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Born Into the Brick Kilns: Making Change One Person and One Photo At A Time

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Fatima at the brick kilns

Here's the power of the individual, the Internet and our too-abundant dollars at work: Brandon Stanton, who usually chronicles ordinary people in his terrific, eye-opening blog Humans of New York, travelled to Pakistan to meet regular Pakistanis, take their photos and tell what in this case were their often heartbreaking stories. Among the humans he met for his Pakistan series was Syeda Ghulam Fatima, known as Pakistan's Harriet Tubman. Fatima has spent her life trying to free the one to four million men, women and children who work at that country's 20,000 brick kilns and remain trapped in a brutal system of bonded labor - aka slavery - whereby owners extend small predatory loans to desperate illiterate laborers who find they cannot pay them back in their lifetime. When they die, the debt is passed to their children, creating an unending cycle of destitution.

In one of his posts, Stanton told wrote about Fatima - who has been threatened, beaten, electrocuted, and shot - and her Bonded Labor Liberation Front. With it, she has established a network of Freedom Centers where workers can go for protection, education, rehabilitation and legal counsel. Her hope is that if enough laborers can find refuge from the system, it will collapse or at least be forced to accept reform. She was struggling financially to keep her efforts alive when Stanton arrived. Moved by her activism, he began an Indiegogo campaign hoping to raise $100,000 so she could keep working. In four days, he raised over $2.2 million in mostly small donations, an amount he called "transformational." On his Facebook page - scroll down for some wonderful Pakistan stories - Fatima offered a heartfelt thank you to those who "donated for freedom." She added, "This is a big step for laborers (that) their voices have reached a global stage and we are being heard." Stanton is now in Iran, another place where humans need to be heard. One grateful commenter  suggested the blog's name be changed to Humans of Planet Earth - HOPE.

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A grandfather in Karachi: "He’s my only grandchild. Every time he does anything, I enjoy it. The other day he pulled down the TV set. I didn’t even mind.”

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