Coming home from the brick kilns for good


Sushila lives in Jhankarguda, a remote village in Orissa, India with her husband, three daughters and son.

Jhankarguda is beautiful but extremely remote – pairs of water buffalo amble down the main dirt road, goats skitter along by villagers coming home from the field carrying their harvests over their heads. Unfortunately, this abundance is fleeting. When harvests run out, up to 80% of households must migrate annually, leaving this village nearly devoid of life for up to six months of the year.

Sushila is a member of the ultrapoor, a subset of the “extreme poor”— a classification of people who are living on less than $1.25/day. What characterizes these 200-400 million people around the world are their insufficient and irregular income, chronic food insecurity, poor health, and minimal assets and savings. They are highly vulnerable to health or environmental shocks and live in remote, rural areas. As a means of survival, they prioritize consumption over investment, and must make such difficult decisions like migrating from their homes for long periods of time in order to make a living.

The ultrapoor are disproportionately female, often members of indigenous groups and include people with disabilities, and are frequently underserved by government and international development program and policies.


Sushila and her husband were once among those who migrated. While they did own some land in Jhankarguda, they managed to harvest a single crop of rice paddy per year, which fed the family for only four to five months. As a result, they were forced to travel in search of daily wage labor in the neighboring state of Andhra Pradesh for five to six months out of the year. They were forced to pull their children out of school, leaving friends and neighbors behind.

Every September, migrants travel to work in brick kilns across Andhra Pradesh. Although many families from Jhankarguda migrate, the recruiters that come to the village to collect them ensure they don’t work together at the same brick kiln.

This is because conditions at the kilns are dire. Workers carry heavy head loads of sand, bricks and other materials, and are paid a meager sum based on the amount they carry.

Men, women and children over the age of ten all work each and every day. They are also forced to live in squalor. As a result, recruiters fear that if the families knew each other, they may work together to protest these conditions or make demands on the owners of the kilns.


When Trickle Up visited Sushila’s village in 2010 right after the migration season had ended, Sushila was eager to become a participant. Like so many of her neighbors, she and her family were frustrated by their living conditions, having to survive off her small plot for a few months and commit to backbreaking labor for the rest. Trickle Up provides ultrapoor women like Sushila with the tools to build livelihoods that grow their income, skills and self-confidence.



Through training by Trickle Up’s local partner agency LOKADRUSTI, Sushila was able to plan a robust farming strategy that dramatically increased her yields. Sushila invested 6,500 rupees ($141) of the seed capital she received from Trickle Up to construct a ring well on her land—a series of cement rings that form the wall of the well, with a lever system for drawing water to irrigate crops. With the proper seeds and fertilizers, Sushila began planting onions, tomatoes and leafy vegetables, allowing her to harvest two to three times per year. Her first yield was 1600 kg for which she earned 13,000 rupees ($283) by selling her these vegetables at local markets. Just from this first harvest, she was able to make twice her initial investment, while also feeding her family more nutritious meals, more often.


Sushila also joined a self-help group with nine other Trickle Up participants. Trickle Up encourages these groups to teach participants to save regularly, work together to build solidarity, and eventually be able to access credit to grow their livelihood ventures or in times of hardship. Sushila has been saving regularly from the beginning and has taken several loans from her group, including one to cover school fees for her children and another to bolster her livelihood activities.

Although the members of Sushila’s group are from different tribal groups, they have grown very close.

For example, the women collectively decided to clean the road that runs through their village, as well as the wells and drains used by the whole community. More recently, when a drought forced Sushila and other participants to abandon their crops, the women in the savings group came together and gave out loans to help the participants affected survive this lean season.

The result: Sushila and her family no longer have to migrate. In fact, it’s the first time in years they’ve stayed in Jhankarguda for an entire year.

Her husband has become her business partner and they look forward to focusing their energies on building Sushila’s livelihood so their family never has to go hungry—or migrate—again.She plans on taking advantage of the next growing season to do just this, while also remaining close with her savings group to promote collective action for the betterment of her community.

Sushila Phulbargia of Jhankarguda, Odisha, India
Farmer, entrepreneur, community member