Guwahati, May 7, 2019
At a time when parents are getting mini heart attacks whenever they have to pay school fees due to skyrocketing fees, it is refreshing to come across a school that is doing the society as well as environment a favour by taking plastic waste in return for imparting quality education.
Beside the banks of the Ramsar side ‘Deepor Beel’, a young couple started ‘Akshar’ with a vision of ensuring free education to children in a healthy and green environment.
Paramita Sarma and Mazin Mukhtar, the faces behind this noble project have been lauded by all and sundry when this amazing motive of the young couple came to light.
“I am from New York and we started back in 2016 when we were struggling just for 100 students. Now, we have to limit intake due to shortage of funds”, Mahzin told InsideNortheast.
Paramita further stated that Mahzin was invited to Assam by Tez Hazarika, the son of Bharat Ratna Bhupen Hazarika. “We met three years back, and we found that both of us were heading forward in the same direction. And that is why we jointly started ‘Akshar’ and now it’s running well and we have tied the knot”, she says.
Akshar’s first challenge was bringing students to the school.
The nearby children used to work in a stone quarry where they use to get Rs 150-200 per day. And bringing the students from the quarry to the school was challenging because the parents needed the money that the children were earning. “In the stone quarries, these students would get Rs 150-200 per day. We could never match that monetarily, so instead, we proposed a mentor ship peer-to-peer learning model, whereby older kids would tutor the younger ones, and in return get paid in toy currency notes that can be used to buy snacks, clothes, toys, shoes, etc”, adds Parmita.
“We could never match that monetarily, so instead, we proposed a mentorship peer-to-peer learning model, whereby older kids would tutor the younger ones, and in return get paid in toy currency notes that can be used to buy snacks, clothes, toys, shoes, etc.” added Parmita.
“Bringing the students was tough and assuring them of the monetary value of education was way more difficult. We have assured the parents and the students that Akshar will take care of the students until they get a proper job”, Mahzin Mukhtar said.
The next step taken by ‘Akshar’ was to decide upon plastic material as school fees.
Mahzin says that since the villagers are learning to recycle, they are eventually becoming agents of change in their own social circles.
“And, we are already receiving a good response, as many families participating in the recycling drive have agreed to put up signs in front of their homes and shops to spread awareness,” Paramita adds.
The procedure, Parmita adds, is being carried forward by the senior students, with the help of a student-teacher model.
The students with the help of teachers then create various construction materials with the plastic waste that can help in creating better infrastructure on campus.
The school that had started with only 20 kids now has over 100 children between the ages of 4 to 15 years old who are starting to change the future of the poor community. Each child brings in at least 25 items of plastic waste per week, as their contribution to their community and the environment.
Mahzin further says that ‘Akshar’ is different from rest of the teaching model because they are not a typical school, and that’s apparent from the moment one enters the premises.
“Here, you will find students attending classes sitting in open spaces under bamboo roofs. The idea behind this is to expand the conventional ideas of education. And so, instead of age-specific grades or class, we have levels, where students of various age groups study the same thing all at the same time” Mahzin further adds.
The happy couple is planning to open 100 such schools across the nation in the next five years.