In a country where the majority of people live without basic necessities, including reliable energy to power their homes, a company is “rethinking” their approach to providing children with the resources they need to improve their studies, general living conditions, and future. Rethaka, is an idea filled with possibilities. The firm launched an important and successful campaign to take old, worn out school bags and refit them with plastic solar panels that leverages sunlight as kids are out and about during their day, providing them with a “portable” battery.
A “for-profit” company, based out of Rustenberg, South Africa, this woman-based company is driven by the motto “what is done right, not what is easy”. Focused on improving the ability of study, safety, and future of our children, Repurpose Schoolbags has taken the idea of excess plastic waste, combined with the need for alternative lighting solutions, and created a revolution in South Africa.
The Beginning of a Bright Idea
The story began with a young mind and a desire to improve the lives of others. Thato Kgatlhanye recognized that learning in Africa didn’t just include a few hours at the school house, and many children faced a full day of traveling, while trying to beat the daylight hours to get home before dark to continue their studies. Telling CNN that it was time something be done about it, Kgatlhanye said, “This is our home. The reason we started this business is we looked at our community and we wanted to do work that matters.”
Joining up with another like-minded innovator, Rea Ngwane, the two began their quest to convert plastic waste and the desire to succeed into a promising endeavor. The backpack not only offers a way for students to transport their books, but also doubles as a light, and includes reflective material to help protect children during their daily treks to and from school.
Without the convenience of modern electricity, and families rationing what little light resources they have for a period of time, Kgatlhanye wanted to offer an alternative that gave children the flexibility they needed to succeed, stating, “A child simply does not have the luxury of burning the midnight oil and practicing their math sums until 12 o’clock at night because [the family] has one candle which was meant to be rationed for the whole week.”
The Impact of Rethaka
Starting out as a school assignment in 2014, Kgatlhanye’s idea came in as first runner up in the Anzhisha Prize, awarding her $15 000 which she used to jump start her business. Since then, the company has grown from two to eight employees. Partner, Ngwane, focused on bringing job opportunities to the local community, telling Impact Journalism Day, “We currently have eight employees who are responsible for the entire process from the collection, washing, and sorting of the plastic bags, through to the final stitching and delivery of the Re-purpose Schoolbags.”
Not only is Rethaka providing children with the tools they need to succeed, but this growing campaign offers a bright future to the communities of the North West territory, providing a source of inspiration and employment. By tackling both an environmental and social issue, the team hopes to continue expanding their business to increase their reach and provide more children with the needed resources to enjoy a proper education. As the world continues to watch this young duo of change, one can only hope to take note on the impact of our current “trash” problem combined with the desire to provide basic necessities to all, giving way to many more creative options to solve said issues.