All they had to overcome the challenge was two days, a handful of sticks, 400-odd plastic bottles, clay and an ingenious idea.

But the students of Panchayat Union Middle School in Nerkunam village, around 110 km from Chennai, managed just fine.

Another set of students, from Panchayat Union Middle School, Rakkipetti, Salem, wanted to nurture plants. But with extremely dry conditions, and the school situated a small distance away from the settlement, they were having a tough time caring for them.

They attached used plastic bottles to plants with an IV tube and filled them with water, so the plants would not be deprived of water, even when they are away, said J.F. Paul Edwin Roy, the teacher who anchored the project at the school. “We now nurture close to 20 plants,” he told The Hindu over phone.

The two government schools made it to the top-20 of the ‘Design For Change (DFC)’ contest, India, a global movement that encourages students to ‘express their own ideas for a better world and put them into action’.

The other schools from the State that made it to the top 20 were Maha Kavi Bharathiyar Higher Secondary School run by Sevalaya in Kasuva village, Kaligi Ranganathan Montford Matriculation Higher Secondary School, Chennai, Shree Niketan Patasala, Tiruvallur, and Chettinad Vidya Mandir, Karur, according to the DFC website.

S. Sumathi, the teacher who anchored the project at the Nerkunam school said they drew a list of seven ideas, out of which the students voted to undertake work to close a well and secure its boundary.

C. Venkatesan, a student who was involved in the project, said this was the most immediate challenge facing their school.

“We had to keep a watch on young students who would peep into the well, as well as avoid stray animals from littering or falling in,” said Ms. Sumathi.

“As materials such as bricks and cement were out of our reach, the students collected what was freely available in the village,” she said.

Now, nine rows of plastic bottles, stacked and filled with mud and bound by clay, form the wall of the well.

The class VIII students who took part in the project now study in class IX at a government higher secondary school nearby.

When a small portion of the wall was destroyed, the present batch of class VIII students reconstructed it.

Parul Patel, administrator, Design for Change, said of the 700-odd entries they received this year, as many as 278 were from Tamil Nadu. A total of 200 entries were commended.

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