered for the official launch.

Brick kilns in the State employ thousands of migrant workers whose Oriya-speaking children drop out of school because they cannot attend Telugu-medium schools for half the year. Bridge schools will make up for the days spent out of school and when the children head home for the monsoon they won't be far behind their peers.

Eleven-year-old Debendro was in class five when he left home after Dussehra. “He will join class five in the bridge school,” his father, Manjit Rana says.

His daughter (13) and elder son (16) work in the kiln. Small hands shape the mud better and handle the bricks without upsetting the mould. “I am poor. I need more hands to earn better money.”

Manjit, his wife and elder son make up a ‘pathuria' – a team of three who spend the day moulding and drying nearly 1,800 bricks. Together they earn Rs.15, 000, which they are paid at the end of six months.

Two families of migrant workers from Maharashtra fire the bricks in most kilns - a skill practiced by them alone. Their children can be seen hanging around in the open where the women cook.

When will they go to school? No one knows.

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