When Humans of New York's (HONY) Brandon Stanton came to Pakistan this summer, we knew we were bound to discover some remarkable stories. To conclude his series, he put the spotlight on a very special change agent: Syeda Ghulam Fatima.
Fatima is a notable activist in the country, who is known for her work towards ending bonded labour in Pakistan's treacherous brick kilns.
Talking to Dawn.com, Fatima recalls what it was like meeting Brandon and how he has helped spread awareness about the prevailing social shame:
"Brandon went and met these labourers himself, he saw how miserable their lives are and it was evident that he wanted to do something to help. His support has been appreciated immensely and he has these kiln workers' prayers with him."
She adds: "It took someone from a different country coming in and spreading the word about this social ill that plagues our nation."
There are millions of workers who are trapped in this system of debt bondage, one that Stanton refers to as "an extremely close cousin of slavery." Fatima runs an organization focused on the emancipation and rehabilitation of such workers called Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLFF); a fundraising campaign was launched by the blogger to help raise money for Fatima's cause.
Eight hours ago, the campaign had generated around $600,000. The sum doubled overnight and is a whopping $1.2 million at the moment.
The longer he works, the larger his debt grows.
Labourers in rural Pakistan get lured into working at one of the 20,000 brick kilns in the country by accepting small loans in exchange for working there for a short period of time. Once cornered into the vicious cycle, it is next to impossible to find their way out as their debt keeps increasing. The workers are forced to do the job until the day they die; even then, the debt is not forgiven. It is passed on to their children.
Although technically illegal, the voices of these workers go unheard as Pakistan's rural areas are laced with corruption and the wealthy and powerful are unaccountable.
When asked about how the funds will be allocated, the BLFF founder states, "The organization's committee has to sit down and decide that, I am only one member of the committee. Nothing is set in stone right now but we will continue our agenda working towards the freedom of these labourers, their education and providing them with legal aid, among other things. Rest assured, the process will be completely transparent and there will be an open publication about everything."
For those skeptical about HONY's agenda, will this be a wake up call?
Though most responses to HONY's Pakistan series were positive, some people did criticize and question Stanton's motives. That may no longer be possible, as the fundraising campaign has achieved in a few short hours what many months of campaigning might not have made possible.
Fatima is not the only person Stanton has helped through his iconic photo series — visitors to his page were equally interested in helping this woman, below, who suffers from Hepatitis C.
We wonder — what will HONY do next?