What Children In A Remote Himalayan School Learnt About Upcycling

The last two weeks of school before summer holidays were rather unusual for the children of this school in Lohajung. The experience they had would make them spend their summer holidays very differently. Where they would normally go to their grandparents’ houses in neighbouring villages, this time, they would have something else in store.

Two weeks before they could pack up their books and say goodbye to friends, these school students participated in a five-day workshop conducted by the Indiahikes Green Trails team. This workshop opened their minds to a vast array of possibilities, especially in one area – upcycling.

The children learnt of ways in which they could use materials that surrounded them – plastic bottles, paper and plastic wrappers. These are materials they generally throw away. So not only did they learn to make make wonderful articles like pen holders and trophies for school, they realised that they could make all of this even during their holidays, using waste material available at home.

Students of a school at Lohajung participated in a 5-day workshop with the Indiahikes Green Trails team.

Why we conducted upcycling workshops for school children

Children who live in the villages around Lohajung are exposed to a lot of litter. This litter comes from not one, but multiple sources. Their own households discard food waste, plastic bottles, wrappers etc on a daily basis. Then there are trekkers and tourists on their way to Roopkund or Brahmatal who leave behind similar waste at campsites and on trails. If this wasn’t defiling the pristine spaces enough, dhabas that have sprouted near villages and even in the forests and meadows higher up have made the damage nearly complete. There is even a chai wallah on the way from Bhagwabhasa to Roopkund!

To add to this, adults burning household waste or littering trails indiscriminately are not the best examples in waste management for children to grow up with.

So the workshops conducted at the school in Lohajung were designed to enable children to take control of the waste they see around them. Over five days, the children participated in all steps of the waste management process – collection, segregation and appropriate disposal.

Day 1: Picking their brains for Upcycling ideas

On the first day, the Green Trails team spoke to the children about various things that could be done with waste. Some of them found this absurd – after all, the water bottles and wrappers that they mentioned were waste precisely because they were supposed to be useless. But for most children, what the Team said tickled their curiosity. As Shivani, one of the Green Trails team members who worked on this initiative observed, “Their eagerness to learn became apparent almost immediately.”

Day 2: Learning to plant life in discarded plastic bottles

On the second day, the children collected discarded bottles on their way to school – this was their introduction to upcycling. The Indiahikes team cut up these plastic bottles for them so that the lower halves could be used as flower pots. The children filled these with mud, planted the saplings and sprinkled them with with a few drops of water. They couldn’t wait to see the flowers that would soon bloom from these saplings.

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Tiger, elephant, bebo – these are few of the names that children gave their plants. They’ll water these everyday and take care of them from now on

Day 3: A lesson in segregation and making bottle bricks

On the third day, the children learnt to identify and segregate non recyclable waste. They immediately put this learning to use by going around their school compound to collect non recyclable waste such as chocolate and biscuit wrappers.

A bottle brick

Once the Green Trails team showed them how to make ‘bottle bricks’ by stuffing the non recyclable waste into old plastic bottles, the children quickly got around to make them on their own. The prospect of making at least a hundred of these to build something that their school needs, like a bench, gave them a clear goal for the upcoming holidays.

Day 4: Making paper mache with old notebooks

On the fourth day of the workshop, the children learnt to use a combination of discarded bottles and paper mache to model useful articles. They made trophies from  the upper halves of the bottles and pen holders with the lower halves. Waste paper formed the raw material for the paper mache.

The children had never imagined that all the old notebooks lying back at home for years could be reclaimed from their dusty corner for something other than revising an old lesson.

A lesson in making paper mache from old notebooks.

Day 5: A fun surprise!

A pleasant surprise awaited the children on the fifth day. Lying before them on the terrace of their school, were acrylic paints and brushes! Their imagination knew no bounds as they painted beautiful patterns on the trophies and pen holders they had made the previous day.

Given that their families have to travel long distances even for their most basic shopping needs, these articles are of immense value to the children.

A young girl paints on pen holders made out of upcycled plastic bottles

What have we achieved through the upcycling workshops for children

The children kept the saplings that they had planted at the beginning of the workshop in the Indahikes guest house at Lohajung. Everyday, on their way home from school, they would drop by and water their plants. They even gave them names – Tiger, Elephant, Bebo to name a few. On the last day of school before the holidays, they took their saplings home, to watch them grow and flourish.

The responsibility that the children displayed while caring for their plants was visible in other areas of waste management as well. They enthusiastically discussed ideas to reuse their old notebooks and other waste in their villages during their upcoming holidays. Some wanted to make as many bottle bricks as possible to help build something of use in their villages. Others were brimming with ideas about paper mache toys that they could make.

We couldn’t agree more with Himanshu, another team member who worked with the children, when he says, “Influencing children to use waste can transform the mountains.” The enthusiasm of these young crusaders has the potential to convert Lohajung into a community with complete control over the waste in their environment.

A big shout out to our Green Trails interns, Yash, Vrinda, Shivani, Avinash and Himanshu, who contributed to this initiative at Lohajung.

If you have trekked with us to Roopkund or Brahmatal, you will be familiar with Lohajung. If you have stories to share about upcycling waste that we could use in similar villages, do share them with me at sneha@indiahikes.in.

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Sneha Rao

Sneha Rao

Sneha is an erstwhile HR professional from Bangalore, now living in Mumbai. She has trekked several trails in Uttarakhand, Karnataka, Kerala and Meghalaya. She holds the Green Trails idea close to her heart and enjoys researching and writing about the environment.

3 thoughts on “What Children In A Remote Himalayan School Learnt About Upcycling

  1. I too want to be such activities.I am a teacher by profession in a city school.Please let me know if it is possible.Your story is very motivating.

    1. Hello Madhurima
      I am glad that you have been inspired to take something back from this to your own school. Please write to Lakshmi our Green Trails head at lakshmi@indiahikes.in to learn more about how to implement upcycling in your school 🙂

  2. Just brilliant
    I’ve been planning to do paper mache and saplings with my waste at home as well…..this definitely gives me direction!

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