An Indian boy, no more than 12 years old, sat hunched in the scorching sun over a piece of large granite. With a chisel and hammer, he broke the rock into tiny pieces. The fragments were then collected by hand and dumped onto a waiting lorry in the quarry.
This was one scene which several young adults from Singapore witnessed during a mission exposure trip to Bangalore recently.
A total of 25 people took part in the Redemptorists Overseas Mission Exposure (R.O.M.E.) to the capital of the Indian state of Karnataka from June 8-16.
This annual mission trip, led by Fr Simon Pereira, aims to expose young adults to situations of poverty and oppression.
During the trip, participants visited the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus home for children who are HIV-positive, and saw for themselves the situations faced by workers in quarries, some of whom were children.
Participants saw how these workers were not given helmets, goggles, masks, gloves or boots and were required to work for long hours in the heat and dust.
As a result, many suffer from respiratory diseases, loss of limbs due to falling rocks and blindness from rocks that hit them in the eye.
Their living quarters were tiny huts held together by mud and leaves. Barely able to fit more than two adults, families of more than four live in them.
During the trip, several participants travelled with the Sacred Heart Brothers who run the Brothers Integrated Rural Development Society or BIRDS.
One of their projects is Planet Hope, a place that provides a safe haven for children rescued from hard labour at quarries.
One such child was 11-year-old Anita, who performed a Bollywood dance number for the Singapore visitors. When asked if she wanted to be a movie star when she grew up, she replied that she had her heart set on becoming a doctor.
BIRDS runs schools, day care centres and clinics and also provides information on topics such as financial independence and family planning to women in remote villages.
In their nightly sharings after Mass, the Singapore visitors expressed anger over the way workers were treated at the quarry and helplessness at not being able to do more for the children.
On their last day, they pledged to spread the word about the situation in the hope that the quarry owners would improve the welfare of staff.
“Having met and witnessed the lives of the underprivileged, the one thing I saw was love,” said Trisha, 27, one of the participants.
“I saw the love in every child’s smile, in their eyes and in their touch. In exchange for an education and shelter, these children have to be separated from their parents and we take our loved ones for granted.”