Like many other countries, India is faced with the problem of plastic waste. Every day, 26 tons of waste are produced throughout the country! And in the Pamogi region of the northeastern state of Assam, people began to burn waste to keep warm in the harsh winters of the foothills of the Himalayas.
However, three years ago, Parmita Sarma and Mazin Mukhtar arrived in the area, who founded the Akshar Foundation school and came up with an innovative idea: to ask parents to pay for their children’s education not with money, but with plastic waste.
Mukhtar gave up his career as an aeronautical engineer to work with disadvantaged families in the US and then returned to India where he met Sarma, a social work graduate.
Together they developed their idea that every child should bring in at least 25 plastic items every week. Although this charity is supported only by donations, its founders believe that “paying” with plastic waste contributes to a sense of shared responsibility.
The school now has over 100 students. Not only does it help improve the local environment, but it has also begun to change the lives of local families by eradicating child labor.
Instead of dropping out of school at a young age and working in local quarries for $2,5 a day, older students are paid to tutor younger ones. As they gain experience, their salary increases.
In this way, families can allow their children to stay in school longer. And students not only learn how to manage money, but also get a practical lesson about the financial benefits of getting an education.
Akshar’s curriculum combines hands-on training with traditional academic subjects. The purpose of the school is to help teenagers go to college and get an education.
The practical training includes learning how to install and operate solar panels, as well as helping to improve the school and community areas in the area. The school also partners with an educational charity that provides students with tablets and interactive learning materials to improve their digital literacy.
Outside of the classroom, students also help out at the animal shelter by rescuing and treating injured or abandoned dogs and then looking for a new home for them. And the school’s recycling center produces sustainable bricks that can be used for simple building projects.
The founders of the Akshar school are already spreading their idea in New Delhi, the capital of the country. The Akshar Foundation School Reform Community plans to create five more schools next year with one ultimate goal: to transform India’s public schools.