Brandon Stanton, the creator of the popular photo blog Humans of New York (HONY), has long since surpassed the original plan for his blog and even the name as his experiences have taken him beyond only photographing New Yorkers. In a recent trip to Pakistan, he snapped a series of breathtaking photographs that have captured the world’s attention.
The images posted to HONY’s Facebook page are deeply haunting as they feature stories of persons who are enslaved to pay off unending debts. The practice is known as bonded labor, and though it is illegal, it still persists and is a major problem in the country. Stanton made a post explaining what the term truly means and the extent of its destructiveness.
“Throughout rural Pakistan, illiterate and desperate laborers are tricked into accepting small loans in exchange for agreeing to work at brick kilns for a small period of time. But due to predatory terms, their debt balloons, growing larger as time goes on, with no possibility of repayment, until these laborers are condemned to work for the rest of their lives for no compensation. If the laborer dies, the debt is passed on to his or her children.”
The highlight of the HONY series was Syeda Ghulam Fatima, known to many as the modern day Harriet Tubman, as she has devoted her life to ending the practice of bonded labor. Stanton asked for aid to be given to this unsung heroine, and it came in a most unexpected and heartwarming way.
“She has been shot, electrocuted, and beaten numerous times for her activism. Quite literally, she places herself between the workers and their owners. The organization she leads, the Bonded Labour Liberation Front, is small but determined. It is working to set up Freedom Centers throughout rural Pakistan so that every bonded laborer has access to advocacy and legal aid. Fatima operates on a very small budget.”
An Indiegogo account was set up for donations to assist Fatima and her organization Bonded Labour Liberation Front with the goal of $100,000 U.S. dollars. The overwhelming support saw tens of thousands of persons donating to Fatima’s organization in Lahore, and thus far, over $2 million U.S. dollars has been raised in assistance. The Bonded Labour Liberation Front estimates that approximately four million Pakistanis work at the kilns in forced bonded labor.
Stanton not only introduced us to Syeda Fatima, but in keeping with the nature of his blog, he posted photos and stories of several bondage laborers. In an interview with CNN’s Richard Quest, Stanton relayed that although the practice is illegal, the kiln owners operate with impunity due to their wealth and status.
As each post was made and a story told on the Humans of New York Facebook page, Stanton included a link to the fundraising site with the call to action “Let’s Help Fatima End Bonded Labor.” The first million came within 12 hours and doubled by the 72 hour mark. The news regarding Humans of New York’s success is especially wonderful for Fatima, as she had completely depleted her resources prior to this and feared she would not even be able to afford her own medical bills.
Stanton updated his series by posting Fatima’s response at the outpouring of support.
“I don’t think I have the words to tell you how grateful we are. This is a big step for laborers that this has received so much attention, and that their voices have reached a global stage and we are being heard. With this we hope to end bonded labor in Pakistan. Our responsibility now is to honor what you have trusted us with, and we will. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we want to build a real freedom center in Lahore, where we can work on not just releasing families but rehabilitation. We want workers to be treated with the rights they deserve as citizens.”
Humans of New York has made us all feel the struggles of the humans of Pakistan and showed the strength of a global community.
[Photo Courtesy of Brandon Stanton / Humans of New York]