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Students turn trash into tuition

 IPS 13 December 2019

Most people would not think twice about throwing out old plastic bags, empty soda cans, scrap metal and used shampoo bottles. But for the students of Cavite Institute in the Philippines, trash like this has become their ticket out of poverty. (950 Words) - By Kara Santos


IPS_Students turn trash into tuition

 The cost of the trash collected by students will be deducted from the class scholar’s tuition fees. Photo: Kara Santos/IPS

This is because their non-profit private school, located in Silang in Cavite province, some 45 kilometres south of the Philippine capital of Manila, has a scholarship programme that allows its 852 students to pay school fees with recyclables instead of cash.

Called WISHCRAFT, which stands for 'We Integrate Scholarship with the Collection of Recyclables and Frequently Generated Trash', the programme has enabled students from low-income families to enroll in the school and obtain scholarships and tuition fee discounts.

Arvee Rose Abayabay, a fourth-year high school student, is one of those benefiting from the school's programme. Her mother just left for Kuwait to work as a sewer while her father serves in the local council.

"It's a good programme for the students because it helps us a lot, especially in paying our tuition fees," says Abayabay, who plans to pursue a degree in nursing or food technology in university. "The programme helps both students and the parents transform garbage into money for education while helping the environment."

Elin Mondejar, who conceptualised the WISHCRAFT Programme at the Cavite Institute, tells IPS how it works.

"All students who bring in recyclables automatically get a credit equivalent discount on their school fees. The discount may be used by the student or donated to another student in need," says Mondejar.

Students, parents, teachers or individuals who endorse student applicants bring in recyclable items like cartons, paper, plastic, newspapers and glass bottles to a materials recovery facility right beside the school, where the items are then weighed and recorded.

The school partnered with an intermediary, who delivers the recyclables to junk shops and gives the payment collected from these to the school's accounting unit, which then does the corresponding deductions according to the record of recyclables submitted per student.

On average, tuition and other educational and project fees at the Cavite Institute total 30,000 pesos (680 U.S. dollars) a year or more for students, who are from the pre- school to high school level. School officials say that 40 to 50 percent of the students now avail of the discounts, with some paying 25 percent less in tuition fees due to the credits they earn from bringing in recyclable refuse.

The equivalent cost of each recyclable item depends on the type, number and quality of the goods. For instance, copper wire is traded at 150 pesos (3.4 dollars) a kilogramme while white paper fetches six pesos (13 cents) a kg.

School principal Corrine Realica adds that students and teachers segregate and clean items before they bring them in, as clean items bring in more money than dirty and unsorted ones.

"While most rely on their own household trash, some have branched out to their relatives and neighbors and set up collection centres to go towards their tuition fund," Realica tells IPS. "Even teachers who aren't sending children to school have adopted scholars because they don't want their trash at home to go to waste."

Special education students who are unable to afford school fees have also been supported by corporate sponsorships through WISHCRAFT. Two such students have full scholarships under the multinational consumer goods firm Unilever, which donates proceeds from its recyclable garbage towards the students' tuition.

Realica says the bulk trash donated by the company makes quite a difference because the tuition for special education students costs as much as 50,000 pesos a year (1,140 dollars), an amount way above what low-income families make in a country where 44 percent or over 40 million Filipinos live on less than two dollars a day.

A joint study by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the non-government Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) says that the number of children aged 6-16 who are not attending school rose from 1.8 million in 2002 to 2.2 million in 2007, partly due to the high cost of education.

The WISHCRAFT programme, which was pilot-tested in 2002 and launched in 2004, is now considered a best practice for innovation, resourcefulness, cost-effectiveness, replicability and partnerships. There have been various spin-offs of this programme around the country.

A farm school uses the same trash-to-cash concept to raise money for teachers' salaries. In a public school where tuition fees are free, recyclables brought in by students are logged and are convertible to school supplies. An out- of-school group set up a theatre group where the entrance fees are recyclables instead of cash.

"There is really money in garbage, and the possibilities are endless," says Mondejar. "It makes students see garbage in a different light."

Mondejar says that the Cavite Institute programme benefits students who want better quality education, but cannot afford the tuition fees. The school limits its class size to 25 to 30 students, compared to public schools in the area that can have up to 70 pupils in one classroom.

From 48 scholars in schoolyear 2002-2003, the number of students having full or partial scholarships or tuition-fee discounts now averages 500 annually.

The programme makes two social priorities meet and thrive on each other - keeping youngsters in school and helping clean the environment. "To date over 300 tonnes of recyclables which could have been disposed of in rivers, canals and highways have been converted to a more worthy cause - education," Mondejar points out.

Originally published by Inter Press Service. ©

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