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

Follow Us On

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.”

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

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.

Support the cause you care for. Browse All CampaignsBrowse all campaigns
Work in progress

Empower Poor Women To Rise Out Of Poverty

1,36,505 Raised
Out of 3,85,000

Share

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.

One of the construction projects which used plastic bottles used as bricks

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.

Senior students teaching junior students using tabs

“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.

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.

Akshar School Assam
Students and teachers planting saplings

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.

Akshar School Assam
Students helping to install solar panels in the school premises

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.

Love this story? Want to share a positive story?
Write to us: [email protected]
Connect with us on Facebook and Instagram

Let us know your thoughts on this story

Quote
It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote

A Group Of Karnataka Women Pushes Alcoholic, Abusive Husbands & Social Stigma Aside, Earns Through Recycling Workshop

Follow Us On

At thirteen, Neela was married off to a husband much older than her. At sixteen, she became a mother, and at nineteen, she was a widow. Despite having no regular income, she was faced with the daunting task of taking care of her in-laws, her own parents and of course, her little daughter. For young Neela, life has never known a trajectory where her voice is heard and her destiny is not blamed. That was until she came under the ambit of Hosa Belaku Artisan’s Foundation and discovered a new identity for herself. The taste of financial independence was indeed delightful for her, but her zeal to work hard for a newer, better life stood at the helm of it all.

No one has ever become poor by giving – Anne Frank

Founded by Kameshwari from Bengaluru, the foundation works with distressed women in three Karnataka villages, helping them to earn their livelihood by handcrafting a wide range of decorative or daily-use household items. Like Neela, nineteen women with struggles similar or worse, have found a new lease of life at Hosa Belaku Artisan’s Foundation. Every piece of item created at Hosa Belaku is recycled from leftover fabrics, paper, dry waste or scrap metals.

Hosa Belaku – a new dawn

“I have been working in the social sector for the past two decades. Since 2013, I got associated with Belaku Trust, who was working with rural women in Karnataka,” shares Kameshwari, a former legal executive. 

“Most of these women were victims of alcohol abuse and harassment on the domestic front. Some were widowed, single mothers or differently-abled – making life all the more hard for them in a patriarchal society. Unfortunately, circumstances led Belaku Trust to close their operations in 2015. The women were left in a lurch,” she narrates.

Some of these women desperately pleaded with Kameshwari to let them sustain their only source of income and independence. Moved by their plight, Kameshwari resolved to do her best to help as many women as possible. Investing a sizeable proportion of her own savings, she launched the Hosa Belaku Artisan’s Foundation in 2017.

At present, the foundation has active workshops in three villages in the suburbs of Bengaluru, namely, Halasuru, Achalu and Kadahalli. 

Support the cause you care for. Browse All CampaignsBrowse all campaigns
Work in progress

Empower Poor Women To Rise Out Of Poverty

1,36,505 Raised
Out of 3,85,000

Share

The gritty women of Hosa Belaku

At the prime of her life, Pavithra’s husband left her for another woman. Heartbroken and devastated, she was clueless about how to earn her living. The story is similar for many other women in these villagers, with careless, abusive or estranged husbands, most being alcohol addicts. The pangs of poverty would sometimes become more unbearable than the constant physical abuse by their husbands. Yet, they had no way to have some respite from the ordeal. Few women did work seasonally as agricultural labourers. The backbreaking toil in the sun would take a toll on their health, while the deplorable situation at their homes would haunt them for the rest of the year.

Empower Poor Women To Rise Out Of Poverty

Kameshwari mortgaged her jewelery for Rs 6 lakh to start Hosa Belaku Artisian's Foundation. Most of the women employed in this foundation face domestic violence in their homes. Kindly donate here : bit.ly/hosabelaku

Posted by Efforts For Good on Sunday, July 21, 2019

Society, with its primitive doctrines, only made it worse for these women. For instance, nobody was willing to marry Shivlingi because she had a facial deformity. After a point, her own brothers abandoned her as if she had become a liability.

If one visits these women now, they would be found basking in their newfound success with Hosa Belaku. But, not only the women, Hosa Belaku’s workforce comprises a 19-year-old young man as well. All his life, Yogi, who is affected by Polio, had accompanied his mother everywhere. She used to work with the foundation until she recently passed away in an accident. Yogi’s father is visually-challenged, so the entire family received a major emotional and financial setback after his mother’s sudden demise. A helpless Yogi would painstakingly drag himself from door to door in search of work. “We took him in and trained him in toy-making. Now you would find him in a corner, making beautiful toys for children,” shares a proud Kameshwari.

Sunshine, Lamp and Dawn – Illuminating lives

The women groups at the three villages are designated with three unique names and assigned with a unique task each. Kirana (Sunshine), the group at Kadahalli is involved with paper products, making notepads, bags and jewellery.

The Halsuru group Deepa (Lamp) has adopted the art of block printing. Vibrant, stylish and beautiful handbags, cushion covers, stoles and notebooks are curated with the utmost care and precision by the women.

At Ushe (Dawn), needle and thread rules. Women who were already skilled in sewing and embroidery now earn by making stuffed toys, patchwork products and embroidered fabrics.

True to their names, the groups have indeed brought new light into the lives of their employees.

Suma and Jayamma are both senior workers at Kirana who have succeeded in constructing small concrete houses for themselves, a huge step up from the dilapidated huts they spent their youth in. Another aged lady in the same group has another compelling achievement to be proud of. Bearing the taunts and trauma from her drunkard husband all her life, she has single-handedly raised a son and a daughter with proper education. Her son, who is currently an aspiring engineer, was supported with a laptop from Hosa Belaku. Honamma, a young widow from the group Deepa is treading a similar path, raising her son all on her own.

The only solace

How much gratitude these women have towards Hosa Belaku is perhaps evident from Shri’s unwavering dedication. Diabetes is taking a toll on her eyesight yet she refuses to give up and continues etching her grit on the ornate block-printed fabrics.

The reason for such gratitude is manifold. For the conscious urban consumers, Hosa Belaku is striving to save the environment with their 100%-recycled policy. But, for the workers, it is the lifeline which not only offers them economic security but also allows them a place to voice, share and resolve the problems plaguing their lives.

“They come here and find a peaceful break from their household obligations. Some still face domestic violence regularly, the workshop is an escape for them. They discuss their issues and try to find feasible solutions. It takes the load off their tired minds. The work here is a breath of fresh air for them,” Kameshwari asserts.

“We have been assisted time and again by established non-profits and retail chains across Bengaluru, who have graciously showcased and marketed products made by our artisans. We would like more people to know about Hosa Belaku and its incredible women, and respect their brilliant spirit by purchasing their crafts,” Kameshwari expresses her wish.

Let us know your thoughts on this story

Quote
It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
Next Click right arrow to read the next story Previous