A garbage dump is a disorderly accumulation of rubbish that is carelessly discarded, among them including coconut shells. They are things most people do not value after they have finished drinking the juice and eating the meat. However, these seemingly worthless shells are polished into valuable items at Thang Poon Witthayakan School.
“The lantern is 399 Baht and 39 Baht if it’s a pair of earring, but the heart-shaped earring is 59 Baht. The bracelet is 39 Baht and keychain 29 Baht,” said Phrae, a grade 4 student at Thang Poon Witthayakan School on the prices of the coconut shell artefacts.
Regarding the origin of the handicrafts, Malee Sonsuem who is a teacher at Thang Poon Witthayakan School retraced, “Our school asked for help from World Vision Foundation of Thailand’s (WVFT) Sa Plaeng project about livelihood support for students. When the project staff said OK, we talked to the students and agreed to work with coconut shells because the raw materials are easy to find locally.”
It is generally known that coconuts are economic crops grown mostly in the south including Chaloem Phra Kiat district, Nakhon Si Thammarat province where Thang Poon Witthayakan School is located. WVFT also works in the area through its Sa Plaeng project. Here a great number of coconut shells are discarded, some of which are disposed through burning, which contributes to environmental pollution. Others are abandoned and left to collect rainwater until they become a pool of stagnant water and serve as the breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
When Sa Plaeng project organised trainings on creating coconut shell handicrafts as requested by the school during the semester break of 2013 as well as supplied the equipment, it was like killing two birds with one stone. Besides boosting the students’ skills, the project also teaches them to make good use of the leftover items.
“At the time I was in grade 7. The training lasted 10 days and I learned to make basic necklaces. At first I felt some designs were difficult to create, but at the end they looked nice and I felt proud. I also made a necklace for my mum since she likes accessories. At first she didn’t believe I made the necklace myself,” Phrae smiled as she described the past. She continued, “It’s very good that I can spend my free time productively and it bolsters my concentration.”
When the training was over, the school assigned a group of some 30 volunteer students to pass on the knowledge to their classmates and younger peers. Since then, every school exhibition and event on the district and provincial levels showcased the students’ coconut shell creations which have become the school’s pride.
“People know more about our school’s coconut shell handicrafts. Shops that sell grated coconut meat started to give us coconut shells for free. The villagers also give us some or sell to us at a very low price. There is almost no cost,” teacher Malee spoke with a smile.
Thang Poon Witthayakan School and WVFT’s Sa Plaeng project unanimously agreed that a second training should be organised to further build the knowledge students gained from the first training. It ran for 10 days during the first semester break of 2016 academic year.
“The second training focused on new designs. We could create a greater variety of handicrafts. The Coconut Shell Handicraft Centre in Chaloem Phra Kiat district bought our crafts. My friends also received orders from the centre to make coconut handicrafts which are earning her additional income,” said Phrae with a smile on her face upon recounting the small steps that would be the springboard for the second, third and other steps ahead.
Teacher Malee smiled delightfully before exclaiming, “The school thanks you very much for your support.”