Cambodia’s ‘Rubbish Man’ schools children — for trash

This photo taken on October 1, 2018 shows students sorting out salvaged plastic water bottles in front of a Cambodian flag made from recycled plastic materials at the Coconut School at Kirirom national park in Kampong Speu province. (AFP / TANG CHHIN SOTHY)
Updated 12 October 2018

Cambodia’s ‘Rubbish Man’ schools children — for trash

  • Cambodian student Roeun Bunthon jots down notes during an English lesson at the “Rubbish School” where tuition is paid for with trash instead of cash
  • In return, needy kids like Bunthon, a former street beggar, can take computer, mathematics and language classes

KIRIROM, Cambodia: Sitting in a building made from used tires, plastic bottles and old sneakers, Cambodian student Roeun Bunthon jots down notes during an English lesson at the “Rubbish School” where tuition is paid for with trash instead of cash.
In return, needy kids like Bunthon, a former street beggar, can take computer, mathematics and language classes — and learn the value of reducing waste in a notoriously polluted country where recycling is nearly non-existent.
“I’ve stopped begging... it’s like I have another chance,” said Bunthon, who paid for his enrollment with a bag of discarded bottle caps.
Located in a lush national park, the Coconut School is built almost entirely from recycled waste and is the brainchild of Ouk Vanday, nicknamed the Rubbish Man, a former hotel manager who dreams of a trash-free Cambodia.
About 65 kids are enrolled at the school, where classroom walls are made of painted car tires and the entrance adorned with a mural of the Cambodian flag made entirely from colorful bottle caps.
Most of that garbage came from students in the form of school fees.
“I use rubbish to educate children by turning garbage into classrooms... so the children will understand the value of using rubbish in a useful way,” the 34-year-old said at the school, which opened a year and a half ago about 115 kilometers (70 miles) west of Phnom Penh.
He plans to expand classes in the poor, agricultural province of Kampong Speu to accommodate 200 kids, with a new kindergarten class featuring a wall made from plastic bottles set to open next year.
He’s optimistic the young minds are environmental ambassadors in the making.
“We hope they’ll become new activists in Cambodia, understanding the use, management and recycling of waste,” Vanday told AFP.
Vanday’s inspiration came after traveling around Cambodia and seeing tourist sites clogged with garbage. Troubled by this, he set up a pilot project in Phnom Penh in 2013 before expanding it to a second location in the national park.

Vanday’s vision for a trash-conscious Cambodia is ambitious in a Southeast Asian country where plastic bags and bottles are tossed out without a second thought, many of which end up in garbage-choked cities or smothering once-idyllic beaches.
Cambodia accumulated 3.6 million tons of waste last year, according to the country’s Ministry of Environment.
A mere 11 percent of that gets recycled, while almost half of it is burned or thrown into rivers, causing widespread pollution, said ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra.
The rest is trucked to ever-growing landfills and dump sites, where the piles of garbage emitting methane gas can lead to unexpected and dangerous fires, as well as add to climate change.
These grim scenes are what inspired Vanday to found the Coconut School, which is supported by donations and volunteer teachers, for kids who would get little in the way of environmental education at regular state-run schools.
It is also a chance to help kids who would not be able to afford the after-school programs that have become commonplace for most youngsters across Cambodia.
Public education is free by law, but “supplemental” lessons for English or other extracurricular subjects cost extra, ranging from $5 a class to hundreds of dollars depending on the school and its location. This could be a steep investment in a country where the average person earns under $1,400 per year.
For poorer families in remote areas, the children are sent to beg for money to increase their family income, making it difficult for them to justify paying for extra classes. At his school, Vanday wishes to put an end to this practice.
It has already worked for some.
“My English teacher doesn’t let me beg for money or gamble,” 10-year-old former beggar Sun Sreydow said.
“I’m glad. When I grow up, I want to be a doctor.”


Solid gold toilet stolen from English stately home

Updated 14 September 2019

Solid gold toilet stolen from English stately home

  • Toilet was created by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan and estimated to be worth around £1 million
  • A 66-year-old man was arrested following the burglary at Blenheim Palace

LONDON: A gang of thieves on Saturday stole an 18-carat gold toilet from Britain’s Blenheim Palace, police said, causing flooding that damaged the world-famous stately home.
The fully-functioning toilet, dubbed “America,” was created by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan and estimated to be worth around £1 million.
A 66-year-old man was arrested following the burglary, which took place before dawn at the 18th-century estate near Oxford, southern England.
The toilet was one of the star attractions in an exhibition of Cattelan’s works that opened on Thursday at the palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Visitors were able to book time slots to use it — but only for three minutes each, to limit the queues.
More than 100,000 people used the loo during the year it was on display at New York’s Guggenheim Museum.
“The offenders broke into the palace overnight and left the scene at about 4.50am (0350 GMT). No-one was injured during the burglary,” police said in a statement.
Detective Inspector Jess Milne of Thames Valley Police said she believed “a group of offenders used at least two vehicles” — and left a mess behind them.
“The piece of art that has been stolen is a high-value toilet made out of gold that was on display at the palace,” she said.
“Due to the toilet being plumbed into the building, this has caused significant damage and flooding.”
Blenheim Palace said it was “saddened by this extraordinary event, but also relieved no-one was hurt.”
It closed on Saturday but said it would reopen on Sunday.

The palace is home to the 12th duke of Marlborough and his family, and was also the birthplace of British wartime leader Winston Churchill.
The duke’s brother, Edward Spencer-Churchill, who founded the Blenheim Art Foundation, said last month he was relaxed about security around the gold toilet.
“It’s not going to be the easiest thing to nick,” he told The Times newspaper.
“Firstly, it’s plumbed in and secondly, a potential thief will have no idea who last used the toilet or what they ate. So no, I don’t plan to be guarding it.”
He added: “Despite being born with a silver spoon in my mouth I have never had a shit on a golden toilet, so I look forward to it.”
Cattelan, who is known for his provocative art, has previously described the golden toilet as “one-percent art for the 99 percent.”
The Guggenheim had offered the loo on loan to US President Donald Trump, but he declined.
The Italian artist’s exhibition at Blenheim runs until October 27 and includes a taxidermied horse hoisted onto the ceiling of an ornate reception room.
Blenheim has previously hosted exhibitions of work by Ai WeiWei, Yves Klein, Jenny Holzer, Michelangelo Pistoletto and Lawrence Weiner.
Police said they were looking at CCTV footage to help them in the search for the gold toilet, adding that nothing else was believed to have been stolen.