On their home page, Repurpose Schoolbags spreads four quotes under the big header of FACTS:

  • “Plastic pollution is estimated to be costing developing and industrialized nations up to $1.27 Billion annually as it threatens fishing, shipping, and tourism.”
  • “Kerosene lanterns & alternative means of lighting kill at least 3 million people each year- mostly children and women.” -Eight19*
  • “3 children die daily on South African roads.” -SANRAL*
  • “11.4 million South African Learners walk to school daily.” -Parliament of South Africa

The facts might not seem linked. But with one product, their project hopes to shine a little light, so to speak, onto all of those problems.

What they make is a backpack, small and lightweight, out of plastic bags recycled into a textile. It’s sturdy and waterproof, but what makes it a solver of problems is its most noticeable feature: each Repurpose bag comes with a palm-sized round solar panel that lives in a clear pouch on its upper flap. The solar panel charges during the student’s walk to and from school, and then can be screwed onto a jar-type lamp to provide up to 12 hours of safe, free lighting.

Rethaka LTD, the company behind Repurpose Schoolbags, is a for-profit business, woman-owned located in South Africa. They do the work of seeking sponsors and donors so that they can hand out every single bag they make at no cost to the recipients. They choose schools in disadvantaged areas, looking particularly for places where children must walk miles alone to reach them.

South Africa has a dark winter, and walking alone beside roads before school puts students at particular risk. The solar lantern on the flap and the general reflective finish of the bag are not a suit of armor, but increased visibility is still protection.

In the communities they are looking for, many families have limited or no access to electricity. The solar lantern lets school children do their homework at any hour, without worrying about expending fuel or costing money. And a carelessly handled solar lantern can’t even burn a hand, let alone catch a house on fire.

Rethaka matches donors to communities to distribute these bags as widely as they can. In doing so, their goal is to fight pollution, illiteracy, and danger to children in one fell swoop. One can only wish them well.