There’s a school in a remote village of Cambodia that’s entirely made of trash.

We’ve all been there. School! That’s why we can read and write, and now even hold a job. Although the process sucks a bit, but we have to be grateful to our teachers. Today, we’re not here to give you a lesson in school, but the story of a school that’s proven to be peculiar among all schools in the world. This isn’t any of the fancy schools in Europe, or the United States. This is the story of a school that was built entirely from trash. Yes, we mean garbage. Dear friends, welcome to the Coconut School, a school built entirely from rubbish.

Related media: This School Is Made Of Trash

The Tale Of The Rubbish School

The Coconut School — also known as the “Rubbish School” — is located in a national park on top of a remote mountain some 115 kilometers (70 miles) west of the capital Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The school was the idea of former hotel manager Ouk Vanday, who envisions a future free from garbage in Cambodia. The school was built almost entirely from recycled waste — used tires, plastic bottles, scrap metal, and virtually any thing you can call trash.

The school serves as a refuge for poor kids who cannot afford paying school fees in the nearby villages. There are roughly 65 kids enrolled at the school; classrooms are made of painted tires with the school’s entrance adorned with a mural of the Cambodian national flag also made of bottle caps. Most of the trash came from the kids who attend the school in the form of school fees.

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

The school has proven that, kids like Bunthon could also afford an education with whatever they have to offer, leaving no child behind. Not only do these needy kids attend affordable school, they also get to learn proper waste management at school as well, since that’s what literally runs their school. Vanday’s dream is for the kids to learn the value of reducing waste in a notoriously polluted country where recycling is nearly non-existent.

“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,” Vanday said at the school’s opening day in … 

If There’s Trash, Just Build A School There

Vanday plans to establish more schools made of trash in the poor remote agricultural communities of the province of Kampong Speu that would accommodate more kids in the future. 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 told AFP.

This trash-school idea was an idea Vanday conceived after touring Cambodia upon witnessing tourist sites clumped with garbage. This made him startup a pilot project in Phnom Penh in 2013 before resettling his idea in the national park. Vanday hopes to live in a trash-conscious Cambodia where plastic bags and bottles aren’t tossed around without a second thought, many of which end up in garbage-choked cities or smothering once-idyllic beaches.

According to the Ministry of Environment, Cambodia accumulates 3.6 million tonnes of waste each year. About a mere 11 percent of all that trash is recycled, with half of that been burned or disposed into rivers and the ocean, causing widespread pollution, said ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra. While the rest are being trucked away to ever-growing landfills and dump sites of piles of trash.

These are the everyday scenes that inspired Vanday to found the Coconut School, with the support and donation from several volunteer teachers for kids who cannot afford regular education at a state-run schools. This is also an opportunity to help kids who cannot afford the after-school programs that has become commonplace for most of Cambodia’s youth.

Pay Your School Fees With Your Trash

Although public education in Cambodia is “free” by law, yet supplementary lessons for English and other extracurricular subjects cost extra — from $5 per class to hundreds of dollars depending on the school and the location.  This seems like an investment the average median income earning family can’t afford; and for even poorer families in remote areas, kids are sent to beg for money to support the home, making it difficult for them to even pay for extra classes. Vanday dreams that his school will end this.

“My English teacher doesn’t let me beg for money or gamble,” says one of the kids at the school. “I’m glad. When I grow up, I want to be a doctor.”

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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Tue, Mar 09, 2021.


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