Once a child labour, Sundar is wooing children to school

If you want a guided tour of the brick kilns of Tiruvallur, close to Chennai, all you have to do is ask G. Sundar.

A small-built sprightly young man the colour of baked brick, Sundar is a rare success story to emerge out of a brick kiln, not counting the owners. A child labourer “cutting bricks” with his parents working as indentured labour in a brick kiln several years ago, Sundar managed to move on. But he never moved away: as if he is fulfilling a penance, he strides from chamber to chamber trying to find kids he can haul off to school.

“My father fell into the drinking habit, and we had to sell all our property and farms,” recounts Sundar, who is working as a volunteer with an aid organisation. That is the story of their journey into what seems unending debt.

His father Ganesan and mother Saroja, without much of an education to back them, and dwindling assets, signed up for a huge advance at a brick kiln in Poochi Athipedu, over 55 km from Chennai. They made the journey from their home town in Villupuram district to Tiruvallur, bringing along with them their boys.

“That is how I lost two years. I’ve not even gone to school those two years. However, my father realised the importance of education for his sons, and that turned my life,” says Sundar. Starting with an “advance amount” of Rs. 20,000, the family went on to take more money every year from the brick kiln owner, working long hours in the hot sun inside a blazing oven.

Much of that money went to fund their son’s education. All three boys are now educated or busy getting an education. Sundar has completed his Masters in Social Work, and that found him a job with Aide et Action. His older brother has a job, and the younger is going in for professional qualifications.

“This year, we brothers hope to be settled in jobs. We have decided that enough is enough: we want to take our parents out of the brick kilns; and give them a good life,” he says. Clearly, for Sundar, the roles have been reserved. In more ways than one.

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