By Anthony DiFlorio
The latest photo series from Humans of New York (HONY) has challenged Pakistani bonded labor and empowered one of the country’s leading activists and her organization with over $2 million of globally crowdsourced funding.
In a seven-part series published on the HONY Facebook page in mid-August, photographer Brandon Stanton featured the work of Syeda Fatima, leader of the Bonded Labour Liberation Front, which fights to end the practice of bonded labor in the brick manufacturing industry of Pakistan.
As Stanton writes on Facebook, “Over 20,000 brick kilns operate in Pakistan supported by millions of workers, and the system is largely underpinned by an extremely close cousin of slavery—bonded labor. If the laborer dies, the debt is passed on to his or her children.”
An Al Jazeera article from July 2014 uncovered the horrors within the industry, including abuse and child labor.
BLLF estimates that there are over four million Pakistanis working at the kilns in bonded forced labor.
In a month-long venture, Stanton started an Indiegogo campaign to raise $100,000 to support the organization’s work. It rapidly surpassed that goal, raising roughly $2.3 million as of September 4.
The outpouring of support in the form of thousands of comments, shared photos, and donations online has overwhelmed Fatima.
“Thank you to everyone who has opened their hearts and donated to our cause,” she said on August 18. “I struggle to find the words, I don’t think I have the words to tell you how grateful we are.”
“Described as a modern day Harriet Tubman, Fatima has devoted her life to ending bonded labor. She has been shot, electrocuted, and beaten numerous times for her activism,” Stanton posted on the HONY Facebook page.
“If Fatima succeeds in her goal of providing education, legal assistance, and rehabilitation to every bonded laborer in Pakistan, the system will naturally collapse.”
Stanton’s activism through visual storytelling is not limited to the brickyards of Pakistan. In February 2015, his series on the students, teachers, and administrators of Mott Hall Bridges Academy in Brooklyn, New York raised over $1.4 million for the school. The campaign quickly reached its goal of $100,000 in a few days and funded trips to Harvard University for three sections of students.
Additionally, it helped start a new scholarship fund, a summer activities program, and now, yearly field trips to the aforementioned Ivy League institution.
Stanton’s storytelling continuously highlights not only the diversity of talent and courage in the world, but also the scope and impact of global generosity and charity.