PHNOM PENH – A primary school has turned an excess of Phnom Penh street trash into a learning opportunity for hundreds of local children.
Piles of roadside rubbish are a common site in Cambodia’s major cities, including in the capital where up to 40 percent of residents have no waste collection service. In some of the poorer neighborhoods, that figure can be twice as high, according to the non-profit Asia Foundation.
Since the early-1990s when current prime minister Hun Sen came to power, Cambodia’s economy has grown rapidly as it opened up to foreign investment, and a wave of consumerism has led to a massive increase of waste.
While this might pose problems for authorities and many citizens, a local school has spotted an opportunity among the mess.
Coconut School, located on an island in the Mekong River, is built almost entirely out of trash collected from streets and landfills around the capital city.
Founder Ouk Vandy named his project after the coconut trees which he and volunteers used to build the school’s first table, chairs and white board in 2013, school director Songheng Sin told epa on Monday.
Glass bottles, rubber tires, tin cans and plastic cups have been converted from street trash to class room decorations, an epa photographer who visited the school reported.
In addition to the obvious lessons on recycling and environmental protection, the school also teaches maths, computer science, philosophy and English to around 280 children from Phnom Penh and the small island of Koh Dach.
All of the teachers are unpaid volunteers, and most of the sports and computer equipment is donated.
Pupils attending the sister Coconut School in Kirirom can pay they school fees in trash, whereas on Koh Dach they can study for free. Some students are also fed at the school, Sin added.
He said that, in addition to academia, the school is focused on teaching local children as well as the wider community about environmental protection and more responsible use of plastics and waste disposal.
In a country where, according to Plastic Free Cambodia, urban dwellers use up 42 to 52 plastic bags per week, initiatives like the Coconut School can not only help change the lives of young children, but also can help shift society’s attitudes towards the environment.