Ajegunle, one of the slum neighborhoods of Lagos, Nigeria, is home to the Morit International School, which helps low-income families in the neighborhood obtain an education. In addition to providing access to affordable education and lowering the percentage of children who are not in school, Morit International School is finding innovative ways to address the growing health and environmental problems brought on by the enormous tons of plastic waste that have become a significant part of Nigerian identity.
A total of 98 million children in Sub-Saharan Africa are not enrolled in school, with 20 million of those coming from Nigeria alone, according to the UNESCO Report for 2022.
According to the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics’ 2022 poverty report, 133 million Nigerians—or 63% of the country’s population—are multidimensionally poor, making Nigeria the country with the highest rate of poverty in the world.
According to a recent article by Voice of America, Lagos alone produces 450,000 MT of plastic garbage annually, while Nigeria generates an estimated 32 million tons of solid waste annually, of which 2.5 million tons are made up of plastic waste.
Many folks are searching for creative solutions to deal with this pervasive dilemma as a result of these unsettling data glaringly staring the country in the face. Patrick Mbamarah, a teacher in Ajegunle, Nigeria, set out to find solutions, so he started looking for a method to make things better while still giving the children of low-income families access to high-quality education that wasn’t prohibitively expensive.
In 2015, he established the low tuition-cost Morit International School, also known as Green Mind Academy.
“In the past, I used to have challenges collecting school fees from the parents but later realized that these parents genuinely did not have the money and wanted to make sure their children are educated,” said Mbamarah.
Not willing to give up his dream of providing affordable education for the poor community, he researched alternative means to raise funds, which brought his attention to the perennial problem confronting the community.
“I thought, ‘why not create one solution for both problems?’. I have an upbringing in recycling; my mother reused plastic bottles and nylons. So I knew there was a solution there, I just had to find it,” he explained.
In order to relieve parents of the financial pressure of paying fees, Patrick created the Recycles Pay Education Project in 2009 and worked with two regular businesses, African Cleanup Initiative and Wecyclers, for a two-year cooperation. This allowed parents to trade plastic bottles for tuition fees. By 2021, more recycling companies had gotten in touch with the school and joined the project.
“When I saw what he was doing, I knew I needed to be part of it. He already had an agreement with some estates to give him access to a collection point, so what we do is pick up the recyclables in the Island area of Lagos at designated times. We weigh them and give cash in return for the PET bottles,” said Dolapo Olusanmokan, CEO Alon Green.
This initiative has successfully helped many families financially and kept many children in school.
Ijeoma Obiora was skeptical that a school would accept plastic waste as payment for tuition when a neighbor first suggested Morit International School, but her 13-year-old daughter is now officially enrolled there.
Academically, the school is very good for my daughter, who’s now in JSS 1. Financially, it removes my worries about having to provide education for her on a stringent budget,” says Obiora. “These days, the first thing I do when I see a plastic bottle that has been thrown away is to pick it up. I don’t even think twice, the only thing on my mind is collecting waste to take to school,” said Ijeoma.
Mrs. Montala said she initially felt embarrassed at the idea of picking up plastic waste on the street and exchanging them to educate her children.
“Before now I used to feel shy picking the PET bottles,” she said. “But now, I have seen value in those waste plastic bottles. Paying school fees is not an easy thing for me and the PET bottle idea has actually reduced this burden for my family. We have no stress running after school fees anymore, we now use [the] little profit we get from the yams to feed and take care of the household.”
Patrick expressed his happiness over the initiative, which values one naira to one plastic bottle. According to him, the school is now oversubscribed.
“I grew up here. This is my way of giving back to my community. Nigeria has an excessive number of out-of-school children. That bothered me, therefore I decided to provide affordable education, no matter what, and that means pushing through any difficulties. I am passionate about what I am doing,” said Mbamarah.