Pay ‘rubbish man’ in trash for schooling
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