Than Nwe (center) and her children begin making bricks at 4:00am. Their day will last over fourteen hours as they struggle to make enough to live. She cannot afford to send her children to school or even get enough to eat some days.
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Than Nwe heaves discarded bricks onto a cart. When she and her family aren't making bricks they do other odd jobs to make ends meet.
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Than Nwe and her daughter, Saung Ning Wai, carry sacks of clay up the embankment from a machine-dug pit to the small shack where their family fashions bricks.
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Naing Lin and his daughter, Saung Ning Wai, stack bricks in the sun to dry. Naing Lin loved his children but often became angry at Saung Ning Wai and peaceful, close moments between the two of them were rare.
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Naing Lin and his wife Than Nwe rest in the shade, drinking tea and smoking cheroots (local cigars).
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Than Ko throws an old bike tire over his head as he plays with his sister, Saung Ning Wai. They both worked hard to help their parents, but found time to play as well.
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Than Nwe places a dried plant at the head of her husbands grave. Naing Lin passed away after collapsing in the heat in March of 2016. Burmese people believe that the spirit of dead loved ones will occupy a plant kept in the house and that taking that plant to their grave after some time has passed will help the spirit to move on.
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Fire and smoke from a brick kiln burns into the dusk.
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Naing Lin Oo swims through muddy water created by machines digging for the clay-rich earth used to make bricks. He took on a lot of responsibility after his father's death and always sought out quiet moments to himself.
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Than Nwe nurses her youngest daughter, Sandar Lin, while she talks with her niece Aye Nwe during a break.
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Naing Lin Oo listens to the weak signal from an old radio he found while scavenging through a trash dump. Any money he earned went to his family and he struggled with not being able to have any possessions of his own.
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Aye Nwe lays out new bricks to dry as Saung Ning Wai runs up to help her in the early hours of the morning.
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Than Nwe carries Sandar Lin through the rain. Rainy days mean less money since bricks cannot be made, but they also provide a short reprieve from the back breaking labor and scorching temperatures.
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Saung Nin Wai cleans dishes after dinner.
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Than Ko - while caring for Sandar Lin - prepares to shoot a rubber band at Saung Ning Wai. The children often watched their youngest sister while their parents and older brother worked.
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Than Nwe leans on a metal cart to rest as the sun beats down on her.
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Naing Lin Oo carries water from a machine-made pool to their brick making station to moisten the clay.
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Than Nwe sweeps the area behind her hut.
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Than Ko and Saung Ning Wai play in the grass in front of their home, with their baby sister in tow.
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Naing Lin Oo searches through a trash dump for anything he can sell or keep for himself.
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Than Nwe yells for her children to come home for dinner.
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Saung Ning Wai holds her baby sister, Sandar Lin, as they look out of their hut on a rainy day.
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.