Every morning, students from the village of Pamohi in Assam go to school carrying a plastic garbage bag, in return for which they get a lesson for their day.
The Akshar School, founded by 32-year-old Mezin Mukhtar and his wife of 30 years, Pramita Sarma, reduced school fees and turned locals into agriarians by helping locals stop burning used plastic. Is.
Toxic pollution in the village was causing environmental hazards, children were coughing in their classrooms and snoring at home.
The school was set up to educate children in the area, most of whom were working in local quarries, earning 3 (2.25) a day. Under intense pressure, the parents wanted to send an earning member of the family to study.
When we asked parents to send their household plastic with their children on the school bus, none of them complied. They prefer to burn their own plastic at home. So my wife told him that we would start charging fees. Fees they can pay in cash from home, or in plastic trash, ”says Mukhtar.
The alternative school fee policy resulted in 100% compliance of parents who also signed a pledge to stop burning plastic.
The school also offers vocational training to strengthen bridges built in the community. Mukhtar, an African-American citizen who came to Assam in 2013 to work on a school project, came to Assam to work on a school project where he met social work student Sarma. Guwahati University The couple founded Akshar in 2016, raised money to build it and funded it from private donors to run it.
Out of the original 20 students, Akshar now has seven teachers who manage 110 children between the ages of 4 and 15, and a 100 strong waiting list.
“We try to teach students to take responsibility for their surroundings and to strive for their betterment,” says Sarma. “When we collect at least 25 units of plastic per week from each student, we can collect upwards of 10,000 plastics per month. These have been converted into eco bricks for construction. The burning has significantly reduced the clouds of toxic fumes that plagued the school.
An unconventional way to reduce child labor has also been devised. “Since we can never afford to reward children like palms, we developed a parenting peer-to-peer learning model, under which older children will tutor younger children, and in return There will also be payments in toy currency notes that can be used to buy snacks, clothes, toys and shoes at local shops. As students progress academically, their salaries increase. “Learn more to earn more,” said Mukhtas, adding that the financial incentive has been a powerful stimulus to society.
“There has been no drop in school in the last two years. Older children can earn about $ 60-70 a month depending on the work assigned to them. Many people have even bought cell phones from their earnings, which their parents still cannot afford.
During the height of the epidemic, PPE classes were held outside. Lockdown saw the school converted into a food relief center. The senior students worked as social workers, identified needs locally and provided rations to feed about 15,000 people in the slums and villages of Guwahati.
“Students are becoming more familiar now. They know that plastic is bad for their health and the environment. She is talking to her parents about the harmful effects, which she has been informed about, “says teacher Akansha Dara.
Jyoti’s mother Sompa Boro, 10, and Junali, 15, said they attended a private school but had to leave. “We were struggling to pay their fees. Thankfully, Akshar accepted them and we are very happy with the kind of education we are getting. Akshar has given us a very positive way of thinking and thinking.” I have helped to change.
The school has also changed the lives of its students. “Children who come to our school are disrespected and abused by society. When they come in, they are full of anger and aggression. But when they study and learn new skills, they are more empathetic, They are optimistic and confident. In fact, we have a 13-year-old girl who could hardly speak when she joined three years ago. “But now she is not only excelling academically, but also in her spare time,” says Sarma. I am also teaching two children at a local English medium school. “
Mukhtar and Sarma have now signed with the Guwahati authorities to implement the Akshar model in five government schools and there are plans to start a sustainable landscaping course.
According to B Kalyan Chakraborty, Principal Secretary, Assam Education Department, Akshar Model proved that environmental education can work. Akshar can be the brand ambassador of the Department of Education’s efforts in Assam to show what can and cannot be done in all schools. The awareness they are raising in society as a whole will be a significant help in our fight against climate change.
Mukhtar and Sarma are happy that the community is behind them. “Children are learning new things every day. They like to come to school so much that they don’t want holidays, “says Sarma.
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