Akshar Forum founder Paramita Sarma receiving the Devi Award from Union minister Smriti Z Irani Credit: EastMojo image
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Guwahati: Assam educator and social entrepreneur Parmita Sarma won the prestigious Devi Awards during its 17th edition held in Kolkata recently.

The awards recognise and honour the accomplishments of women who have made a distinct mark in their respective fields. Sarma was recognised for running a unique institution called Akshar Forum, which accepts waste plastic bags as school fees, and also provides a source of livelihood for the teenagers in the school.

Students of Akshar Forum carrying their ‘school fee’s

Sarma was one of the eight recipients of the prestigious awards this year. She was handed over the award by Union minister of textiles and women and child development, Smriti Z Irani.

Speaking with EastMojo, Sarma said, “I feel it’s too early in the career, but it’s a big encouragement.”

Sarma, her husband Mazin Mukhtar and her mother Prof Alaka Sarma opened the school in 2016 on the outskirts of Guwahati in Pamohi. The school has revolutionised the face of education for underprivileged children by providing a model of ‘earning while learning’.

Parmita Sarma and Mazin Mukhtar, the co-founders of Akshar Foundation

In an earlier report filed by EastMojo, Mukhtar, the co-founder said, “The school is designed is to help students combat poverty. Our strategy for that is to develop multiple social enterprises in the school that serve the dual purpose of [educating them and] employing teenage students.”

The flagship programme of the school is its recycling centre where teenagers process the ‘plastic fees’ into ‘eco-bricks’ by compressing used plastic bags into used plastic bottles. These eco-bricks can be used for construction and landscaping purposes.

Branching out its education model to other parts of the country, Sarma said that they are likely to start work in a second school in Delhi.

The recycling centre at Akshar Forum

The school, which functions on funding, has already received the amount needed for the year. It has a Vietnamese donor in the pipeline who has promised to pay $10,000, and once investigations by the departments concerned are concluded and the donation comes through, the school is likely to invest it in business for generating more funds for the students.

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