Every morning, the premises of the Padampani School in Gaya’s Sevabigha village, are witness to a strange sight—students, dressed in their spick-and-span indigo blue uniforms, are seen dropping off handfuls of waste into garbage bins before entering the school.
At first glance, it might be misconstrued as some odd custom, but in reality, in exchange for the waste submitted every day, around 250 students of the school avail free education as well as free books, stationery, uniforms and even meals.
The unique initiative was started by Manoranjan Prasad Samdarsi, the founder of the school.
“There is very little environmental consciousness in these areas. The students come from underprivileged backgrounds, and are often first-generation learners in their families. So, we started this initiative to introduce them to cleanliness, hygiene and eco-friendly awareness at an early age,” says Manoranjan, in a conversation with The Better India.
There was a time when the unpaved road connecting the nearby villages to the school was riddled with plastic waste, thanks to mismanaged disposal. This, in turn, led to harmful insects, rodents and animals thronging the area, and they would often venture into adjacent farmlands and destroy crops. During the monsoons, it became a breeding ground for infectious microbes.
The panchayat did not do much to improve the situation; neither did the villagers. So, Manoranjan decided to deploy his young crusaders to the task. Students from classes 1 to 8 were assigned with the responsibility of keeping the road clean.
“Initially, there was a lot of resistance, and the students were repelled by the very thought of handling all that garbage. Then, I sat them down and patiently explained to them the importance of keeping our surroundings clean. Eventually, they were excited to participate,” shares Manoranjan.
Since then, the students pick up discarded plastic bags, bottles and most types of dry waste on their way to school every single day, and dispose of them in garbage bins kept at the school gate.
The collected waste is later segregated categorically. Reusable plastic bottles and containers are handed over to recycling plants while the students also practise small-scale recycling efforts like potting plants in plastic containers.
“The results of their efforts were evident soon as the road appeared cleaner and wider than before. The children were overjoyed to see what they could do. It was a big boost for their enthusiasm,” shares Manoranjan with a smile.
Aside from the garbage collection drive, the boys and girls of Padampani have also planted over two thousand saplings along the same road. They water the saplings daily while coming to school, using the plastic bottles supplied by the school. Their target is to plant five thousand saplings in the local villages by 2021.
In addition to these activities, Manoranjan has personally undertaken several social initiatives in the area. He has installed 275 handpumps in the nearby villages, that are drought-prone, in addition to raising enclosed walls around them so that the women can bathe in privacy. Besides, he also arranges for cremation of the deceased from impoverished families who cannot afford the cost of the wood.
Away from the limelight, Manoranjan is sprouting a lot of positive changes. His army of youngsters is the driving force of all his socio-environmental endeavours and he envisions a future where they grow up to be ideal citizens who inculcate the same in future generations.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)