How "Akshar" is given a new meaning in Education with Waste Solution

July 14th , 2019 | Mazin Mukhtar

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People in poverty can be mobilised to heal the planet

When Akshar’s founders met, we agreed on the need for a new kind of school that teaches underprivileged children how to combat poverty and the destruction of the environment. We saw that Education, Poverty Alleviation and Conservation are inextricably linked, and to raise a generation of responsible citizens requires a holistic approach. We believed -- and still believe -- that billions of people in poverty could be mobilised to heal the planet, instead of being the main threat to the planet.

 

Akshar Forum is a model school where innovative teaching methods are developed and refined. It is a free livelihood school in that teaches underprivileged children how to earn a living, start a business, initiate development work in their own communities, and heal their environment. The school functions on the belief that all of the basic needs of the individual need to be met in order to achieve self-actualization and escape cyclic, systemic poverty. Since charity can often breed dependence, rather than empowerment, parents and students are given the opportunity to earn what they need. Akshar Forum combines the functions of a school with those of an employment agency, business incubator, and development agency. By addressing education and employment together, blending academics with vocational training, Akshar can ensure graduates secure gainful livelihoods and contribute to the development of their own communities.

Education to earn a living and maintaining environment

We started our model school, Akshar Forum, in 2016, with a mission to teach children how to earn a living and maintain their environment. Akshar Forum's model is designed to be replicated in government schools throughout India -- we have started reforming our first government school last year. In May 2018, we launched the Akshar Recycling Center on campus, employing at-risk teens after school to collect plastic from the community. At-risk teens are also employed as tutors for younger children during the school day. The School Recycling Center simultaneously helps fight the plastic menace in the community, teaches children crucial values and skills, and enables teens to earn enough money to stay in school. Our goal is to spread this model to schools throughout India, and our award from Earth Day Network will certainly help in this mission. Our students have started developing innovative tools and inventions to increase the efficiency of recycling operations and learn business management principles in the process. Our ultimate vision is to develop students all over the world until, when they are at the college level, they can design and implement a wide array of useful inventions to stop the collapse of the biosphere.

Plastic as a school fees initiative

In October 2018, Akshar instituted our policy of "Plastic School Fees", to make the participation of parents in recycling efforts mandatory. Before we instituted this policy, villagers were not motivated to participate in our plastic collection and recycling efforts. So, we made it a mandatory condition of their children's enrolment in our free school. Parents also sign a pledge upon enrolment to submit their plastic to the school and stop burning plastic waste at home. Now students are requested to bring all of their plastic from home (amounts vary depending on usage), but we recommend 5 plastic packets per day (25 per week). Our teens collect plastic packets and bottles from local businesses, and 20-40 packets are sequestered into a single bottle to make a sturdy Eco-brick. One small tree planter (pictured above) contains approximately 200 plastic bottles and 4,000 plastic packets. That plastic would have been dumped or burned, harming the local environment. Instead it has been repurposed to protect nature, rather than cause harm. Last year, the school was funded by Oil India Limited, to add to the irony.

 

The assets required to escape poverty – employment, skills, education, enterprise, self-esteem, health, family stability and a clean environment – cannot be adequately addressed separately, by organizations, government schemes and projects working separately. Employment is unattainable without education. Education is futile if children are malnourished and abused at home. Enterprise is impossible without self-esteem and independence. We know what people need in order to prosper; we must help them to earn these basic needs, to create a more educated, equitable, and stable populace, equipped to overcome the great challenges the global community faces – from climate change and widespread food shortages to drug-resistant diseases and nuclear proliferation. 

Overpopulation is often pegged as the main threat facing the international community, as if human beings are the biggest threat to civilization. But what if, instead of billions of poor, uneducated, and unemployed liabilities, we have masses of educated, empowered, enterprising people. It may be enough to avert the existential threats facing the global community. And it starts by educating the whole child. 

The author of the story is “Mazin Mukhtar of Akshar and you can know more about them on  https://www.aksharfoundation.org

InwasteR is only a platform to share WaStory and the views and experience are purely of the author.

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