This article originally appeared on VICE Asia
A school in India is now accepting student fees in the form of plastic waste. Akshar Forum, a small school for underprivileged children in the Indian village of Pamohi, Guwahati, was founded in 2016 with the objective of training students to “earn a livelihood by being responsible to the government”, Homegrown reports. Six months ago, this took the form of a recycling program that encouraged students to collect and segregate dry plastic waste in the area.
Now, as a way to both tackle environmental concerns and encourage local families to send their kids to school, Akshar is letting students pay tuition with whatever plastic waste they collect.
“We wanted to start a free school for all, but stumbled upon this idea after we realised a larger social and ecological problem brewing in this area,” Parmita Sarma, co-founder of Akshar, told local publication The Better India. “I still remember how our classrooms would be filled with toxic fumes every time someone in the nearby areas would burn plastics. Here it was a norm to burn waste plastic to keep warm. We wanted to change that and so started to encourage our students to bring their plastic waste as school fees.”
The initiative aims “to train students in recognising how to live an eco-friendly life”, according to the school’s vice president Priyongsu Borthakur, while also offering an opportunity for families to give their children an education without the worry of it being a financial burden. It’s not uncommon for households in Pamohi to send their kids to the stone quarries rather than the local schools so they can earn a few rupees a day. Akshar offers an affordable and eco-friendly solution to that problem—while remunerating the kids for their time in other ways.
“At the stone quarries, these students would get Rs 150-200 per day,” Parmita points out. “We could never match that monetarily, so instead, we proposed a mentorship peer-to-peer learning model, whereby older kids would tutor the younger ones, and in return get paid in toy currency notes that can be used… in a nearby shop to buy small things like snacks, toys, chocolates, etc.”
Beyond that, Akshar hopes to educate the community at large about the health and environmental hazards that come from burning plastic waste—encouraging young and old locals to embrace the recycling drive.
“During the winters, most families here create bonfires out of plastic waste and huddle in front of it to beat the cold,” Partima said. “We were shocked when we saw this and decided to start educating the community about the hazards they are exposing their children to.
“We are already receiving a good response, as many families participating in the recycling drive have agreed to put up signs in front of their homes and shops to spread awareness.”
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