This Sustainable Ladakh School Will Make You Wanna Be A Kid Again

Remember Phunsuk Wangdu from the film ‘3 Idiots’ who founded his idea of a truly open educational institution? Here is a story of the real life Phunsuk Wangdu who goes by the name Sonam Wangchuk. He, along with his friends founded a fully sustainable school called the Students Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SEMCOL)in a village called Phey, just 18 km away from the main city of Leh.

This beautiful residential school that accommodates approximately 40 students and as many volunteers. From time to time, it hosts trainings, workshops and youth camps for up to 100 additional people. The school was started with the aim of leading an educational reform in Ladakh. SEMCOL has many alternative and diverse ways of teaching its students to ensure that they get the ideal atmosphere to learn all the lessons of life and bloom. The students also come from various socio-economic backgrounds from all over Ladakh. The curriculum is especially designed to encourage ‘self-learning’ that lets the students learn their lessons all by themselves.

The school strongly vouches for a 100 percent sustainable model. The same idea was applied in constructing the school building, which was built entirely using mud and clay to regulate the extreme temperatures. In this part of the country, winters can get especially rough. But this way of construction helps the temperature inside the room to be around 10 degree Celcius, even when it is freezing outside at -40°C. The school campus is South-facing which helps to use the sunlight to an optimum level. The school even has a glass-room to dry the veggies in the sunlight in winters.

Utilising the alternative energy sources, the school has installed solar panels to heat water for bathing. Solar power is even utilised in the kitchen with a concave mirror placed at an angle where it receives maximum sunlight, which then is reflected to a mirror that unites the light to help heating. In the same place waters are kept in large vessels for slow heating. For cooking they use bio-gas.

For the cloudy days, when sunlight is not enough to heat and to generate electricity, they have a back up of solar batteries which they charge when they get ample sunlight. All these responsibilities for sustenance procedures are shared among students who handle the machinery and are in-charge to switch the battery and diagnose and rectify if any problem occurs.

The toilets are also custom-made for such dry weathers and the lack of water in that geographical location. As for the waste collection procedure, the school applies one the most effective ways of collecting the waste in a chamber below and letting it decompose for over a year, turning it to fertile compost. The fertilisers are then used in the farm that the school cultivates. Students grow vegetables in the compound itself. The remaining harvest after the consumption of the entire school is also sold in the markets.

All in all, the school enables a unique way of teaching and shows us the way to mordernise the education system. With a curriculum that supports life skills alongside the academic skills, the school educates us on how to address education.

Volunteers can join in the institution for a season or more and teach and learn alongside the students, experiencing a marvelous alternative idea of education.

“I stayed at the school as a volunteer for six weeks during the months of October – December, 2014. I volunteered for conversation class, helped students with various subjects like English, Geography, History. My friend and I also conducted a dance and creative writing workshop for the students. I’ve learned more from their lifestyle, their dedication, their simplicity than I probably even aimed to have taught them,” says volunteer teacher Abheepsha Mahapatro.


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