IF NECESSITY is the mother of invention, Sri Saengdham School in Ubon Ratchathani’s Khong Chiam district is a good example.
Starting out with a classroom built of clay bricks and powered by refurbished solar panels, this secondary-level school, initiated by a local abbot and established in 2010, has become a model school for renewable energy and the sufficiency economy.
Phra Khru Wimonpanyakhun, abbot of Wat Pa Sri Saengdham in Bang Dong Dib, said the school arose from a “challenge of shortage”.
The original simple clay classroom wasn’t big enough, so the abbot sold his family’s last heritage house and raised Bt18 million for construction of the school. Now, students are able to study without paying for tuition and even get free meals and transport.
The school also generates its own electricity with solar cells and hence only pays about Bt40 per month to keep the power meter, the monk said.
“I established this school because I didn’t want others to have no education like me. When I was young, I didn’t finish high school because my parents divorced and I, as the eldest child, dropped out to get a job to help my family,” he said.
Another inspiration was to follow his teacher Luangta Maha Bua’s example of charity. He said he thought the best way to help the country was to provide education for its young, as they are the nation’s future.
The school also applies the principles of sufficiency economy. “You create what you want. You eat what you grow and you grow what you eat.”
The school’s original 112-square-metre classroom was an economical way to go. Students joined in producing clay bricks for the classrooms.
“Our kids are proud. They say this is the place we built with our own hands. It’s a way of hands-on learning,” he said.
Other structures were built with old planks and metals to maximise resources. As the original clay classroom wasn’t sufficient, the abbot had a four-storey building built for Bt18 million and invited his mother and younger brother to stay within the school compound.
Organic farming was employed to provide lunches for the children, and so the school taught them how to grow rice from scratch, to the point that all the older kids could drive a tractor. In this way, the children acquired the skills to aid their parents and take care of themselves in the future, he said.
The use of solar cells came from the school “having nothing but sunlight”. At first it obtained broken solar panels and repaired them for such uses as recharging phones and powering lanterns. They then joined contests and won several trophies.
“So we installed 6-kilowatt solar cells to generate power for the school’s use, hence the dramatic drop from the Bt6,000 monthly power bill to only Bt40,” he said.
The school also applied solar power to other appliances such as pumps to supply water to vegetable patches and other items for sale. The income – minus expenses – will help fund the school’s lunch and transport projects.
Despite the hands-on focus, the school was able to teach academic subjects so well that 100 per cent of its graduates could pass entrance exams for public universities, he said. The school made use of online tutoring programmes to boost kids’ scores via weekend sessions, and also had foreign volunteers teach English occasionally.
The abbot also aided communities by creating solar-cell pushcarts to power tools such as pumps to aid farmers and by providing solar-cell training to the public. As the older students had learned how to install solar cells, some had a unique way of spending their weekends by installing solar cells and earning extra income.
Urging schools and state offices to use solar cells, the abbot said solar power would help save a lot of money.
“Don’t say it’s expensive. I bought the whole set for Bt180,000 and have saved Bt6,000 a month in the long run – that is value for money.”
He also urged the government to buy power from households using rooftop solar panels, because this would truly boost the economy.
“When people earn money from their rooftops, they will have a better quality of life.” Such an enterprise could break even within seven years, he said, adding that solar power was clean and sustainable.