Knowledge is often spoken about as a guiding light shining the way to an ideal world. The pursuit of knowledge and education is even more so preached as a moral imperative – a sort of social and honourable duty. Still, what is less discussed in our deification of education are the limits that are placed on some in our society who are furthest from reaching this supposed light. In South Africa, a lot of those who have to navigate more difficult and sometimes, dead-end roads on their way to attaining education are children. Two South African businesswomen are helping bridge this gap through an ingenious initiative for children from rural and urban poor backgrounds.
Repurpose Schoolbags is a green initiative helping children from households without electricity resume learning after the last bell has rung. Plastic shopping bags are recycled and later made into schoolbags equipped with solar panels. These bags are bought by companies then distributed to selected schools. The solar panels in the bags are charged as the children walk to and from school. When the children get home after school, they can use their bags for light to do their homework. In addition to helping them do their homework, the bags also helps the kids be safe from cars on their often dangerous and long treks home through reflective strips sewn on the bags.
The children who are given these bags are from homes that use non-electrical alternatives for light like candles. These sources can be dangerous and sometimes the children are banned from using them through the night to study or do school work as the families have limited supply. These families then understandably have to prioritize economic judgment over the benefits of education that are also dependent on social capital they do not have access to.
The revolutionary concept of Repurpose Schoolbags is the brainchild of two millennial women from the North West only in their early twenties. This initiative was started by Thato Kgatlhanye in collaboration with her friend and business partner, Rea Ngwane. Thato, an entrepreneur hailing from Rustenburg in the North West, founded Rethaka, a social start-up business which has provided employment for many women in Rustenburg through initiatives like Repurpose Schoolbags. To date, Rethaka has distributed solar schoolbags to children in 6 countries in Africa.
On their website, the Repurpose Schoolbags team emphasise that the initiative is about choice not charity. It is not about taking the thirsty by the hand and forcing them to drink. It is about helping those who have to navigate a world where education has been made a lifeline but has been hidden or made accessible to only a few.