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Self-Sustainable School

Education in emergencies and crisis while using circular economy to finance it.

Photo of Maarit Johanna

Written by

What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

Over 65 million are out of school due to various emergencies and crisis in the world. Many of them are children on the move. Their families have difficulties to provide for them and many children end up in child labor or early marriage. Many host countries lack jobs and schools; Most of the host countries are developing countries. They also lack efficient waste management to organize basic recycling systems. Ecological crisis desperately needs sustainable solutions. Waste to be seen as a resource. I came across a few schools in developing countries, which fund their schoolwork by recycling waste. That gave me the idea to do this on a larger scale in host communities hosting large amounts of refugees and have severe waste issues like Lebanon. The idea is that waste management and recycling is done by refugees and migrants so they can make their livelihoods. School is funded with the incomes from this business. This adds to the host community, so refugees and migrants can better be integrated into their new communities. They become an asset instead of being a cost as they are often now seen plus we solve issues of ecological crisis at the same time. Our concept is empowering too. Aid dependency is to be voided with fresh thinking like this.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

We would like to do this piloting of the concept in Lebanon, which is the most refugee dense nation in the world. Lebanon has one refugee for every 4 nationals. It also struggles with extreme waste issues. There are lots of grassroots non-profits there to partner with too. Security issues are a problem though and for that, we have a back-up plan to do it in Greece which has dealt with refugees since 2015. there we have a great existing network of non-profits.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

Refugees become a contributing factor in society instead of being seen as a cost. They become equal with locals in the host communities. Everyone gains.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

Making a livelihood yourself gives you joy, hope for the future after you have lost it all. It is giving them their dignity back. Parents want a better future for their children and this way it can be done.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

It creates jobs, income, school seats, and environmental impact. All these can and will be measured.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

Lebanon hosts both Syrian and Palestine refugees. Nation has been under a lot of pressure for many years. Its role is important to the stability of the Middle East. It is under the circumstances the most secure nation in the area with Jordan to implement a project like this. our idea should be tested in genuine conditions and then it can be taken to other nations. Previously mentioned example schools have also inspired and the huge needs of the people in the move, host communities. My experiences in Greece with refugees and migrants inspired me to research forced migration past 4 years. They deserve better than we give them now.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

Our work is based on science and experiences of the people on the move. I have collected data in Lesvos Greece while I was there for the refugees and migrants 6 months in 2015-2016. People speak about work and education for their children. That is what they dream and speak about. Ordinary life. In addition to that, we have used UNHCR, Unesco, INEE and Greece Education Sector Working Group Data, which always has the voice of people on the move.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

Finland has great strength in providing inclusive education of all and it also has a strength in the field of waste management and recycling. All these skills can be used in the benefit of the people on the move on this concept of ours.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

This needs to be done funding first based. All grass-roots NGO's struggle with funding on the moment, because the needs are enormous and increasing while we speak. We need to have secured funding and then approach the suitable partners in order to proceed. What we choose depends also in which nation we manage to operate in Greece or in Lebanon.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Arriving and settling at a destination community

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Systems design: Solutions that target changing larger system

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Blueprint: We are exploring the idea and gathering the inspiration and information we need to test it with real users.

Group or Organization Name


Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

SchoolBusters is a non-profit organization, which is non-political and non-religious. Our purpose is to innovate for the people on the move educational needs. I started this after my volunteer time in Greece when it came clear to me that needs are acute and escalating at high speed. Our team is multidisciplinary and our approaches are refugee based. They are always a part of the solution. We like to keep our organization small, agile and innovative. Ongoing research is a must to keep us updated. We aim to large scale solutions, as it was stated in the first World Humanitarian Summit in 2016 in Istanbul, that our ways to give humanitarian aid has failed. We look for refugee-based solutions ewe create as buddies as busters.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country


Organization Headquarters: City / State


Attachments (1)

Self Sustainable School.pdf

Our concept idea flyer


Join the conversation:

Photo of Griselda Vera

Hello Maarit! This is a very interesting idea. I have thought about it myself in the past but never proceeded with it. Education should be inclusive and accesible and this could be a way to achieve that. I wish you all the success with this project! Great work!

