Nuri’s Hammer

I found her by the roadside, sweaty and exhausted from hammering for hours under the burning sun, lost in the haze and noise of bricks breaking. She was completely silent, her concentration completely occupied by the task at hand as the pile of red brick fragments grew beside her. When we approached her and she noticed the camera, she wiped her beautiful round face, tanned by the sun, so that she looked presentable on camera.

I decide to call her Nuri*, meaning pebble in Bengali, because she resembled the red pebbles she was making. Like them, she was small in size and beaten into her current circumstances from the cruel conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The world is making progress post-pandemic. But children like Nuri and her sister are still stuck in places they do not belong.

It’s been almost two years since Nuri left her 5th Grade class when the pandemic first began whipping through the world. The family, made up of Nuri, her sister and her parents, were surviving hand-to-mouth when Nuri’s father abandoned them. Her mother, already suffering from mental trauma, was devastated by the loss of their sole breadwinner. After initially surviving on loans, Nuri’s mother got them all jobs breaking bricks at a construction site when lockdown was finally lifted. Nuri is hardly 12 years old, and she’s burning in the heat for her survival.

“It is very hard to break bricks, I often miss the brick and land the hammer on my fingers. It hurts so much.” There are dirty bandages on her fingers proving the truth of her words.

Even if she is hurt, taking a break is not an option for Nuri. Before night falls, she has to break as many bricks as she can because the streets are not safe for young girls like her.

“I cannot stop working for a second,” she says, “I get BDT 50 (equivalent to SGD 0.62) for every sack of pebbles I produce. I can barely make two sacks a day. How do you expect me to eat?”

Nuri earns BDT 60 to BDT 80 daily on average. She spends about BDT 40 daily for lunch and gives the rest to her grandmother, whom she lives with now, for rent money.

Nuri is not able to save any of her earnings for now, but she is determined to save enough money to send herself back to school.

“It will take BDT 3000 in admission fees to get into 7th Grade and I also have to clear my pending fees,” Nuri says, hammering away at the bricks. “I am still going to save as much as I can to get back to school. I do not want to work here anymore.”

Despite her ambition, it is hard to see how Nuri will make enough to afford school. At her age, it is extremely difficult to fill more than two sacks with pebbles while there’s still light out and it’s safe for her. Maybe realizing the reality of her situation, Nuri grows quiet and goes back to breaking bricks. I left little Nuri then, a pebble lost in the midst of thousands of others, with the promise to see her again next year. Hopefully in a school, and not toiling away in a brick field where she does not belong.

Nuri’s resilient spirit is uplifting yet heart-breaking.

Will the day come when she can finally save enough and bid goodbye to her hammer?

*Nuri’s real name is hidden to protect identity.

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Written By: 
World Vision Singapore