When educating the minds of our youth, we must not forget to educate their hearts. ~ Dalai Lama
The habits we acquire as children help shape the habits that we continue as adults. That’s why it is the motto of ARCedtech, an education startup, to focus on making children better human beings and life-ready. In a world where our resources are finite, it’s important that we give students every opportunity to learn the importance of the 5 Rs: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, and then Recycle, so that they grow up to be conscientious and concerned stewards of our planet. See how this school for the tribal community in the interiors of Gujarat is teaching the children to be responsible citizens of the world.
Jaya (10), Anil (12) and Leela (13), who come from the tribal community and stay in the interior villages of Dharampur, Kaprada taluka of South Gujarat, have not been to school since the pandemic started in March 2020. Though education has continued through the online medium, they don’t get enough time to study because of other responsibilities – they help their parents with farming and household work at home. They miss being at the school campus where they have access to education, hostel facility and food for free. Like all children, they excel in not just studies but also art, music, dance and sports. What is remarkable about these children and their peers is that they are not just gaining academic knowledge at school but also learning to be responsible citizens of the world.
In this village, a group of 300 students and 85 Adhyapikas (elementary school teachers), under the aegis of the Atul Foundation, are learning the value of recycling through the simple process of making handmade paper. Activities are often not easy to do at a time when students are still not back to school campuses. Connectivity and communication are often challenging in rural interiors and children have limited access to resources. Under these circumstances, making handmade paper was a good fit because the process requires nothing more than waste paper and basic household items and a set of simple steps. The Adhyapikas taught this activity to the children from the pages of Be the Change (see below), a student handbook on the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Students use vast quantities of paper and through the simple process of making handmade paper, they can learn to use paper wisely, get a hands-on experience of the 5 Rs, collate and graph data about their activity and experience how an individual effort contributes to a global goal. This activity can integrate topics from ecology and biology to economics, social studies and mathematics as well as enhance critical thinking skills, teamwork and problem solving techniques.
Before starting the activity, the students were asked to investigate: How is paper made? What is the critical raw material required? During the process, the students could log their observations: What happens to paper when it is soaked in water? Why does this happen? What does the paper look like as it begins to dry? Once the activity is completed, the students could reflect: What worked/ didn’t work? What would you do differently the next time to make your paper better? What steps could you take to make the process more efficient on a larger scale? What other materials could be added to the pulp? How can you add organic colours to the paper? In what ways can you use this paper to reduce your consumption of paper that is made from trees? How will our activity impact our environment? What have we learnt about the value of recycling and the other Rs?
By doing this activity, students learn that paper is among the most important of human inventions and like many other critical inventions, papermaking has an impact on the environment because trees are the most essential raw materials in the process of making paper. It is estimated that 24 trees to make 1 ton of standard office paper. According to data from the Assessment, roughly 80,000 to 160,000 trees are cut down each day around the world with a significant percentage being used in the paper industry. The resulting deforestation in turn impacts the change in global climatic patterns and also contributes to air and water pollution. Recycled paper can reduce the environmental impact of paper manufacturing. Data indicates that using one ton of recycled paper can prevent 17 trees from being cut down.
Conservation is the harmony between us and our land. Recycling paper helps save trees and conserve forest areas. The logo of the Atul Foundation Trust is a representation of the tree of life. The tree symbolises the interconnection and metaphorical co-dependency of all aspects of life. Through the experiential activity of recycling and making handmade paper, the children and their Adhyapikas show us how simply yet effectively we can be a part of the integrated effort towards harmonious co-dependency.