Photo of Maarit Johanna

Thank you Griselda for your encouraging words. We also follow SDG's.

Photo of Johannes Cornelis van Nieuwkerk

Dear Maarit,

Quite a challenge! Interesting approach!

I personally have some difficulties with the recycling funding part, this because in my opinion it is a shame that Europe (and also other more developed parts of the World) does not take sufficient responsibility, even not within its own territory in for example Greece.

I agree that out of the box funding may be required and that any level of education is better than nothing. Still I believe that kids should primarily learn/go to school and not work to finance their education (as you state they anyway already often work to support themselves and their families and waste recycling could all too easily become an extra child labor activity in this context. I consider it one of Refival's main goals ( to actually try to avoid/change/improve this).

From an educational point of view, there are also great challenges, none of the existing school systems (including the Finnish one) can in my opinion address the needs of refugees and the effects/results of interrupted education. How do you see this?

(I published two general articles on the subject that may interest you: and

I still seek partners/stakeholders for my Refival (European) rural revitalization and refugee incubation approach and although most of the conceptual frameworks I meanwhile developed (over the past four years of working full-time on the matter) theoretically (a lot of feasibility study has been done) could be also implemented in Lebanon and Greece, it would be much more logical to do so for example in Finland or Sweden....

Kind Regards from Budapest,

Hans van Nieuwkerk

P.S. I developed a "non-welfare" alternative for refugee participation named Universal Basic Employment ( This conceptual framework represents a more general solution for inclusion. However, it can only work in a proper full "livelihood level" social security environment and with "political solidarity" in place. It is therefore less likely that it can be successfully implemented in Lebanon or Turkey (although certainly not impossible), but it could theoretically be easily implemented in many European countries when the focus of politics and the resulting policies would shift back from "return and border protection" to "refugee integration and inclusion". (

Photo of Maarit Johanna

Thanks for your comment Hans.

In Finland and most other European countries, children go to same schools as locals. This kind of solutions are not needed.
Also recycling processes and waste management work. Greece has been a target nation for the migrants and refugees for years. Million people came in 2015 at the same time when hard austerity measures were on. They struggle with recyckling too even situation is not as complex than in Lebanon.

Most of the refugees are hosted in low-income nations near conflicts and emergencies. We want to focus on solving issues there were the needs are.

It's great you want to influence to the focus of politics in Europe. A major shift is certainly needed.

Photo of Johannes Cornelis van Nieuwkerk

Dear Maarit,

Unfortunately "just" sending children to the same schools only works for those who did not face any interruption in their educational path (specifically very young children), otherwise they will remain disadvantaged for live (and even their children will be).

There is substantial scientific evidence for it, I therefore meanwhile developed a conceptual framework to address this of which the building bricks have been tested in other situations (further piloting is of course needed) See:

The above framework is based on the early electronic collaboration tools I developed and successfully implemented in the 1980s an 1990s.

No doubt that recycling is useful and a business/source of income (I have been a consultant in this area and am for example familiar with the work done by Roma in Romania). However, under deprived conditions the risk is substantial that children will be/become (child labor) victims instead of beneficiaries.

We both fully agree that refugees must be included in the local economy, this starts in my opinion indeed with their access to education.... But, with exception of poor third-world countries without any infrastructure, there is a lot of potential in what I call "inclusion sourcing" ( which has similarity (but is a more structural/policy oriented) with successful projects like and

Kind Regards,

Hans van Nieuwkerk

Photo of Maarit Johanna

There is no whatsoever reason to segregate refugee and migrate childrenn from other. If any possible special needs special needs support is arrangened to school. There is also a support team in school is special support is needed. These policies can be taken to developing nations too. Todays world is inclusive.

