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 anything you can call trash.
Coconut School, which accommodates more than 200 children and five volunteer teachers, consists of two main buildings. One is the English classroom and another is the library which is also the computer room. The school pillars and roof, which have to support weight and keep the classrooms dry when it rains, are not made from trash, but pretty much everything else is. The wall of the English classroom is made from brightly painted cars tires bound up together in many neat rows. Meanwhile, the library and computer class, which is called “Rubbish House” is made from many green beer bottles. The floor is made of screwed beer bottles and caps upside down to make it look like flowers.
The school serves as a refuge for poor kids who cannot afford paying school fees in the nearby villages. While a tution fee is still paid, the method is different since every student pays their fees with trash wherein eighty percent of the trash used to build the school comes from the students’ tuition fees which in this case is actual trash.
“Other people see trash as useless, but for my students, it’s their school fee and what their school is made of,” Vanday said. “When they can see the benefits, they will learn from this young age not to throw their trash on the streets.”
The students and the teachers then use this highly unusual fee to continue adding to the school and making decorations such as the Cambodian flag, map, artificial flowers and flower pots and even curtains.
And as you might expect from such an environmentally-driven establishment, Coconut school offers its kids a recycling course. So beside English and computer skills, they learn how to recycle and create new, useful things from trash. And that, according to Vanday, gives them the ability to think and make the best use of their rubbish.
His school has been so successful that he has already begun building another one on Kirirum Mountain in Kampong Speu Province. This one will also have its own computer room and accommodation where the children can stay – all of which will also be made from waste.
The school has proven that kids could also afford an education with whatever they have to offer, leaving no child behind. Not only do these kids attend affordable school, they also get to learn proper waste management at school as well. 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.