Balu Kumar, 12 years old

Balu Kumar

In Village Kullian, near Amristasr, Punjab, Balu is a 12 year old boy who has been at the school established by the Too Young To Work (TYTW) project under the International Program for the Elimination of Child Labor (IPEC) since he was 7 years old.

Before coming to the school Balu worked in the brick kiln. Instead of playing and laughing like small children in Australia, he worked long and hard hours in the baking section of the kiln, carrying bricks in and out. The work is hot and dangerous and the kilns can sometimes collapse on workers severely injuring, or killing them. Balu worked in the kilns alongside his parents and both his brothers.

Balu’s family were approached by a local representative of TYTW and told about the option of sending him and his brothers to school rather than work. Although this meant a decrease in the meagre income of the family, his parents realised that going to school could lead to a better future for Balu and his brothers and was worth the sacrifice.

At school, Balu flourished. In the learning environment his naturally bright personality shone through. He is actively involved in the schools drama and dance activities, and is quite a comedian. Balu is an excellent dancer and likes to act in school plays, both of which allow him to express himself.

Balu thinks school is much better than work because he gets to learn and has time to play rather than working all the time. His favourite subject is Punjabi, the language spoken in the state in which he lives. When he finishes school, Balu would like to join the army. Without education, Balu would never have been able to dream such a dream, let alone fulfil it.

Ruby Devi, 10 years old

Ruby Devi

In Punjab, Ruby is a gorgeous and vibrant 10 year old, who loves traditional Punjabi dancing and, like lots of happy young girls the world over, loves playing with her friends.

But when Ruby was just four years old she was working in a brick kiln. As a tiny little girl, her job was to carry the bricks in and out of the kiln, working alongside her five sisters, one brother and parents. There was no time to be a child, to play and laugh, she had to work like the rest of her family.

But Ruby was the lucky child in her family, as she was given an opportunity to attend a school established under the TYTW project. Ruby came to the school when she was five years old and for the last five years has enjoyed a real childhood. She studies, learns and plays with other children. Two of her sisters are now married and three still live at home and work at the brick kiln.

Now, she is in 5th class and Ruby’s favourite subject is Hindi. Inspired by the teachers at her school, Ruby too would like to be a teacher when she grows up. By being a teacher she’d like to teach in another area in India and help the children there.

Punam Kumari, 6 years old

Punam Kumari

In Bihar, Punam’s gorgeous smile and infectious laugh are in stark contrast to the hardship she has experienced in her short life.

Punam is an orphan. Her mother died when she was a little baby and in her village she was considered to be a ‘cursed child’ who should have died with her mother. She was cast out from her family and sent to a family who had no children of their own. Life was tough in this family but not unbearable, that is until the family had a child of their own. Despite being only a toddler, Punam was treated very badly and made to work very hard.

Her future was dim, a childhood of working in the brick kilns faced her, where the work is hard and many children die prematurely. However, Punam was lucky, when a local organiser for the TYTW school project heard her story she quickly arranged for Punam to attend the boarding school near Purnea in Bihar.

Punam was five years old when she came to the school in 2006 and in the last year her life has turned around. She loves being at the school, enjoys her classes and is popular with the other students. In the nuturing environment, with good nurtrition and time to play and learn, she is no longer a cursed child. Punam’s future is much brighter thanks to TYTW.