Than Nwe and her children make bricks a couple of hours before dawn. Work begins at 4:00am and often doesn't finish until 5:00pm or later.
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Than Nwe tosses bricks, destroyed by the kiln fires, into a rubish cart. When they are not making new bricks, Naing Lin, Than Nwe and Naing Lin Oo work odd jobs to earn extra money.
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Than Nwe and Saung Ning Wai carry sacks of clay up to their brick making station.
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Naing Lin and Saung Ning Wai stack bricks to dry in the sun. Naing Lin often became angry at Saung Ning Wai for reasons that were not readily apparent. Moments of closeness, or times when they worked as a pair, were rare.
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Naing Lin and Than Nwe rest during midday. They subsisted on very little, often eating only two sparse meals per day. For the most part they drank only a little tea, smoked cheroots (local cigars), or chewed betel nut (a natural stimulant), to get through the day.
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Than Ko throws an old motorbike tire over his head while playing with his sister, Saung Ning Wai.
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Than Nwe places some wilted plants into a vase at the head of her husband's grave. He was buried here, a two minute walk from where his family continues to make bricks, after collapsing on a hot day and passing away. Than Nwe believed the plants to be a vessel for his spirit, and on that day she let his spirit leave their home so that he would not come and haunt them, as is the Burmese tradition.
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A brick kiln burns into the evening. These kilns, which can be built up to twenty-five feet high, will burn for up to a week creating acrid smoke that wafts over the community.
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Naing Lin Oo, the eldest son, swims in a muddy pool of water at the end of the day. A lot of responsibility was placed on him after his father died, being the only one of their children old enough to work. He often sought quite moments away from his family.
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Than Nwe nurses her baby daughter, Sandar Lin, and chats with her niece, Aye Nwe, whom they hired to help them make bricks.
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Naing Lin Oo leans against the door of his family's hut and tries to get reception on an old radio. He often became very angry about having to give his parents the money he earned, and treasured anything he could keep for himself.
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Aye Nwe lays out raw bricks to dry on another early morning, as Saung Ning Wai runs out to help her.
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Than Nwe carries her baby, Sandar Lin, back to their hut on a rainy day. Rain makes it impossible to fashion bricks or let them dry, and while that means a loss of income and the need to work harder to make up the deficit, it also means an extra day of rest.
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Saung Ning Wai washes dishes after supper.
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Than Ko holds his baby sister, Sandar Lin, while preparing to shoot a rubberband at his other sister, Saung Ning Wai. Than Ko is the primary caretaker of Sandar Lin during the day while his mother and older brother work.
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Than Nwe rests in the hot midday sun, leaning on a rusted cart she has been using to haul ruined bricks to a discard pile.
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Naing Lin Oo carries water up to his family's brick making station.
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Than Nwe Sweeps up the area around her hut. In addition to earning money, she also cooks, keeps the house, gardens, cares for the children, and takes care of most of the discipline. After her husband died, the amount of work and responsibility increased.
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Than Ko and Saung Ning Wai play with their baby sister, Sandar Lin.
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Naing Lin Oo scrounges through a trash pile after work, attempting to find something valuable to sell so that he can earn some cash for himself.
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Than Nwe yells for her children to return home in the evening.
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Saung Ning Wai holds her baby sister, Sandar Lin, as they gaze out of their hut on a rainy afternoon.
The home and workplace of Naing Lin, his wife Than Nwe, and the birthplace of their four children, is a brick factory on the outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar. The bricks, which serve as their means of survival - and entrapment through debt - contribute to the foundation of an economic revival that excludes them. Making bricks does not earn them livable wages, pay medical bills or send their children to school. One evening, at rest on the slatted bamboo floor of his home, part of his face illuminated by a coppery stripe of light from the setting sun, Naing Lin said, “We did not know that we would fall into debt and have to stay for so long, otherwise we would not have come.”
Around the turn of the century, Naing Lin and Than Nwe traveled to the brick factory on the promise of work. They came from the rural town of Hinthada on the Irrawaddy River, in the Ayeyarwady Region. Their stay was to be short but the cost of living forced them into debt. Faced with the prospect of being unable to return, they eventually started a family. Their first son, Naing Lin Oo, named after his father, turned fourteen in 2016. At that time, Than Ko was ten, his sister Saung Ning Wai a few years younger. Sandar Lin was only two years old. Her name, which means "shining moon" was bestowed upon her by her father who adored her as a lucky child.
Prior to 2016, life remained more or less unchanged for all of them. Though their home is a mere one hour drive from the drastic changes of downtown Yangon, and its turbulent history, their lives did not reflect this. Naing Lin and Than Nwe had heard of the infamous 1988 student uprisings, but had no recollection of the bloody 2007 Saffron Revolution. In Myanmar’s historic 2015 election, called the first free and fair election in the country’s history, they were offered cooking oil and rice for their vote. When it was discovered that they were unregistered, however, no effort was made to help them do so. Perhaps the most monumental moment in the history of their country passed them by, their voices lost in the chaos of transition.
In mid-March 2016, Naing Lin collapsed on a particularly hot day and shortly after he passed away. He was buried in an unmarked grave, a few minutes' walk from where he had spent the past fifteen years working. There was little time for grief. Than Nwe and Naing Lin Oo returned to work almost immediately, short a husband and a father. Naing Lin died helping to build a future for a country that did very little for him and his family. He, and eventually his wife and children, will all become part of the earth from which the cheap yet important bricks are made. Naing Lin, his family, and others like them are required by their country, but are not a part of its future.