Pay ‘rub­bish man’ in trash for school­ing

DNA (Daily News & Analysis) Mumbai Edition - - FRONT PAGE - —AFP

Sit­ting in a build­ing made from used tyres, plas­tic bot­tles and old sneak­ers, Cam­bo­dian stu­dent Roeun Bun­thon jots down notes dur­ing an English les­son at the “Rub­bish School” where tu­ition is paid for with trash in­stead of cash.

In re­turn, needy kids like Bun­thon, a former street beg­gar, can take com­puter, math­e­mat­ics and lan­guage classes — and learn the value of re­duc­ing waste in a no­to­ri­ously pol­luted coun­try where re­cy­cling is nearly non-ex­is­tent.

“I’ve stopped beg­ging... it’s like I have an­other chance,” said Bun­thon, who paid for his en­roll­ment with a bag of dis­carded bot­tle caps.

Lo­cated in a lush na­tional park, the Co­conut School is built al­most en­tirely from re­cy­cled waste and is the brain­child of Ouk Van­day, nick­named the Rub­bish Man, a former ho­tel man­ager who dreams of a trash-free Cam­bo­dia.

About 65 kids are en­rolled at the school, where class­room walls are made of painted car tyres and the en­trance adorned with a mu­ral of the Cam­bo­dian flag made en­tirely from colour­ful bot­tle caps.

Most of that garbage came from stu­dents in the form of school fees.

“I use rub­bish to ed­u­cate chil­dren by turn­ing garbage into class­rooms... so the chil­dren will un­der­stand the value of us­ing rub­bish in a use­ful way,” the 34-year-old said at the school, which opened a year and a half ago about 115 km west of Phnom Penh.

He plans to ex­pand classes in the poor, agri­cul­tural province of Kam­pong Speu to ac­com­mo­date 200 kids, with a new kin­der­garten class fea­tur­ing a wall made from plas­tic bot­tles set to open next year.

He’s op­ti­mistic the young minds are en­vi­ron­men­tal am­bas­sadors in the mak­ing.

“We hope they’ll be­come new ac­tivists in Cam­bo­dia, un­der­stand­ing the use, man­age­ment and re­cy­cling of waste,” Van­day said.

Van­day’s in­spi­ra­tion came af­ter trav­el­ling around Cam­bo­dia and see­ing tourist sites clogged with garbage. Trou­bled by this, he set up a pi­lot project in Phnom Penh in 2013 be­fore ex­pand­ing it to a sec­ond lo­ca­tion in the na­tional park.


The Co­conut School at Kirirom Na­tional Park in Cam­bo­dia

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