Corporation school team makes it to the all-India finals of Science Congress

Five children residing at the Sri Lankan refugee camp at Kottapattu in the city made a case for turning human and kitchen waste churned by 500 families in their camp into resource - a scheme that took them all the way from their neighbourhood Corporation Middle School to Varanasi- the finals of the National Children’s Science Congress concluded a fortnight ago.

Though they did not make it to the top 10 projects in the country, the team from Corporation Middle School, Subramaniapuram comprising M.Janarubini, V.Prasath, V.Sathurshika, V.Manoj and S. Sayalini , survived stiff competition from many private schools to make it to the all-India finals, says the proud principal, Mercy Flora. This is the first time the school with strength of less than 90 students has participated in the event organised by the Department of Science and Technology.

Waste management and cooking gas

Students argue that by making use of human or kitchen waste a three fold objective is achieved. “We can resolve waste management issues and cut down on expenses involved in cleaning septic tanks, tap cooking gas which can substitute or supplement LPG, and use residue as fertilizer for plants,” explains Janarubini, team leader. The theme of the year being ‘Energy: explore, harness and conserve’, the team zeroed in on ‘Heat energy from human waste’ with the help of Ms. Jebha Felsy, assigned guide teacher. “I downloaded videos from the internet to show them how waste is used for electricity, cooking and other purposes all over the world, before they started working.” Unlike a science expo, participating in the congress involves research, field work and surveys spread over three months that have to be consolidated in a presentation running for eight minutes.

Neighbourhood survey

“We went on a door-to-door survey covering 50 houses in our refugee camp to find out about the cooking fuel used, disposal of kitchen waste.” Ninety per cent used kerosene stoves and the monthly fuel expenses average Rs.590 and each household churned out about 300 grams of kitchen waste a day, according to students. Besides, cleaning out septic camps three times a year entails expenses up to Rs.10,000 which are shared by the families. “A kitchen waste biogas plant can easily provide two gas cylinders a day that can be used for the Balvadi or school in our camp,” says Sathurshika. “A night soil biogas plant can supply gas to more households.” The students met with refugee camp authorities, corporation and health officials to canvass support for their suggestion.

The team visited Jamal Mohamed College that has done away with septic tanks, replacing them with night soil plants that supply gas to messes catering to 1,800 students. They also studied a biogas plant that turns kitchen waste into cooking gas at the residence of C.Subburaman, director of SCOPE, an NGO. A trip to Musiri panchayat helped them understand how human waste from common toilets are transformed into cooking gas for families of sanitary workers, says Prasath.

The Corporation Middle School team was among the six selected from 60 science projects in the district . “We were the youngest in the senior category in the state finals. When we were called upon to present first, we were really nervous, but we ended up among the 30 final projects,” says Manoj. “I ate naan, met Abdul Kalam, visited temples and went boating in Kasi,” recounts Jebarubini while Sayalini excitedly mentions, “It was the first time I boarded a train. The school has petitioned the ward councillor to install a kitchen waste biogas plant to cut down on LPG cylinders for the school and balvadi.”