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Suganya's Journey from Brick Kiln to Nursing Scholarship

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Suganya's Journey from Brick Kiln to Nursing Scholarship

Suganya was just a young girl when her parents became trapped in bonded labour at a brick kiln, and she spent years missing them desperately and worrying about their safety. Today, her family is free and thriving—and Suganya is realising her dream of caring for others in her community.

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uganya and her siblings helped their parents carry, arrange and dry bricks at an age when most children learn the alphabet and play games. Her little hands were scarred and cut from carrying bricks.

It was in this brick kiln that Suganya was born. Twenty years ago, when her father, Sadayan, fell ill, her mother, Vasanthi, had to borrow 5,000 rupees (about £50) from a middleman to cover his medical expenses. When they had difficulty repaying the loan, the middleman forced them to work in a brick kiln in Tiruvallur district, a few hours from Chennai.

"I dreamed of a day when they would be free to come home"

She remembers, “As a toddler, I couldn’t run to my mother’s arms when I wanted her attention because she was busy making bricks. "From a very early age, I learned to endure hunger until my parents could come back and feed me.”

Vasanthi despaired at seeing her children in this state, saying with a shudder: “A brick kiln is a place that can bury your hopes and dreams.”

Suganya's mum was determined she would realise her childhood dreams of becoming a nurse.

Suganya’s parents were determined the children should not suffer anymore and managed to send them to live with their grandmother, where they could be enrolled in a nearby school. Her other siblings didn’t make much use of the opportunity, but Suganya grabbed the opportunity and studied hard.

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Above, Suganya in 2014, after her and her family were rescued from the brick kiln.

Below: Suganya today, receiving her nursing scholarship, thanks to IJM's rehabiliation programme

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“I always wanted to help people. I want to be a nurse so that I can help the elderly in my community.”

While Suganya was living with her grandmother and studying, her parents were told about another brick kiln in another area that would pay them even more—but this was a trap that lured them into bonded labour slavery, where they would become stuck for years.

Today, the normally sprightly Suganya gets emotional when she talks about her childhood, saying, “My grandmother took good care of me, but I missed my parents very much. I fought back tears when I saw other children celebrating Pongal (harvest festival) and Deepavali (Hindu festival of lights) with their families. I dreamed of a day when they would be free to come home.”

In 2012, Suganya was finally reunited with her parents when they were rescued through a joint intervention by IJM and government authorities. As her parents went through our rehabilitative aftercare program, IJM also supported Suganya’s higher secondary education.

Suganya never stopped dreaming big.

In an interview, she expressed a desire to be a nurse, explaining, “From an early age, I always wanted to help people. I want to be a nurse so that I can help the elderly in my community.”

Her inspiring story reached the Tiruvannamalai District Collector who, in February 2020, mobilized funds to support her nursing studies through a corporate social responsibility initiative. Read about it in The Times of India.

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Now, Suganya is pursuing her dream of becoming a nurse.

Today, Suganya is pursuing nursing at a private college and is determined to use her knowledge to make a difference in her community. She says, “When I complete my course, I will help those who can’t complete their education.”

Though she has fought against all odds with a courage that belies her age, she hasn’t forgotten the horrors of the brick kiln that separated her from her family. She says, “I hope no family falls prey to bonded labour. There’s no substitute for the love, joy and security of a family.”

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