Back to school after bonded labor

Thirteen-year-old Salay dropped out of school years ago to work in a brick factory to help his family repay debt. But World Vision's intervention encouraged this boy to go back to school, and now his whole family is doing better.

Story and photos by Vichheka Sok. Edited by Peter Warski.
Published November 10, 2011 at 12:00am PST

Salay Ry, 13, has worked in a brick factory in Cambodia for years, helping his family repay a loan. He dropped out of school many years ago.

“I had to work in the brick factory with my parents, even though I really wanted to attend school,” says Salay, the third son of seven siblings. “I missed attending classes so much, but I had no choice.”

Trapped in a place of desperation

The family’s poor living conditions also forced Salay’s older brothers to work in the brick factory from early morning until dark.

“We all worked very hard in the brick factory to earn some money to buy food to eat,” Salay explains. “I love studying, and my ambition is to be a motorbike mechanic. I think it’s easier than working in the very hot brick factory.”

To make matters worse, Salay’s father used to drink heavily. The boy says his father can be violent, and, in the past, did little to help the family generate income.

Thus, when one of the children fell ill, they had to borrow money for medical care from the brick factory owner. Now, the family works endlessly to repay the loan.

Salay and his family sleep in the factory, surrounded by bricks. It’s a place Salay considers dirty.

“We now understand about hygiene, because World Vision staff came to teach us,” he says. “I love cleanliness now.”

A new opportunity

The factory where Salay's family works — and sleeps — is hot, dirty, and dangerous.

One day, a World Vision staff member visited the children in the brick factory. The staff member talked with the children about child rights, child protection, and child labor.

All the children working at the factory were strongly encouraged to study at a drop-in center for child laborers, and World Vision helped them with the registration.

“The World Vision staff asked me many questions and encouraged me to attend school,” Salay recalls. “At the drop-in center, I get to enjoy good food, fresh water, the opportunity to visit many places, play with other children, attend the non-formal education classes, access school materials, and, of course, there’s lots of love and care.”

He smiles as he talks. “All these things encourage me to want to study more…I am now an outstanding student.”

Looking toward the future

Shortly thereafter, Salay got a bicycle that he now uses to get to school every day. But things are still difficult for his older brothers and parents. They still toil at the brick factory.

“I really pity them, so I arrange my schedule in such a way that I can help in the brick factory...and then go to school in the afternoon,” says Salay. “If lessons are in the morning, then I help my family and work in the afternoon. I love them, and I also love to study.”

Salay enjoys the playground at the center he started attending after World Vision encouraged him to resume his studies.Of course, working at a brick factory is hot, dirty, dangerous work. That’s why Salay’s entire family is aiming to become less dependent on it. With World Vision’s assistance, Salay’s father has also learned to earn money by cutting hair.

Now, he’s no longer violent, and he encourages his son to do well.

“[My parents] always remind me to be punctual for school,” says Salay, standing by his bike. “I love attending school, and I will not give up studying. I shall not disappoint my donor and the person who gave me this bicycle by dropping out of school again.”

Learn more

Read more about child trafficking, including forced labor, and World Vision’s efforts to stop this practice.

Three ways you can help

Thank God that Salay is back in school, and pray for children like him who are affected by forced labor or other forms of child exploitation.

Give monthly to provide support for exploited children like Salay. Your monthly contribution will help us provide assistance like safe shelter, education, food, medical care, and more to children affected by crimes like forced labor.

Contact your senators. Ask them to support reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which provides key tools in the fight against global human trafficking, but unfortunately, was allowed to expire on September 30, 2011.