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This Indian school accepts plastic waste instead of fees


India generates 26,000 tonnes of plastic waste every day.
Image: Akshar Foundation
It’s not unusual for children to arrive at school carrying bags. Usually, you might expect them to be full of books. But at one school in India, students are turning up with bags of trash.
The country has a plastic waste problem, generating 26,000 tonnes of the stuff every day. And in Pamohi, in the northeastern state of Assam, people had taken to burning it to keep warm in the harsh winters of the Himalayan foothills.
However, three years ago, when Parmita Sarma and Mazin Mukhtar arrived in the area and set up the Akshar Foundation School, they came up with an innovative idea: asking parents to pay their children’s school fees with plastic waste.
Mukhtar gave up a career as an aero engineer to work with disadvantaged families in the US before returning to India where he met Sarma, a social work graduate.
Together, they developed their idea, requesting that each child bring in at least 25 items every week. Although the foundation is a charity, supported by donations, its says the plastic waste “fees” encourage a sense of community ownership.
The school now has more than 100 pupils. Not only is it helping to improve the local environment, it has also started to transform the lives of local families by tackling child labour.
Instead of leaving school at a young age to work in the local quarries for $2.50 a day, older pupils are paid to teach the school’s younger children. As they progress academically, their pay increases.
 Pupils at the school learn essential digital literacy skills.
Pupils at the school learn essential digital literacy skills.
Image: Akshar Foundation
This way, families can afford to keep their children in school for longer. And not only do the pupils learn to manage money, they also get a practical lesson in the financial benefits of getting an education.

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