Former Child Labourers Pay ‘School Fees’ With Dry Plastic Waste & Earn Salary By Teaching Their Juniors | Doonited.India

July 23, 2019

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Former Child Labourers Pay ‘School Fees’ With Dry Plastic Waste & Earn Salary By Teaching Their Juniors

Former Child Labourers Pay ‘School Fees’ With Dry Plastic Waste & Earn Salary By Teaching Their Juniors
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Little students standing in a queue with a bunch of plastic packets in their hands – this is a common sight if one visits Akshar Foundation school in Pamohi, Assam. The plastic packets are actually the ‘school fee’ students need to pay monthly. How does that work? Mazin Mukhtar, the co-founder of Akshar, explains to Efforts For Good, “The local villagers used to burn their plastic waste after every few days. Toxic fumes would waft into our classrooms and loom over the neighbourhood. So, a few months ago, we included the ‘plastic school fee’ in our list of recycling projects. The school is free, instead, students are asked to collect all dry plastic waste from their homes and submit to us. We then teach the students to make recycle these and use in small construction projects on our campus. We have been able to spread awareness among the families of the students about the plastic menace.”

Student-teachers earn toy money

The Akshar school is perhaps the first-of-its-kind in India. Housing around a hundred students from 4 to 15 years of age, the school follows a peer-to-peer learning model, where senior students are assigned to tutor a group of juniors. And there are incentives as well, for these little teachers. According to the time and effort they put in, they are paid a periodical salary in toy currency notes. “They can use these notes in local shops to buy snacks, toys, shoes and even clothes,” informs Mazin.

However, life was not always this fun for the student-teachers at Akshar. “I had studied in my village school up to class 4. I had to drop out after that due to financial constraints. Instead, I started working in a sand quarry,” shares one of the students, a former child labourer. “I used to work in a stone quarry,” another young boy chimes in. Now, both of them can be found explaining the basic rules of addition or spelling out ‘ELEPHANTS’ to the toddlers at their school. Technology plays an important role inside Akshar classrooms, as students can be spotted handling laptops or tablets with ease.

From child labourers to responsible teachers

Akshar admits child labourers from the local tribal communities, along with children of the local villages, and exposes them to a nurturing environment.

The older students are taught by expert adult teachers and then they are delegated to mentor young children during school hours. Teaching their younger counterparts helps these youngsters acquire confidence, responsibility and a strong work ethic. They go home and guide their younger siblings the same way. Earning the toy money automatically hones their financial management skills and grooms them to be a responsible citizen in future.

“The popular notion among the low-income families here is that if they send their children to work, they will fetch some extra earning for the household. It took time for us to dissuade them. That is another reason why we offer toy money as salary to our student-teachers; it can help them with their basic needs, sort of like pocket money. And they get the sense of earning through learning,” explains Mazin.

How the plastic school fees work

The recycling projects at Akshar deserve special mention. The plastic bags and packets that the students bring from their homes and neighbourhood are collected together and turned into ‘Eco-bricks’. “Students make these as their extra-academic activities. It is really simple. 30-40 packets are pressed and stuffed inside a plastic bottle, turning it into a sturdy building material unit. These are later used to make small structures like garden fences, walls etc.,” Mazin reveals.

Such initiatives are not only making the kids environmentally conscious, but it is also enabling the local community to adopt eco-friendly ways of living. “Our students are trying to convince their families to stop dumping or burning of plastic. We put a sign in front of the homes and shops who have agreed to take part in our recycling drive. This helps spread the word,” he shares.

Other activities at Akshar School

Caring for stray animals features in the curriculum of Akshar. They involve their students to take care of stray dogs, from feeding them to monitoring the daily medication for the injured or sick animals. The school shelters such helpless stray dogs for days and the students provide them with the best treatment and care, after which they are offered for adoption.

The students also participate in tree plantation inside their school, which is constructed in a completely sustainable manner, with natural materials like bamboo, wood, clay and recycled plastic.

Gardening, carpentry, the basics of solar technology, farming, electronics – for everyone else, the list might seem like a series of unconnected professions, but these are actually things that are taught to the students at Akshar. “We aim to build them into complete citizens with expertise in all life skills. Only this way we can dream of a better society one day,” Mazin expresses.

Efforts For Good will bring you more stories of schools that are proving how knowledge goes beyond classrooms and learning is an immersive experience too extensive to be contained in textbooks.



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