A Day in the Life of a Persian Carpet

This short story about a young carpet weaver written by 12-year-old Zipporah van Oldenbarneveld captured first place for a youth writing contest sponsored by The Hamilton Public Library in Ontario, Canada. The piece is "fiction," yet accurately captures some of the brutal conditions endured by an estimated 250,000 child weavers today.

Zipporah van Oldenbarneveld

Zipporah van Oldenbarneveld

12,500,000 weaves,

6,250,000 threads,

250,000 knots,

168 hours.

Each of my threads is intricately woven with the pain and anguish of a child. Every knot has been sewn with blood, sweat and tears. Behind each of my beautifully crafted designs is a tormented and beaten soul whose creative potential was abused for material greed.

As I lie here, I think of all the brutal labor that has gone into making me. The exploitation, neglect and torment one little boy has had to endure and the many other children like him.

He had a future, they had a future. And it was stripped from them. I can still remember the painful images of a faint light…

Its glow was radiating above five children out of the hundred, also in front of looms in the surrounding rows. The space these children were crammed into had endless rows of benches they had to squat over. As my eyes began to adjust to the dim atmosphere, I immediately saw the silhouette of a boy right in front of me! As I focused, I began to take in his features. He was no older than eight, with dark hair and skin. He had an expressionless face, with heavy, dark eye bags caused by sleep deprivation. His eyes were steadily looking downward at his hands, as he repetitively tied more knots of yarn into me. As I watched this, I noticed something … his hands and arms were mutilated! Not only were they scarred and callused but deep, fresh cuts riddled his entire arms; swarms of flies encircled these wounds. His fingers were gnarled and twisted into hideous shapes: his pinkie was bent into the shape of a hook and his left thumb was pulled back in the opposite direction.

I had to look away. As I did, I met his gaze. He wiped his brow as beads of sweat ran down his forehead and dripped from his nose. He was careful not to get any sweat on me, though. And just like his arms, his face had cuts. Not as severe, but one (across his cracked lips) was swollen and bursting with puss. I also noticed the layers of dust that covered his face except for two lines descending on his cheeks, which marked the flow of past tears.

As the golden light pouring in from one of the few boarded windows slowly faded, I felt a strong feeling of dread and terror from the boy. He began to sweat profusely and his tiny hands were rapidly tying knots at triple his normal pace. He was hunched into an even smaller ball and his eyes were fixated on his work more intently than ever. I pondered why this was and, unfortunately, I would get my answer.

Out of the very back of the factory, came two men. The first looked like a businessman, since he was wearing fine clothes of silk and matching jewelry. While the bulkier man lagging behind him looked like his guard and enforcer. This man was bare-chested and carried a whip; his nostrils flared and his mouth turned into a scowl as both men came to a stop right beside the boy in front of me. His hands were trembling now and his eyes began to well up with tears. But he continued his work, hoping they would spare him. I too, began to feel his pain and anguish as the businessman said, "Your time is up."

There was no response. And then I had my answer: the deadline for my completion was today. Suddenly I saw the swift motion of a raised arm and an ear-splitting scream of agony. The boy fell to the floor as the blow from the whip hit his neck.

I wanted to help. I wanted to save him but I knew I couldn't. And that feeling of helplessness will haunt me for the rest of my life.

There was an eerie silence as they dragged him away from me, past the children in the other rows and through the aisle. The girl beside me was silently crying and every child stopped working and stared in horror.

But before they reached the doors leading outside, he limply said, "Have hope."
And the door closed. The sound of repetitive weaving immediately started again. And moments later, a gunshot was fired.

There is not one day that goes by that I do not think of him. As I lie limply on the tiles of this living room, the pain of his labor and children like him, are forever woven into me, and something else … their hope.

12,500,000 weaves,

6,250,000 threads,

250, 000 knots,

168 hours,

1 dream.

Stand with Sanju

Stand with Sanju film still


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Children's Stories

At the age of five, Manju was already working on the rug looms. While she has since been found and freed from illegal carpet work, some 250,000 children throughout South Asia still toil in obscurity. Through GoodWeave nearly 3,600 kids like Manju have been rescued, rehabilitated and educated, and thousands more deterred from entering the work force.

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