Assesments by skilled teachers are made in order to choose suitable classes and school work for the child in question. Feel free to get more info about Finnish School in

Our solution is at this point to Lebanon and/or Greece to fit their special needs on the people on the move. Those schools already funding their work with recycling in developing world are and have been our inspiration.

Photo of Johannes Cornelis van Nieuwkerk

Dear Maarit,

If you read my article you will see that the last thing I propose is to segregate refugee children. All my work is about inclusion and bridging gaps between prosperous and deprived areas and between privileged and disadvantaged people. Also the Incubator village framework is fully based on this.

I have read a number of articles about the Finnish education system and although it is better than other systems in respect to guiding refugees to enter it by educating/preparing them in their own language in the first year and by offering mother language courses (as a second language) to everyone later, it is insufficiently individualized for those who need to catch-up with educational deficits.

The outcome is that many people end-up with a much lower educational level than their potential would allow them to achieve. The exceptions are those who are young enough to have no educational deficits when they enter school (for those the system is as good as it is for anyone) or those who already finished secondary or tertiary education in their country of origin (for this group adaptation is mostly achievable). However, the group with interrupted education is substantial, if not a majority in some countries (especially those countries who house a lot of people considered to be on the move).

What I envision as a solution is to split the content of education differently. I propose a multi-lingual school where, next to fully individualized knowledge gathering, there is a strong accent on exposure to cultural differences and building empathy and respect.

This means that at the same time and in the same environment one can prepare people for integration or return (depending on their choice and on the possibilities). A second advantage is that classes are less grade based and can handle a wider range of age differences between pupils, this makes schools potentially smaller and more flexible, something very important to maintain modern educational structures in very small communities.

In respect to recycling I think it is a good and necessary type of business activity, regardless of whether the profits are used for funding schools or any other activities (I am personally professionally involved in large scale waste recycling projects such as the pyrolysis of end of life car tires) and I fully welcome any type of economical activity which can make disadvantaged people less dependent on welfare.

However, in my opinion there is funding for educating refugee children available in Greece, Turkey and Jordan (Lebanon I cannot sufficiently judge, I know there is a gap between the French and Arabic educational systems, which complicates refugee education there). If this funding does not arrive where it should or if school capacities are insufficient, these issues should be urgently addressed policy wise. Creating alternative funding may of course help to improve the situation (and make people self-supporting, which makes integration a lot easier) but if the problems are "political" they likely will remain political.

Kind Regards,

Hans van Nieuwkerk

Photo of Maarit Johanna

Self-Sustainable school is based on 4 years of reasearch done by INEE partners, discussions with the people on the move, field work, welldocumented practices of education and recycling in Finland. This is pur path.

Photo of NDEF Cameroon

Hello Maarit Johanna, we at NDEF Cameroon have read with interest your idea striving to provide relief to vulnerable people there in Finland.

We feel that instead of allowing the inmates sit idle while you spend from a tight budget to meet needs, you could get some land and engage them for the length of time they would be with you to work and make a contribution to your efforts. As such, we advise here that you could adopt agroforestry practices to better deliver a package encompassing food crops, tree crops and small livestock with man at the centre. A juxtaposition of these components would lead to symbiotic relationships with mutual benefits. Food crops would provide short term benefits; small ruminants would provide benefits in the medium term while tree crops would provide benefits in the long term. Useful trees serve as the farmers’ insurance cover (pension).

On tree planting still, you could adopt vegetative propagation techniques such as grafting and air-layering to produce fruit tree seedlings which deliver fruits in two to three years after planting. In this way, young persons (who are often not patient enough to wait for a long time) will get results of endeavours sooner than later. Nkeng Pius (Executive Director)

Photo of Maarit Johanna

Thanks for you comment. We are hoping to provide relief to the people on the move in Lebanon and Greece not in Finland.

Photo of NDEF Cameroon

Ah! You are right, I had a mix up. Sorry.